In the Shadow of the Moosedog

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. 20160121_124408This 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.20160119_142906 20160119_121534At 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, 20160119_123310wind up and around to the plateau, where there at least are a few Joshua Trees.20160119_12552820160119_124902 These are such curious plants – spiky and very, very stiff to the touch. 20160120_134221They 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.20160120_124106 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.20160120_125234 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.20160120_113951For our last big stop of the day, we elected to climb Ryan Mountain, a steep ascent with spectacular views from the top. 20160120_150423We 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.20160120_165849_LLS 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.






23 thoughts on “In the Shadow of the Moosedog

  1. Judy, Have been waiting to see your entry for Joshua Tree as we love the Park. We are the ones on the Facebook T@B site that you took a photo of the site we will be staying in Death Valley for. Thanks, again. We will be heading to our little rental in Joshua Tree, via Death Valley, February 27 and have our site 61, in Indian Cove, reserved for two different times during the two months we will be staying down there. I remember your site 88 and it is nice that it is backed up to the rocks. We stayed in 89 the first year we camped there and almost got blown off the planet that night. 88 is nice because it is protected (and the rocks!). Don’t know if you noticed it when you did your site drive-around, but 61 (just down the road from 88) was nice because you can pull right along side it and put your awning out to the right from where you are parked, it has alot of property with no neighbors, and your picnic table is up against some rocks. Can’t wait to get back. Again, when you go back we know some great petroglyph hikes in the Park and other hikes in the Wonderland area if you are looking for something different. You did some great hikes and your photos are amazing! Hope you both are feeling well soon! Mary & Dave from Montana


    • Hi Mary. Thanks for your note. We did make note of site 61 in our walkabout as one on which we would happily camp. We definitely will head back into JT – there’s never enough time to see everything, is there? Plus, we found that we spent a lot of time just hanging around, enjoying the magnificent views, and watching the climbers. Can’t be busy all the time, can we?

      Hope you enjoyed Death Valley. That’s been our favorite stop so far this trip.


  2. You are so brave! For some reason the idea of hiking solo absolutely terrifies me. And the more open the space, the greater the terror. Good luck with the clinging cold; I hope it moves on quickly. By the way, I just finished “Did You Ever Have a Family,” which was one of your Goodreads recommendations. Such a sad story but very well done. I’m getting ready to read “Once in a Great City,” about Detroit. Time for a little nonfiction. Happy (and healthy) camping to you three!


    • I don’t worry about hiking by myself, especially in somewhere like a National Park. Lots of people to help/find me if something goes awry. I don’t leave the Trail, either.

      Glad you enjoyed Did You Ever…? I was quite moved by that book.

      Return to health is the big goal for the week!


  3. I had no idea that the elevation there was as high as it is, I learn something new from every one of your posts.

    The views were wonderful, and I can imagine that the night views of the skies there were awesome as well.

    This is another place on my bucket list of places to go when I retire, so the information about the campground and the fact that there is no water there is most helpful. I think that every camper always checks out the other sites to find the very best one for them.


    • Thanks, Jerry. We don’t really do much advance research before heading into a new area, so we are always stunned at some of the geography. It amazes me to have such highs and lows in a compact area.

      A lousy campsite (or bad neighbors) can such the joy out of camping quickly. It’s a luxury to camp midweek when its quiet, and having a National Park campground to ourselves is unforgettable.

      There’s just so much to see and do. We are just skimming the highlights.


    • Thanks, Deb. I think I could make a camper out of you if I could bring you into places like Joshua Tree. The room service sucks, and the basic facilities are rudimentary, but oh my……

      I’m going to give John another week before I have him taken away for treatment. Every time it seems like he’s gaining on it, he relapses.


  4. You aren’t alone in checking out sites for future visits. If we think we’ll return to a campground, we wander around with the campground map, marking those sites we like. We’ve been to Fallen Leaf in Tahoe probably 10 times and I have that many maps with notations. It does help for future reservation purposes.

    Nice blog and photos. Sorry to hear about John’s cold. Good times having a cough in a small trailer, eh?


    • I agonize over site selection, especially if we think we will be going to deploy our solar. Made some mistakes of course, but overall I’ve got a pretty good record. We keep a separate Google calendar for our reservations – it’s a good organizational tool for us. There’s an extra notes section there where we make note of other sites we might like next time.

      I think we’re going to have to stay in a hotel for a couple of weeks and have the Fireball fumigated. We just keep passing this cough around. Enough!!


      • Curious to know how far in advance you make your reservations. When you were in the various campgrounds, did it appear as if there were available spots, or will they all jam-packed?

        Hope you two are better soon! I remember how awful our ill-fated trip was last spring with the coughing crud.


      • In a National Park, we make our reservation as soon as we can figure out when we’ll be there. You can’t do it early enough. Although our campground in JT was very sparsely populated during the week, it was booked full for the weekend (when we left). We’ve run into problems with full campgrounds during spring break, which seems to last forever. Guess the rule of thumb is, if you know if you really want to be at a particular place at a particular time, make a reservation. We’ve never been unhappy that we did so, but have often been mad that we didn’t reserve in advance.

        I think we are getting ahead of the coughing for now. We’ve stopped slurping nyquill by the bucketful in order to sleep. That must be progress, eh?


  5. Each time I think you can’t find a more amazing part of our world, you arrive at another. Your pictures and descriptions are inspired. I can almost smell the air and feel the texture of the rocks and spikey plants. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks, Alison. One of the big differences between Michigan and the West is a matter of texture, but I really hadn’t thought of it in that way before. Green vs red/brown. It’s a different world out here….


  6. We loved Joshua Tree -went for the first time in December. We also saw Key’s View and the Lost Horse Mine, and part of the Boy Scout Trail, although it seems that we must have hiked that in the other direction. Once I’m done with VA posts – that will be next…


    • I’ll look forward to your posts. My blog would be much shorter if I waited as long as you do between the event and the post. I can barely remember what happened two days ago. Most hikers do the Boy Scout Trail from the opposite direction that we did. The best stuff is all on the end where you started.

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