Thursday, January 6, 2011

Joshua Tree

Our plan for the rest of California is to visit the desert parks - Joshua Tree, Mojave and Death Valley.  We love deserts (and desserts!).  Joshua Tree National Park is the southern most, and after our sad farewell to my Uncle Bill, we head there first.  This being the holidays still (the week between Christmas and New Years) the park is very busy, and we can't find a place to camp inside the park, even though there are several campgrounds.  Within those campgrounds though, only a few sites could possibly accommodate a trailer our size.  So we head just outside of the park to BLM land, and are entertained for the evening by three off-roaders who get two of their trucks stuck in the mud further down the dirt road.  They work for about an hour trying to get the one vehicle out and give up.  Then as the other two try to exit towards us, one of them gets stuck!  We just watch through our binoculars.  We hope they have enough beer, but you know how it is.  For these young guys, at first it's funny (and we could hear them laughing when it first happened), but after a while it's just irritating and frustrating.  Okay, I'll fess up, THEY are on the BLM land where we're supposed to be, but we saw the water on the road from the intense rains southern California got a few days ago, and we knew we should stay away.  We're probably camped on private land, but this desert is indescribable - no signs anywhere to say where one thing ends and another begins, and no one bothers us during the four nights we are here, although we have to drag the trailer with us during the day to the Joshua Tree National Park Visitors Center and leave it there for the day.  It's a bit of a hassle, but we are hesitant to leave it out here near the BLM land.

Joshua Trees in the park - a forest?
The park itself is big.  The main road that winds through it is over 50 miles long.  The north part of the park has the most interesting features and the most Joshua trees, surmised to be so named by the Mormons who travelled through this area about 150 to 200 years ago.  To them these strange plants resembled their saviour, Joshua who is pictured with his hands reaching to God like so many of these trees reaching for the hot, desert sun.  In some parts of the desert, there are so many Joshua trees it reminds me of a forest, but I don't know if you would call numerous desert cacti a forest.  And Joshua trees are not really trees, they are members of the yucca plant family, but they can certainly grow tall; a record one in the Mojave National Preserve grew to 31 feet before it fell over and died.

Hold up that rock Brad!
We spend one day doing short hikes, each less than 1 mile round trip: Keys View which provides a view of the San Andreas fault and Palm Springs in the valley to the west with Mount San Jacinto towering above it now capped in snow, the Salton Sea to the south and San Gorgonio Mountain to the north; Cap Rock Nature Trail where Brad climbs up onto the jumbo rocks and finds it isn't so easy to get down, at least it's never the same route; and Arch Rock Nature Trail which reminds us a bit of Arches National Park in Utah except here it is "white tank" rock, a metamorphic rock, not red sandstone and there is only one arch to see, but it was a great hike and there are fins similar to those in Arches National Park too once we got off the main trail and follow a creek.

Geology Tour Road in Joshua Tree National Park
On another day we drive the Geology Tour Road, an 18 mile round trip on a 4-wheel drive dirt road.  This features the different ways the rock in the park has eroded; the different types of rock - the white tank monzogranite, the darker Pinto gneiss (pronounced nice), and black basalt; evidence of mining attempts in the 1800s for gold, silver, copper, lead and other valuable minerals; and dry lake beds.

A climber walking the tightrope
There are a lot of rock climbers in the park.  We even catch one daredevil walking a tightrope between two rock outcroppings about 40 feet apart, some 75 feet up.  For an experienced climber, it would probably only take them between 5 and 15 minutes to climb many of the rock faces here, although it is possible to find some more challenging verticals here, I'm sure.  They're just not along the road.  But this is probably a great place to learn.  It must be disheartening for the novice climber to make his or her first successful ascent to the top only to find a couple of kids already up there with no equipment.  Kids are scrambling all over these rocks (Brad too! He's just a big kid!) and they're having the time of their lives.  As a mom and a consummate worrier, I wonder how often someone is seriously hurt here.  But not today.

The day in between these two days in the park we spend in the trailer, waiting out a rainy, gusty day.  California so far has proved to be a cold, wet state!  What's that song - "it never rains in California, but girl don't they warn ya, it pours, man it pours!"  We can see evidence all around us of the effects of the rains that have hit southern California.  There is sand in all of the streets that has washed off of the desert, "Flooding" signs are on the sides of the streets everywhere, and like I said above, the BLM land where we were going to camp is a slippery, clay pit.  And the cold!  At night it is below freezing.  There is a lot of snow on the mountain tops, on Mount San Jacinto (elevation 10,831 feet) and San Gorgonio Mountain (elevation 11,485 feet the highest peak in southern California), although we are not nearly this high.  Joshua Tree National Park's elevation is only around 3,000 to 5,500 feet and we are camping in the valley below at about 2,000 feet and it is STILL freezing!  Joshua Tree NP is considered the "high desert".  Although there is no snow in the park, I'll bet the people camping in tents (and there are many!) froze.  Not what we expect in southern California!  They say it's an Arctic blast from Canada.  Sure, blame the Canadians.

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