After several days at Red Rocks it was time to move on to our next stop: Joshua Tree National Park.
On the morning of our departure (4/9) we took a little time to explore the nearby Calico Basin area where Alastair did some more rock climbing, then it was time to track down a grocery store to restock the Nanavan’s pantry. It was early afternoon by the time we were officially on the road but we weren’t in a hurry for the drive. Instead of having to set up camp, we “treated” ourselves to a sketchy motel in Twentynine Palms, a small town just outside Joshua Tree National Park. This would not only provide thorough showering and the use of wifi, but would also allow an early arrival into the park the next morning to try and snag a first-come first-served campsite.
On Monday (4/10) we left Twentynine Palms in time to enter Joshua Tree before the ranger station was open. All of the signage indicated the campgrounds were full but we hoped to find a site with people leaving so we could swoop in and occupy it. The first campground we came to upon entering the park was Belle Campground. It wasn’t our first choice of where to stay but we didn’t want to miss an opportunity if something was available. We drove in and circled around the loop of campsites and, sure enough, every site was occupied. Just as we were coming up to the campground exit, Alastair pointed out a site with two women who looked like they may be packing up. He rolled down the window and asked if they were leaving today. One of the women said they would be gone in five to ten minutes, and that it would be okay if we creepily sat and waited for them to leave. They were really friendly and said the site was great, and within five minutes they backed their car out of the site and we drove the Nanavan in. Fantastic timing!
The women were correct, the site was great! It was nestled up next to a pile of massive boulders which is one of the park’s claims to fame. Not only did this provide shade and protection from the occasional winds, but also made our site feel more private and secluded. Another major bonus was that the boulders had several climbing routes. Alastair noticed chalk on the rocks right away (indicating climbers had been here before) and in less than an hour he had built an anchor and was requesting a belay. This worked out really well because I was able to keep a watchful eye and belay as needed from the comfort of our campsite.
Every day at the park involved climbing from our campsite for half of the day and hiking for the other half of the day. Two of the hikes we went on were the Lost Horse Loop Trail and the Lost Palms Oasis Trail. The Lost Horse Loop Trail passed by the old and derelict Lost Horse gold mine which was fenced off for safety purposes but still interesting to see what remained. The mine was originally established in the late 1800s, after a man discovered the available gold while supposedly searching in the desert for his lost horse, hence the name.
After exploring the mining area, we continued on the trail which undulated through rocky desert hills with occasional panoramic views before ending with a flat jaunt along a winding sandy trail. I was trying to keep a good pace while enjoying the novelty of being in the desert when something on the trail caught my eye. I had rapidly approached it before I was aware of its presence and, suddenly, it was nearly underfoot. It was a SNAKE! I jumped back in fear of having come within (what felt like) mere inches (but was probably a few feet) of stepping on it. The snake and I had a brief staring contest before he slithered away off the trail, finding refuge under a nearby shrub. For the remainder of the hike I was on high alert and watching my step more closely, but only managed to scope out a lot of snake-like twigs on the ground.
The Lost Palms Oasis Trail, on the other hand, had no stressful wildlife encounters. What it did have was miles of beautiful desert plants in bloom, as well as different varieties of lizards and rabbits and bugs (oh, my). This hike gave me a new appreciation for the beauty of the desert in the spring. We were both amazed at the vivid colors and the number of variations of flowers we passed on the trail. Many of the flowers looked like they were straight out of a Dr. Seuss book and weren’t anything we could have seen and appreciated by just driving by in the car. Alastair was determined to take a picture of each variety of flower. He did pretty well but eventually lost track and may have missed a couple. The end of the trail led down into a canyon where a lonely stand of palm trees provided nice cool shade; a pleasant reprieve from the unfiltered sunshine we had the entire time getting here.
I didn’t know much about Joshua Tree National Park prior to our trip but I’m so glad we included it as a destination, especially with it being spring time. Almost every day had clear blue skies which lasted through the night and allowed for great star-gazing. It also meant we had some slightly chilly evenings but it was nothing the sun couldn’t remedy by the next morning.