Ask Desert Oracle: Sun-Given Wisdom, Giant Rocks and Campfire Stories With Writer Ken Layne

desert hills shot from below a wall

The Desert Oracle is the aptly-coined “Voice of the Desert,” a Joshua Tree-based pocket-sized field guide that recalls something of a mix between a FoxFire Book, the Farmer’s Almanac and Weekly World News. Ken Layne, writer, desert enthusiast and brains behind The Oracle, also leads Campfire Stories at our Palm Springs waypost every month, where he regales eager listeners with tales of desert beasts and ancient legends.

For this series, we’re inviting you, dear reader, to probe the Desert Oracle for mysteries and cunning sun-given wisdom. Are you making a physical or spiritual journey to the American desert? Do you seek a guru for the elusive  roadside haunt or UFO lookout? Are you hungry for a glimpse of the infamous Yucca Man? Have you peered into the depths of the Crystal Cave? Ask Desert Oracle.

My wife and I have been talking about doing some light adventuring with our 3-year-old son for a holiday. Our objective: maintain parental sanity and visit beautiful locales around Joshua Tree that are relatively easy to access.
Any recommendations? Never been to Big Rock in Landers but it seems like low hanging fruit to impress a spirited wildling whose primary interests include garbage trucks and flashlights.

—Matt G., Los Angeles

Well, first of all, it’s GIANT Rock. Big rocks are all over the place up here. So we call the very big rock “Giant Rock.” It’s just a very big rock on the side of a dirt road. A landmark in the area, a place of some historical interest, but hardly the loveliest sight in the region. But if you go to the Integratron or to Landers Brew Company or other such places up there, Giant Rock is fairly close by. A big piece of it fell off, some years back, and there is graffiti and garbage dumped here and there. I don’t know what you would do there. Now and then I drive past it, and I guess I always think, “Well, there’s Giant Rock.”

A three-year-old could appreciate it as much as anybody.

A human child needs very little to be happy, although it’s also true that a human child needs very little to be unhappy. In that way, they really aren’t so different from human beings.

If you’ve ever driven by a day-care or elementary school, you may have noticed that the primary outdoor activity—besides attacking each other and screaming for no reason—is to sit in a wooden box and play with the sand within. It is the height of fun.

And after many years of taking my own children to beautiful and scenic places in the desert and the forest and the mountains, it became apparent that they didn’t really care one way or another, as long as there was some sand on the ground. You could be standing at the Grand Canyon or Half-Dome or the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty and all the child wants to do is play in the dirt. Which is fine. It might be as good as it gets.

The good thing about the desert is that it is basically a very large sandbox. Wherever you go, there will be sand.

The problem, because there’s always a problem, is that the sand tends to be filled with red ants and centipedes, nails and broken glass, shotgun shells and broken vaping devices, etc. The fruits of our civilization. So you have to sort of pick your sand pile with care. Or make the child wear boxing gloves or other protective gear.

But everything’s easy to access up here in the Mojave Desert, especially in the natural environment. Just walk or climb or whatever, and you’ll be there.

Ken Layne is publisher and host of Joshua Tree’s Desert Oracle Magazine, weekly radio show and podcast. Send your questions to and eagle eye for answers.

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