I have a special attachment to the deserts of California, in particular Yucca Valley. When I was young, my father bought a few acres of land out there and had this dream of building a house in the middle of nowhere. He would load up our family in an old Landcruiser jeep he had refurbished and drive us out there to do donuts around shrubs and dry lake beds. I'd like to say I looked forward to it and loved it for the grand adventure it was. But the truth is, my brother, sister and I were mostly sullen about it. It was a long drive, we wanted to stay home and watch TV, read our Sweet Valley High books. Sunsets were boring, and we were teenagers.
I learned much later that my father's attachment to this strange piece of land arose out of his desire to return home. He was born and raised in Karachi, and gave up his Pakistani citizenship for a new life in America. The house in the desert was both a pipe dream, and a recovering of the past. We lived in the suburbs of LA, but the desert was the place that most called to him.
On a recent trip to California, I spent the day driving out to Yucca Valley. It's changed a lot since the 90s. There are tracts of suburban style homes out there now. But the state parks and unpaved dirt roads remain as they ever were. After living abroad for many years, I find driving out to the desert reassuring. The endless stretches of road on the 60 East and State Route 62 instantly drop me back into an American state of mind. I look at the occasional tumbleweed caught in the undercarriage of speeding cars and feel a bit of regret — for those years when I would not allow myself to enjoy this place — but also deep satisfaction, knowing that like my father, I return to it because it always brings me closer to home.