There are probably lots (or at least a handful) of readers of this blog who aren’t camping enthusiasts. You’re the folks who read this stuff and wonder, “When is she ever going to shut up about the perfect campsite, blah, blah, blah…” If you see yourself in this statement, take a few extra moments to stare at this photo. This was our perfect campsite in Joshua Tree National Park. No neighbors for hundreds of yards in any direction. Absolute silence at night. Huge star-filled sky. It was amazing. Such a great place to spend five days. (And, yes, I did scramble up those boulders to capture this photo.)
Joshua Tree seemed to be a great place for a hike, so after getting settled in on Day 1, we dragged out our bikes and coasted downhill to the Boy Scout Trail Trailhead. Truly, from our campsite, we could nearly have glided the entire three or four miles to the Trailhead. This did not bode well at all for the return trip. But…
We’ve been on more exciting hikes. The first couple of miles was a soul-sucking trek through pure flat sandy desert. A few desolate creosote bushes lined the path. No Joshua Trees, no wildlife. Nothing. It was hard to stay awake while plodding forward. Finally, we climbed up, over, and into a narrow canyon, where things became a bit more interesting. At that point, John decided to turn back. He’s been battling a cold since Christmas, and the dry air combined with his hacking cough was making his hike pretty miserable. We split up, agreeing that I would continue on for as long as I pleased, then pedal down to the Ranger Station at the entrance to fill up our two gallon containers with water. I will say now that it was Stupid of me to agree to that. Joshua Tree is unique in our experience in that there is no water available at ALL inside the park, with the exception of one other campground. No concessions, no bathrooms with running water, no pumps in the campgrounds. Requires a bit of planning….
I hiked for 5-1/2 miles before turning around – far enough to get through the canyon, wind up and around to the plateau, where there at least are a few Joshua Trees. These are such curious plants – spiky and very, very stiff to the touch. They can live for 200-300 years. They grow about 3 inches a year for the first ten years, then level off at about 1-1/2 inches a year for the rest of their lives. Like the saguaro cactus, it may take them years to branch a limb off the main trunk. They grow only in the Mojave Desert and the surrounding area.
For Day 2, we decided to drive into the main portion of the Park, and explore a few areas with short hikes. First up was the Lost Horse Mine, the most productive of the many gold mines within JTNP. Over a period of about 70 years, this mine produced approximately 9000 ounces of gold. More interesting to me was the trail that led up to the Mine. It passed through an area that had burned in the 1990s (the Ranger I quizzed didn’t know the exact year of the fire, but it’s about 20 years ago. Give or take a few.) As far as we could see, there were only charred Joshua tree stumps punctuated by a few creosote bushes and an occasional short Joshua tree. It’s amazing to realize how slowly things grow in the desert.
Keys View was our second stop for the day, where we had a great view of the San Andreas Fault from nearly 5200 feet. If The Big One would have happened at that moment, we would have been safely on the side still attached to the continental US. The fault runs right through the middle of the photo, where the color changes from brown to yellow.For our last big stop of the day, we elected to climb Ryan Mountain, a steep ascent with spectacular views from the top. We really huffed and puffed – my legs were screaming from the prior day’s hike, and John’s lung power hadn’t improved overnight either. But, the view from the top was worth the effort – an eerie landscape of rock piles that appear to have been extruded by a crazed architect.
Our last full day in camp was a lazy one. We wandered around, making a list of all the other campsites we would reserve on another trip (yes, we keep track of stuff like this). Joshua Tree NP is full of rock climbers, and we watched several attack the rock towers, with varying degrees of skill and certainty. There are lots of descriptive names for the rock formations, and we tried our damndest to identify them. For example, our camp was directly in front of Moosedog Tower. Can you see that? What the heck does that mean?
By no means were we ready to leave this spectacular park on Friday. We’re already looking forward to our next visit, but doubt that it can possibly compare to the grand time we had this past week.