Monday, April 09, 2007

Joshua Tree ROCKS!!!

I had not completed too much homework on the park before heading in, and, boy, was I ever pleased with what I found :) I say it rocks, cause, well, even though it is named for a tree, the big allure here are the rocks. With the onset of spring break, the place was hopping with the college class "rock stars", tackling some of the oldest and most infamous (unbeknownst to me) tecnical climbs in the states. I put my new Lowa's to the test, spending hours out of each day scrambling the old fart routes ;')
I met up with a couple who were full-timing out of Oregon, before I even entered the park boundaries. We traded info on our favorite places and intended visits within the park. We would meet here and there within the park as our visits wore on.
On advice from the ranger at the Cottonwood visitor center, I headed out the lost palms oasis trail a few miles. It never seems to fail that I am stuck attempting the longer hikes at noontime, never being at the right place at the right time to do the more strenuous stuff in the mornings or evenings.
Just a note on the weather.... Since the snowstorm at Cuyamaca SP, I have been dealing with temps that range 12 to 20 degrees over normal. As I will post later, this holds true through Death Valley and the greater Las Vegas area. 102 degrees in death valley in the winter was not what I had expected when I launched into the desert region. Oh well.
So back to this hike at JT. At 2.5 miles in, my body is indicating it does not think a 7 + mile hike in 90+ weather is a good idea today. I relent and turn around. I have been to a few oasis' already, and I'd hate to end the hike physically spent, with the rest of the day still in front of me. The heat is only part of the story here. The unrelenting sun is the real backbreaker. The heat is just a multiplier to the sun's power...Oh, and for those of you thinking "but it's a dry heat"...phooey to you. Come bask in it awhile first ;)
I ventured into the campgrounds nearby for lunch and to cleanup and cool down, and then back on the road north. This is another desert park where the lower elevation is to the south, so I am starting to make my north and higher and a little relief from the heat. As I climb, I am going through the "transition zone", which is where the Colorado (low) desert and Mojave (high) desert meet.
There is a noticible change in the vegation and terrain, and the namesake (Joshua Tree) is starting to show up. I am checking out all of the backroads and pull outs as I go, so the afternoon fades away much too quickly. Early evening and a good half hour or more before sunset, and I have a bat fluttering around over the roadway :). I pull out and try get a picture of him, but he seems to be teasing and fluttering further up the road whenever I am set to get a shot. Soon, I see more of them. They are staying in the shadows of the mountains. I am luckily parked (for him anyways) and trying my best to get a pic, when one flys right into my antenae! I don't actually see him do it as I have the camera to my face, but I hear the boing of the antenae bouncing and look in time to see it fly away in a half drunken state. Better have the old sonar system checked out there buddy ;')
It is now sunset and twilight as I come upon Cholla (choy-ya) Cactus garden. Too dark to get any pics, but WOW, a whole lot of cactus for sure. The Cholla has two nicknames, Teddybear, or Jumping Cholla. The soft silvery spines or bristles are tipped with a barb, so the slightest touch and you've been had, and are evidently very painful and very hard to extract. I call these cactus the two-tones, as the lower portion of the plant is dark brown in color while the upper portion of newer growth is silvery. Very cool looking plant, but observe from a distance.
I finally make it to a campgrounds, white tank, but no sites are open. This is a radically cool campground, with each site nestled into the foot of the boulders that make up the grounds. I move just up the road to Belle and take the last open site. On the way there, I scared up a screech owl from the side of the road, and have to dart in-between the hares and rodents that are scooting across the roadway. At camp, the Coyote's are protesting the loud music and crying babies that are piercing the quiet of the night with their long and woeful howls. As the other campers and the coyote's finally call it quits, my neighboring camper startles the daylights out of me by launching into moans and talking in his sleep, followed shortly by a level of snoring that would make a certain, unnamed, brother-in-law of mine envious ;'). Both our camps are nestled in the a cove of boulders, and he is tent camping while I am sitting out at my fire. It was as if someone was over my shoulder going "hut, ha, umphh, etc. Shot straight up out of my chair looking for something to arm myself with! CRIPES!!! I'll never get to sleep tonight after that adreneline rush! Wow! I actually met the guy the next morning. Nice enough guy. From New Jersey too. I was kind enough to not relate last night's events to him.
