Joshua Tree National Park

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What, you may ask is a Joshua Tree?

West of Johannesburg, CA

Stay with me, as I write about the conclusion of my 2013 California vacation and I will tell you (and show you) about these "trees".

Monday morning, August 26, I left Ridgecrest, CA on my way down to Joshua Tree National Park. I was now in the Mojave Desert and it started to feel more like "home", meaning I was back in a desert and it was much warmer than up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Still, the heat here was not as warm as it is in our Sonoran Desert in Arizona, at least not while I was there. 

I could have taken a direct route sticking to US Hwy. 395, but outside Johannesburg, CA, I was intrigued by what seemed to be a mirage of a lake or possibly a salt flat. So, being the inquisitive type that I am, I veered off US Hwy. 395, checked my map and re-routed my trip to go exploring along this other stretch of road. Distances are often deceiving out in the desert, and the far off "lake" was much further away than it initially appeared. As it did finally become more clear, I could see it was not a lake, although I believe, at times it is covered in water. What I most likely was seeing were nitrite deposits, much like what we think of as salt flats. But no cars or other vehicles were racing over these flats trying out for land speed records. It was simply a desolate, long stretch of a dry lake bed. Still being a distance off the road, I did not go down closer to investigate, rather from a distance as I walked part way from my car. 

Clouds were beautiful against the brilliant blue skies, but I could also see that a very large, more massive accumulation of darker clouds were forming to the Southeast. Enjoying my new route with scarce traffic, I eventually headed south again and then east toward Barstow, CA. After lunch and refueling my Santa Fe, I continued south toward Yucca Valley and Twenty Nine Palms, the entrance points to Joshua Tree National Park. After leaving Barstow, the weather from the Southeast steadily darkened the skies and rain descended, heavily at times, even until I neared Twenty Nine Palms, CA. 

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With very low hanging clouds and now a light drizzle, I stopped at the Visitor's Center to Joshua Tree N.P. There I watched a video presentation about the park and got a map of the area. With the rain now having stopped, the cloud cover still hovered just above the earth and as I drove up to and into the park, a heavy fog drifted slow and  low over the landscape, sometimes thick and nearly impenetrable. It was an eerie sight with Joshua Trees, their spiky branches and leaves standing silently, as ghostly images through the thick, hazy mist. There was a stillness that accompanied the fog enshrouded scenes, making it seem even more otherworldly. 

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Stopping several times to take pictures, the fog was steadily floating along, sometimes thickening and at other times thinning out as the trees and rock formations came into and out of focus. As I drove further into the park and the clouds began dissipating, bright blue skies and brilliant white clouds replaced the fog blanketed scenes. This type of entrance into Joshua Tree N.P. was dramatic, as though I were entering from a dimly lit room into a progressively brighter setting that revealed a desert landscape that in it's own right is fantastical. The peculiar, spindly trees offset by the hills and rocks that appear as though fractured or stacked up as blocks of stone upon each other. I was fascinated and was drawn further and further into the park. 

With ever brighting skies, the further I drove the further I wanted to explore this park. Several scenic areas drew me off the road and allowed me to hike back into areas to see even more of what the park offered. But, mostly the rock formations and the Joshua Trees were what was so intriguing about this park. The Joshua Tree is actually a yucca plant that, essentially, is all grown up. They grow in a specific environment and locale much as do our Sonoran Desert Saguaro Cacti, or, as do the Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The rock formations with their appearances as blocks of stone, are masses of granite that actually fractured millions of years ago as they were still under the earth. Over time, they were exposed and the forces of Nature, freezing, thawing, etc, split the fractures to how they now appear. 

Having entered this park I had no idea of what I'd find, but soon decided that I'd need to return for more exploration the next day. I continued on a loop road and exited east of where I had entered in Yucca Valley and out near Twenty Nine Palms. That is where I stayed overnight and was up the next morning and back to discover more in the park. 

Driving on side roads I found many places that were so fantastic with all the huge boulders, split rocks and Joshua Trees that I felt like a kid clambering up and over the massive granite formations, down into narrow gaps and up onto the tops to look out over the desert scenes. In all, it is a wondrous place, that drew me in and held me in awe. By what I observed, other visitors, too, were excited to venture amongst the rocks and boulders, around them, over them, upon them. The Joshua Trees, of course, were also fascinating, providing an added element of mystery and beauty to the whole area.

Now well into the afternoon, heading home to Phoenix was where I wanted to go. Along the drive, I was, again, a solitary driver on well paved roads. On a couple of occasions, road graders were scraping dirt off the roadway, from what was deposited after the recent rains. All the way, the drive was splendid. After crossing over the Colorado River into Parker, AZ, I began to notice the lushness of the desert on that far side of the state. It was obvious that they had had ample rain to produce such greenness and healthy growth out in the desert. The evidence of heavy rains with roadside debris and standing water continued from the border and into Wickenburg, AZ, which is 50 miles north of Phoenix.

 Approaching closer to Phoenix, it was now early evening, the night having fallen, my 2013 August adventure ended with memories and stories waiting to be shared.



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Yes, SKULL ROCK, above.


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