DESERT TRIP

It’s been two weeks since my short but intense trip to Joshua Tree National Park, a desert reserve a few hours east of L.A. (or if you’re really unlucky, 4 and a half grueling hours from L.A.).

The California desert is about as far away, climate-wise, as you can get from where I live.  If you only have a few days and a limited budget, it’s a welcome, dramatic change of scenery. And it’s only a quick plane ride to L.A. followed by that (rather nasty) drive.

I was lucky with the weather on the flight south – skies were clear and I was treated to an iconic West coast punctuation: major mountains of the Cascade Range. First up was Mt. Rainer, our lovely, clear day companion, then Mt. St. Helens, the rascal volcano, followed by Oregon’s severely sculpted Mt. Hood, and many more.  Geological drama! I love it. (phone photos below are Mt. Rainer & Mt. Hood)

 

Eventually, L.A. sprawl took over. After landing I made my way to the rental car counter. I had brilliantly secured my GPS in the very bottom of my bag, so I rummaged around and pulled it out.  Touching “CA” for state, and then typing in my destination – “Joshua Tree” – I was ready to roll.

Quickly the drive became tedious; at only 2:30 in the afternoon it was too early for rush hour, but it was stop and go traffic with nothing to look at but ugly walls and suburban malls.

After a few hours of that I HAD to stop!  The choices were limited but I noticed a sign for In ‘n’ Out Burger. That rang a vague bell. It would be fast. I went for it.

Pulling off the freeway, I found myself at not just any In ‘n’ Out Burger joint, but at one sharing a lot with – are you ready? – the In ‘n’ Out Burger University!   How cool is that?  I caught the sign reflected in my windshield, California palm trees included free of charge.

And the In ‘n’ Out University! How irresistible!  Gotta get a shot of that.  It turns out that the original In ‘n’ Out was just down the street.  That’s my order sitting on top of the car…

Back on the road, burger in my lap, I suffered through more traffic.  But it was made bearable by a fabulous, crunchy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside burger.

Traffic finally improved as I came to a narrow section of highway between mountain ranges, where the wind whipping through the pass has prompted the building of innumerable wind turbines.  For $35.00 you can treat yourself to a windmill tour of these monsters and learn all about them. Amazing, huh?  But I had other ideas…

By the time I cruised into Joshua Tree on scenic Rt. 62, the sun was setting behind the mountains.

I grabbed a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant in town and found my airbnb, a low slung home on a dirt road a few miles from the park entrance.

OK, that’s not the airbnb, it’s one of several outbuildings on the property. I like those simple structures.

And I’m not a fan of angels but this one, secured to the fence that surrounds the property, was pretty photogenic, I thought:

Not to mention that outdoor tub, seen in an earlier post. Altogether it looked like a decent location, and after exchanging pleasantries and discussing breakfast with my host, and I collapsed into a clean, firm bed.

Indoors.

The next morning I was eager to get into the park but first, my host took me on a quick walk around the property – her cacti were just beginning to flower:

A big Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) plant bloomed next to the shack. This is the plant indigenous people used medicinally and ceremoniously to contact dream helpers.

On to the park, after a quick stop at the local gas and grocery store for snacks and water.

Joshua Tree National Park is a large desert basin that encompasses both Mojave Desert terrain and the hotter Colorado, or Sonoran Desert lands. I entered on the northern side and spent my first day exploring the Mojave. What struck me most powerfully were two things: the Joshua Trees and great piles of monolithic rocks.

The gritty, dry surface of the rocks makes them ideal for climbing.

Joshua Trees are not trees – they’re overgrown yuccas with deep roots and trunk-like, fibrous stems. Some live hundreds of years.

In spring, they bloom:

Wildflowers at Joshua Tree are scattered about and best seen while walking amongst the rocks. This tiny Wooly daisy is easy to step on; the pretty desert dandelion is taller – enough to sway in the slight breeze, but I put a stop to that!

Flowers can blend into the arid landscape, but a closer inspection often reveals intense color. Desert globemallow:

P1020295-Edit

A pretty red flower blooming on a cactus was reason enough to climb up for a closer look…I climbed up,

…and found the gorgeous Claret cup cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus.  (Echino- means prickly or spiny, like the Echinoderms, or Sea urchins).

Another cactus, which is more common in the southern part of Joshua Tree, is the very photogenic Teddy Bear Cholla, Opuntia bigloveii.

There’s my car in the distance, on the main road through Joshua Tree. The rocks were really fun to clamber around on – you can see that rough texture – very grippy!

Off in the distance, a snow-capped mountain made me think about climate extremes. Here in the desert, annual rainfall averages 4.5 inches/yr. Where I live it averages about 37 inches/yr. It must be cold up on that mountain, but it was pretty hot in the sunny dessert, even in March.

