March 25, Friday
It’s been sunny and breezy at my camp near Joshua Tree, CA. While the sunsets haven’t been as spectacular the past couple days, the golden hour never disappoints.
I like the town, too. It has a quirky combination of thrift and vintage stores, outfitters, artsy shops and cafes, and three highly rated restaurants. Two friends I worked with at Amazon last fall arrived on Wednesday and we hit up Pie for the People, a pizza joint. It was delicious, although the outdoor seating area has a direct view inside the yoga studio next door, and watching them exercise made me feel a little bad about consuming so many carbs. Only a little though.
Today I’m taking a break from writing, and visiting the park. Being stuck behind a computer screen for this long has me climbing the walls, figuratively speaking. Now it’s time to climb the walls, literally speaking. I’m talking about rock climbing, or bouldering really because I don’t have rock climbing gear.
I hop inside Bertha and motor east on 62 into the town of Twentynine Palms. Their welcome sign advertises murals, and it’s quite accurate. Some depict scenes of the desert, some focus on plants or animals, and some show the mining roots of the area. I fill up on gas ($2.48 – I’m happy to be visiting California at a time when gas is cheaper) and take a right into the northeast entrance into the park.
Hope you like pictures of boulders, because there’s a lot of them coming. My first stop is Split Rock picnic area.
The unique rock formations seen inside Joshua Tree national park are made out of granite, not sandstone as many think. Ready for a geology lesson? Tectonic movement and stresses created sets of fractures in the rock when it was still underground long ago. Water filtered down through these cracks and started breaking the rock down, rounding off the edges. Erosion carried away the small rock particles, exposing the rounded rocks. Pretty cool stuff.
Next stop is Skull Rock, which isn’t marked on the map but I couldn’t resist a name like that. The afternoon lighting is perfect for making the rock look like its namesake.
Flowers abound. It’s not a carpet, but patches of them can be found all over.
In other areas of the park, the Joshua Trees cover valleys in what I would call a savannah. Grass, brush, trees.
There are also two more campgrounds along this route. Jumbo Rocks which seems to be first come first served, and Sheep Pass which is by reservation only and mostly if not all group sites. They’re both set among the rocks and have the the iconic trees, but are tight like Cottonwood campground at the south end of the park.
Most sites are walk in and don’t have parking areas big enough for larger RVs. I recall on my last visit to Joshua Tree that there were only two campgrounds in the park that could officially take my 35 foot total length when the truck and trailer were added together. Some of these spots could take 35 feet of rig, but you’d be parking parallel to and right on top of the road. A lot of vans are out here and it’s about the perfect size for them. There are pit toilets but no water spigots or dump station, no electric, and like most of the park no Verizon signal.
Past those campgrounds is a rock climber area called Hall of Horrors, where climbs have names like “Exorcist” and “Diamond Dog”. That’s way beyond my level, but there are smaller tamer piles of boulders to clamber on, and I do so out of sight of the professionals at the top of the ‘real’ climbs who’d likely point and laugh at my play.
If you’re looking for sweeping vistas in Joshua Tree without a hike, Keys View is the place to go. At 5185 feet, it offers a great panorama of the Coachella Valley and San Andreas Fault. Since the view is to the southwest, early morning would be the ideal time to come for good lighting, but late afternoon when I show up isn’t bad.
It is often hazy though, a product of dust kicked up by wind and air pollution. The Salton Sea is barely visible and there isn’t much detail to the valley.
Back at the RV, I take my phone off of airplane mode (a great way to conserve the battery when there’s no signal to be had) and check my e-mail and voicemail. Nothing yet, which isn’t surprising given I only submitted the form this morning. I’m expecting to be contacted by someone soon and the results of that call will determine my travel plans after Joshua Tree. Yes, there’s something big in the works but I’m not ready to spill the details just yet…