One of these days I’ll see a real, live Joshua Tree….
The husband and I learned a valuable lesson when we did a day trip to Grand Canyon a few years ago: quality beats out quantity every time. We were in Sedona for a week during a prior government shutdown (must have been 2013 or 2014), which resulted in all national parks being shut down. Not good for those of us intending to take a day trip to the GC whilst in AZ. Lucky for us, the Governor of the great state of Arizona announced that, government shutdown be damned, they were opening that national park.
We proceeded to the visitors center on the South Rim and went in to talk to a ranger to consider our options. We could spend the day hopping from location to location along the rim, viewing sweeping vistas and breathtaking views of the Colorado River, which we could only see a sliver of from where we were at. Or, suggested the ranger, we could focus on quality and spend our day walking the rim path between our location and Angel’s Camp. Now, I tend to be a seer and a doer and a goer so I was still onboard with racing around like a wild woman. However, after a brief conference the husband and I decided to go with quality. It was the best decision we could have made. I have tried to retain some semblance of that concept since then, particularly when faced with one day in a national park. Thus, my decision to focus on only one trail….one hike…in Joshua Tree.
I was solo on this adventure, traversed the last full day I was in Southern CA. My girlfriend and her husband had family coming into town, so she was unable to go with me. It was okay. Honestly, I sometimes struggle with taking photos when I’m with anyone but the husband. He knows how long I’m going to take, and he’s okay with it. With others I worry that they’re going to get bored. However, she let me drag her around the Sunnylands garden and seemed perfectly content, so I think she would have been fine in Joshua Tree.
I selected a hike in the Cottonwood Spring section of the park. The south end. Only a 35 minute drive from where my friend lives. I was up and out by 7, climbing my way out of the Palm Springs desert. The weather report called for relatively mild temperatures in the low 70’s, but I wanted to get on the trail relatively early. I figured low 70’s in the desert was going to feel much toastier than low 70’s on the coast, and I also concluded that the trail I had in mind was a popular one. Which meant I wanted to be off it before the masses arrived.
I was at the trailhead for Lost Palms Oasis by a little after 7:30 and on the trail by 7:45. The relatively small parking lot contained only two other cars. It was a beautiful morning for a hike. I had been concerned, as the car climbed out of the valley, that I hadn’t brought enough layers. However, I discovered that I was comfortable in short sleeves with a fleece over top. I was stripping on the fleece by mile 2.
The Lost Palms Oasis trail is a little over 7 miles out-n-back (I deviated here and there enough to make it closer to 8 when all was said and done). The trail meanders across a landscape dotted with cactus, juniper and other unidentifiable cool desert stuff.
I found myself looking for similarities to other places I’ve been. Do you do that? There were some beautiful rock formations littered across the desert, some of which reminded me of Sedona (though not formed by the same red rock nor standing as impressively tall as the formations in that area). There were other parts of it that reminded me of the Santa Fe area. And Taos. It was new, yet familiar. And gorgeous. I could see mountains in the distance (what mountains I do not know). The trail unfurled like a ribbon before me. And, with the exception of an occasional person, I was alone.
I eventually came to a sign pointing down into a canyon, announcing the way to the palms. Below me I could see a cluster of palms that make up the largest stand of fan palms in the park. It was not a mirage…it was an oasis. Unfortunately, the oasis did not include a pool, a cabana boy and a mai tai. A girl could hope.
As I made my way down into the canyon (thinking to myself, “This is going to be a puffer coming back out,”) I took photos of the palms from a variety of perspectives. I was reminded of similar photos I took of hoodoos while hiking in New Mexico a couple of years ago.
The massive palms and a well-placed shelf of rock provided a nice place to pause and drink in the view.
The history of Joshua Tree is an interesting one. In the late 1920’s, the development of new roads into the desert resulted in an influx of land developers and, of all things, cactus poachers. Apparently residents of LA, seeking to add cactus to their gardens, would drive to various parts of the California desert to dig them up and transport them home.
Minerva Hoyt, a Pasadena resident who was extremely fond of desert plants, became concerned about the number of cactus being removed. Her efforts to protect the area resulted in 825,000 acres being set aside as Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936.
As part of the Desert Protection Bill, Joshua Tree National Monument was elevated to national park status in 1994. Over the years, it had been reduced in size. The protection bill added 234,000 acres to the park, bringing it to it’s current 792,623 acres.
Before leaving for the park I had Googled “Joshua Tree” so that I would know what one looks like when I saw it. Turns out there aren’t any in the Southern part of the park. Go figure. They can be seen when driving between the West and North entrances. Next time.
However, the palm trees made me pretty darn happy. They were tall. Very, very tall. How tall? I don’t know because I suck at estimating things like that. But, here’s me with the palms in the background to give you an idea. Tall.
After having a snack and wandering around the oasis for a bit I decided to pack it in. The climb out of the canyon was, indeed, a puffer. At one point I dropped one of my water bottles and watched it bounce back down the trail behind me. I have to admit, I considered leaving the sucker. However, that nagging little, “Pack it in, pack it out,” voice wouldn’t allow me to do so.
Once I hit the main trail I started passing those coming in. I was happy I had gotten to the trail early as there were a lot of them. Of course, they were also headed straight into the sun at 11 am. Sucked to be them. I made my way back to the car, now surrounded by others that stretched back up the main road.
I relinquished my space and headed to the General George S. Patton Memorial Museum, in Chiriaco Summit, California (just down the highway from the turn-off to Joshua Tree). Odd, but true. This museum, out in the middle of nowhere, was erected in tribute to General George S. Patton on the site of the entrance of Camp Young, part of the Desert Training Center of World War II. I’m a nerd. I had to stop.
The museum was pretty cool…I had no idea about the desert training center in that area. However, I found myself distracted by two things: 1) I smelled and 2) I kept thinking about the Foster’s Freeze ice cream shop in the Chevron Station next door. Needless to say, I didn’t give General Patton the attention he deserved. But the ice cream was good.
From there I headed back to Indio where I cleaned up and joined my friend and her family at a local restaurant for…wait for it…happy hour on the patio. A fitting end to my time in the desert.