by Bob Sparrow
It was all I could do to make a left turn when traveling southeast on Interstate 10 through the Mojave Desert. The usual right turn takes me into the Palm Spring/Palm Desert communities where for years I’ve gone to relax, play golf and perhaps partake of a margarita, maybe two. But last week, turning left took me into Joshua Tree National Park where hiking and camping replaced golf and margaritas. ‘The Boys’ and I planned to camp and spend the weekend hiking just to see what was shakin’ around the San Andreas Fault, which runs through the park. Even though I’ve lived within two hours of ‘Josh’ (we’re now on a first-name basis), I had never been there. Apparently I’m not the only one late to this party, Joshua Tree was a mere National Monument (at slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island it was quite a large monument!) until as recently as 1994, when it finally became a National Park.
‘The Boys’ are:
– Patrick ‘Trail Boss’ Michael, who plans the trips, draws the permits, has all the trail maps, plans the menu and brings the firewood. He’s an engineer by trade – what a surprise!
- – Bob ‘Sparky’ Pacelli, who insists we each carry a walkie-talkie even though we never get more than 20 feet from each other during the entire weekend. The only time the walkie-talkies were used was when he heard from a trucker on Interstate 10 trying to get lucky.
– Rick ‘Greeter’ Sullivan, the friendliest man on the trail; greets everyone he meets with his big, easy smile. If he’s at your campfire make sure you have plenty of wood, ‘cause he’s got plenty of stories.
– Richard ‘Chuck Wagon’ Wade, who is not a hiker, but asked if he could come along and cook. Hell yeah! Since he’s a forensic doctor with a degree from Harvard, we respectfully call him Dr. Chuck Wagon.
– My nickname is ‘Avalanche’ because I used to come down a hill fairly quickly, that was then, now they’re thinking about changing my name to ‘Lava Floe’ or ‘Petrified Rock’.
We entered the park at the Cottonwood Springs entrance, which is at the far southeastern corner; our campsite was at the Black Rock Nature Center, which is at the far northwestern corner, so it allowed us to drive through the middle of the park (about 65 miles), stopping along the way when we found something interesting.
The first interesting site we saw was the rare ‘Bra & Shoe Tree’ (photo left). Nope, not sure how they got there, but I’d appreciate it if the person who put them there would call my wife and explain – she’s not sure what kind of camping we were doing.
Our first stop was right inside the gate where there is a good long hike (Lost Palms Oasis) and a good short one (Mastodon Peak). Given that we had ‘miles to go before we sleep’ we took the shorter hike, which took us past the old Mastodon Gold Mine and ultimately to Mastodon Peak which provided us a great view of the Salton Sea and the namesake rock, the one that looks like a mastodon.
Joshua Tree is filled with all kinds of interesting rock formation, many are named after what they look like – Skull Rock, where we stopped to hike
and have lunch, is a good example. The rock formation in the photo below didn’t have a name that we knew about, so we made up one: ‘Four Frogs Fornicating’ – if you look at it long enough and from just the right angle maybe you’ll see it, but probably not. I don’t think our name will make it into the National Park Registry.
The road through the park has a good number of pullouts and informational plaques that help explain what lies in front of you, like a beautiful Joshua Trees forest, or a row of those pretty, but prickly cholla cactus or just a collection of interestingly-shaped rocks, many of them with rock climbers on them.
Since ‘Dr. Chuck Wagon’ wasn’t getting in until the next morning, after we got to our campsite and pitched our tent, we decided to go into town for dinner. Town, in this case was Yucca Valley, although we could have opted for the bustling burg of Twentynine Palms. We were told about a place just out of Yucca Valley called ‘Pioneertown’, where a movie set of a western town was built in the 40’s and a number of western movie and tv series were shot there staring the likes of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Cisco Kid to name a few. We had dinner at an old western saloon there called Pappy & Harriet’s. OK, we weren’t exactly ‘roughing’ it, but we did drive back to the park after dinner and retire to our tent for the night.
Coming on Wednesday – Part II
Treks to the Lost Horse Mind, Keys View and the Hall of Horrors