On the way out there were more crazy-beautiful rock formations. This one had me thinking of dough, or potatoes :

 

 

I drove back into town for a break from the sun, picked up a brochure about the area, and learned that only a few miles away there was a vast sculpture installation. It’s the work of artist Noah Purifoy, who died at his home out here from a fire in 2001.

It definitely sounded like something I would like. I set my GPS for the coordinates of two named roads near where the installation was supposed to be. Around and around I drove on dirt roads in the desert, until I finally came upon this sign:

Turning down the dirt road, I located the site, and spent the next two hours spellbound by this man’s work – but that’s a story for another time!

Well OK, just one:

After a dinner in town I saw this on the way home: the full moon rising over the desert: a fitting end to the day.


36 comments

  1. Fantastic travelogue! I had a chance to see Joshua Trees during a visit with in-laws in 29 Palms. Unfortunately it was a rather perfunctory drive-by. Thanks for the closer look! The shot of Hood from the air is magical.

    • Glad you had a chance to get farther into the desert than 29 Palms. My son trained there so that was strange…and glad you like the Mt. Hood shot – it was so much more impressive than the photo can show. But I guess you know that!

  2. This really is intriguing. The juxtaposition of text and pictures works very well. I do like the mixture of snapshots and artistic shots a lot, providing the atmosphere of being on the road and in the nature. Photographically I’m fascinated by your pictures of rocks. They do have an organic aspect.

    • It’s great to hear that you think the text works well with the images – that’s always a little tricky to balance. And I asked myself if I should only include the more artistic photos, but your reaction helps me feel good about my choice to mix them all in – carefully framed photos and quick phone shots alike. And yes, the rocks are fantastic!

  3. Very interesting visit to the nature park. Though the beginning of your tale had me wondering just how long it takes to get out of Los Angeles and on to the inter city highway. I know LA is big. But does it take hours? Your photos are always beautiful, but this time, it was truly like a visit to that wonderful place, and I especially enjoyed seeing the Joshuah tree and the flowers.

    • Hi Shimon – I wonder how similar that desert is to those in Israel? I suspect they’re pretty different. I will say that on google maps the trip should have been about 2.5 hours – it’s 142 miles – 228 km. But I hit awful traffic, which L.A. is notorious for. However, on the way back (Sun. AM) I sailed into the city in 2.5 hours. I’m glad you felt like you traveled there, and that you enjoyed the flora. Wouldn’t it be fun to explore and botanize some little wild piece of land together?

  4. What a fun trip and all while still in my jammies! Thank you for such marvelous images and words. What a great adventure and place to explore for you and now I have this sudden urge to listen to U2!

  5. Gorgeous photos, as always, and I appreciate your botanical precision. It’s been years since I’ve camped in the desert, but my youngest kid just got back from Joshua Tree. Spring break. He mentioned seeing a jack rabbit and some local reptiles as well as ROCKS — most impressive.

    • Linda! How nice to hear from you – I did see a jack rabbit or two, as they quickly hopped away into the bushes. And little lizards, one or two of which I managed to photograph. As for botanical precision, I really enjoy trying to identify what I see so I’m glad it doesn’t all fall on deaf ears! 🙂 Glad to hear your son got out there. The rocks are fantastic.

    • Back now … Oh I loved the way you led us into the first explosion of colour BB with that vivid pink cactus and then onto your monochrome Joshua tree all spent and limp .. the Teddy Bear Cactus .. I can see why but not so cuddly Lol
      Yes … such gigantic rocks wedged together and piled up invite peeping through and clambering over don’t they 😉
      Really enjoyed this !

      • That old “spent and limp” Joshua tree was so interesting. They are very peculiar plants – not really pretty, to my eyes, but certainly interesting to look at. There are beautiful desert oaks though that you’ll see in the next post, and big old gnarled junipers with fragrant berries and foliage. Teddy bear cactus is a dangerous misnomer as it’s tiny prickers are particularly fierce. Someone abandoned a sweatshirt at the entrance to a walk in the park that winds through a grove of cholla – the sweatshirt was bunched up in a ball from an encounter with one, absolutely unwearable.

  6. Wow, how fantastic! : )
    I’ve been wanting to go to Joshua tree because I’m a climber. I’ve been close but never quite there. Beautiful images, Lynn! Sounds like a wonderful adventure (for the most part).

    • Oh, you would have so much fun there, between the climbing and the sights in general. It was a great trip, very intense, too brief…but it’s good to have all the photos. I feel like I haven’t really processed my own impressions yet, let alone the photos.


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