In the morning I hiked around the campgrounds and did some scrambling before making my way back to white tank, where I hiked and scrambled the nature trail, natural arch and boulders, while doing a virtual cache. I then proceeded back south to walk through the Cholla Gardens. Hopefully the pics do justice for the gardens. A very worthwhile backtrack. Did a few more virtuals on the way back up and into the western portion of the park, and Jumbo Rocks (oh yeah!) campgrounds. I met up with Artie and wife (oregon full-timers) and noted that I had spotted a few funnel clouds form in the leading edge of the front that was passing through. Artie would not believe this for a moment, even after I pointed one out to him. He all but told me I was full of it. I will post a couple of pics and say this, and you can decide for yourself: The funnels, or vortex's were all coming out of the leading edge of the front; they long and thin in their makeup, more tubular than funnel shape; they would fall apart with a half minute of taking on their defined shape, sometimes breaking away from the clouds and drifting as they's fall apart. Having witnessed both funnel clouds and waterspouts, in my days in Florida, I'd say these looked almost exactly like a waterspout formation.
I tool advantage of the JUMBO ROCKS, scrambling my way up to the kiosk to register and out and over "skull rock" and back to camp. From there I went up the rocks behind me to take in the sunset over the peaks. Very nice indeed :)
I decided to take the site for the next night, since the park had filled up, and fretted as to how to avoid having someone "squat" in my site while I was out for the day. I made up a sign with a paper plate announcing the site to be "Hank's Basecamp" and put it up on the post. As I am letting the van warm up, darned if I don't have vultures sitting in their vehicles scouting out my site! Now, this is before 8 am folks! A guy walks up and asks if I am leaving. So much for my sign! So, I have to sacrafice the use of my campchair for the day, and leave it in the site. The thing with the guy actually turned into a minor confrontation, with him walking away saying that I "did not have to be an ...hole about it". Before I reacted, I decided he was right, and stated to him my position as to why I was upset with his approach. If I had not already been victim to people actually having taken my sites while I was away, I guess I would have been nicer about it. Got to love "developed camping". I still have never had a negative situation while "boondocking".
My Oregon friends had gone to Keys view the previous day and said it was a must do, but the earlier the better, due to the LA smog making its way in as the day progresses. So, off I went. Only problem was that with the system that came through yesterday, today the effects was WIND! I mean, make you walk sideways kind of wind. Since the viewpoint was at the top of a cliff, it (the wind) was very dramatic. Oh well, nice view...through the teary eyes of a 40+ mile an hour wind :')
I did a few odd and interesting caches on my way out from keys view. The dead man's cache (gc6d71) is at John Lang's gravesite. He was co-founder of the "Lost Horse" mine, and was purportedly a swindler of his partners. His body was found on trail by Keys of the view point, and buried. Whether he'd been hanged or died by other means by his partners is folklure. Even more odd was "spirit in the sky" (gchf12), which is at a hidden memorial for Gram Parsons. Parsons may have been the first "country/rock" musician, and also "discovered" Emmylou Harris. He died in Joshua Tree ( I had heard but cannot verify by suspect circumstances) and his body was "hijacked" and returned here for cremation by friends.
I spent the rest of my day exploring the west side of the park; doing some serious scrambling/climbing in the hidden valley area and hiking through the Wonderland of Rocks. While I was at my van at Parker Dam trailhead, I had a visit from another vanagon owner. Leon is legend in the Vanagon World. He owns several, and tours the Southwest in his synchro (4x4) which he converted into a camper himself (fantastic job of it too). He asked if I had a couple of minutes to talk (of course) and after a little vanagon chat, he started telling me of the hidden jems he has found along my intended course. I tried my best in getting all the details and even made notes. After some time, Natalia was growing restless, and I suggested he might want to look after his ladie's interest, but gave him my site # and offered them a spot there if they needed it that night. I headed off for a drive out "geology tour road".
To my delight, Leon and Natalia did show up later that evening, and we had a great time with dinner and a fire, stories and insights. Both Leon and Natalia have immigrated here from Russia, and it was awesome to hear perspective on our country's current fiasco's and course from someone who grew up under such harsh conditions. Very very enlightening. I continue to meet some great people out here :)
In the morning, I made my way to "split rock" before leaving the park.
A really neat park, great formations, lots of good scrambling rocks, and, oh yeah, they have this funny looking tree that grows here too :0. An a1 visit.

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