After judging all the brownness of the Nevada desert, our time in Joshua Tree convinced me that in such barrenness, there is usually more going on than meets the eye. It felt like much of what we saw contained evidence: of the passage of water in the last rainy season, of the passage of animals in scat or tracks, of the grinding passage of time in the rocks and landscape.
Being in JTree is like being in a Giant Child’s rock garden. In the middle of flat land, all of a sudden, there rise piles of golden stones, rounded and haphazardly stacked and strewn about. In the flat areas, the land stretches to the horizon with spikes of Joshua Trees. At times it looks like the Dr. Suess’ idea of a Christmas Tree farm: regularly spaced whacky shapes bent at crazy angles with funny spikes of leaves.
It was beautiful.
Before this trip, I had a cliche notion of the desert: vast dunes of sand, with me crawling toward scant shade. What I’d never thought about was the wind. Every morning the wind picked up, sometimes gusting up to 40 mph. Our tent was tucked behind some big rocks, so at most, we had continuous fluttering, but other people, who set up in the quiet of evening, woke to tents that were whipping back and forth over their heads at crazy angles. Then at night, as the sun set and the moon rose, the wind usually died down. We were tucked among the child’s stones with the moon bright enough for clambering.
Day 1/Hike 1: Lost Palms Oasis
As usual when camping, we did one (long) hike per day. Joshua Tree spans parts of two deserts. The Mojave, home of the Joshua Tree itself, is 3,000 feet higher than the lower, drier Colorado. The first day, we descended to the lower desert to hike to an oasis. The trail was rocky, but very pretty. As we hiked out of a wash, Jrex ahead of me, I saw his foot descending right on top of a snake. What I couldn’t see was if there was a rattle on the tail. Jrex never even saw the snake until I pointed it out. No rattle, thank God. In fact, after being stepped on, the snake didn’t even move. That was my adrenaline rush for the day!
After 3.5 miles in on a rocky path, we turned and looked down on palm trees.
My Oasis image was also a cliche: a babbling brook or spring, palm trees, and someone in a toga waiting to feed me grapes and fan me with a palm branch. Instead, there was a row of palms straggling down the valley in the midst of dry rocks. As with much of my desert experience, once I adjusted my expectations to what it was, I found the beauty.
Day 2/Hike 2: Death by shifting sands
OK. OK. I’m being melodramatic. This was supposed to be a 10.5 mile up-and-down hike to a peak. The guide book mentioned climbing up gully’s and washes to the peak. What it didn’t say was that the WHOLE hike would be on sand. Imagine being forced to walk in the soft part of a beach, uphill, for hours.
The hike was my idea so I couldn’t get mad at Jrex, but we both agreed that sand was NOT fun. The view was pretty, we found a hidden valley of huge Joshua Trees, but I wouldn’t want to do that one again.
To add insult to injury, neither the signs on the mountain, the guidebook, nor the topo map seemed to agree on anything. We had to bust out the compass to figure out where we were and where we needed to go. On the way back, I insisted on trusting a sign instead of Jrex’s memory. What should have been the last mile turned into two.
I also wore sneakers. With mesh sides for ‘breathability’. The whole way down I had to stop every mile to drain my shoes and socks of sand. I kept telling myself: “It’s better than being at work. It’s better than being at work.”
We were there the night of the full-moon and the days leading up to and after. Which meant that after Jrex cooked dinner over one-burner, we could go and wander among the rocks in the moonlight. The moon was so bright we could see colors in the rocks.