On a spur, I decided to head out to Joshua Tree National Park last weekend. I made the drive after work and pulled into the park a little after 10PM. For being so close to a major metropolis, the park retained a wonderful night sky. Of course, it was littered with flashing planes coming and going from the world’s 6th busiest airport (LAX). I skipped the tent and laid only my pad down, curling up into my sleeping bag and watching the night sky put on a show. The next morning I shook off the chilly air- it was time to explore.
Located in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is about halfway between Phoenix and Los Angeles. The park covers an area slightly larger than Rhode Island and over half is designated wilderness. It has the unique distinction of being the meeting place between two of the Southwest’s largest deserts: the Mohave and the Colorado. The Colorado desert encompasses the Eastern portion of the park and was the first that I visited. A subsection of the Sonoran desert that surrounds Phoenix and Southern Arizona, the Colorado lacks the Saguaro cacti and seems less exciting. It is mostly covered in creosote bush and Ocotillo, but occasionally has Cholla cacti as well.
The most interesting part of this section was the Cholla cactus garden where the Teddy Bear Cholla absolutely took over! It was crazy to be completely surrounded by these odd cacti. As I drove North and the elevation gradually climbed, the landscape immediately changed. Giant slabs of granite began to pop up everywhere, forming huge boulders perfect for rock climbing and scrambling.Scattered among the rocks were pinyon pine, junipers, oaks, and of course the yucca species for which the park is known: the Joshua Tree!
Open spaces that were before filled with rather ugly creosote and smaller bushes, now were covered with the unique Joshua Trees.The branches formed exponential variations of patterns and figures that made each tree unique. It was amazing to walk among the trees the Mormon settlers named after the Jewish biblical figure and decide for myself what each one looked like. I spent the day doing just that, as well as scrambling on top of the granite monoliths and exploring an old mining area. After climbing Ryan Mountain, a short 3 mile round-trip hike to the 5,461 ft summit, it was mid-afternoon and I thought I better find a place to crash for the night. I decided to backpack a ways up the Boy Scout Trail, where I could camp anywhere 100 yards from the trail. It was a wonderful trail through more of the Joshua Tree dominated terrain. I made camp underneath one particular tree and ate a ramen dinner while watching the sun set behind the San Bernadino Mountains. It was one of those sunsets neither words or pictures could ever do justice too. In short, it was what I live for.Peaceful, serene, spiritual, breathtaking: heaven! You better believe I had some sweet dreams that night!
I woke again to a brisk morning and another sky painted by the sun. By the time I had hiked back to the car, it had already warmed up and I was ready to see more of the park. I headed to a trail head in the North where I hiked out to a truly special palm oasis. Surrounded by barren landscape void of almost all life, the oasis contained massive palms and a watery landscape reminiscent of the jungle. It was another surreal place. On the hike back, I came across a desert tortoise and a few huge lizards. Then I checked out the visitor center before climbing around some more granite slabs and taking a nap on top. Around 5 o’clock I left the park and made the drive back to Phoenix. I arrived just in time for an entertaining night of beer and board games at a friend’s house. Between my awesome trip to Joshua Tree and a night with some pretty cool company, I’d say I had one heck of a sweet weekend!
Hopefully there are many more to come!
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