Joshua Tree x2 (Part 1)

Been awhile since I posted.  Rather than a music post, wanted to do a quick hiking/backpacking post about two recent trips to Joshua Tree.  Sarah’s dad was visiting the Joshua Tree area for 9 days, and Sarah and I joined him for the two weekends we were there.  We had two pretty distinct experiences with the weather highlighting the extremes of desert camping.  The first weekend we were there had warm temperatures during the day and pleasant nighttime weather.  We didn’t even need to put on our tent’s rainfly the first night and got to look up at the stars at night.

Our first weekend plan was to take one car to the Boy Scout Trailhead, hike on the Boy Scout trail, set up camp a mile or two in, hike to Willow Hole, and then pack up camp the next day and continue on the Boy Scout trail to the other end of the trail, where our other car was waiting.  Having two cars is nice, since you can avoid having to backtrack over trail you already hiked to get out.

There’s Sarah to the left on the Boy Scout Trail.  You can see that it’s a relatively flat trail and is surrounded by the ubiquitous Joshua trees and large rock piles.  We only backpacked in about two miles before veering off trail to find a site to set up camp.  With most of the backcountry open for camping, you don’t have to go to designated backwoods camping sites, which has been most of our experience in Sequoia National Park.  We found a spot near some rocks that would offer shelter from winds and after leaving most of our stuff in our tent, we decided to walk off-trail for a bit and then would hook up with the Willow Hole trail, which leads to one of the larger water holes in the park.

Sarah and her dad have both gotten pretty good at navigating using a topographic map and a compass.  I was given a quick tutorial earlier in the morning.  It is a lot of fun trying to guide yourself from point to point, and obviously a good skill to have if you ever get yourself lost.  So, we got our bearings and headed off to Willow Hole.  We eventually caught up with the main trail, which eventually went down into a wash, which is basically a dried up waterway that is now full of sand.  There was actually a substantial amount of water at Willow Hole, and there were even two ducks swimming around in one of the waterways.  I was somewhat surprised, as previous “oasis” we’ve been to in the park held very little water other than a few puddles of green water.

After relaxing for a while we headed back, going cross-country again, and then decided to walk up the Boy Scout trail a bit before dinner time.  We spotted a peak called Key’s Peak and Sarah and I decided we wanted to try and climb it.  It was very rocky (see the picture to the right) and there was no trail, but we figured we’d give it a shot and turn around if it got too difficult.

We skirted around boulders bigger than us and slowly made it up to the saddle then started going more vertical.  Along the way I had an encounter with one of the many cacti dotting the rocks.  Jumping from rock to rock, I stabbed my left leg into a single pointy spine.  Ouch.  I could tell it was bleeding, so I rolled up my leg and indeed it was.  Luckily we carry our trusty first aid kit, so I was patched up and we continued on.  We made it near the top pretty quickly, but found ourself in a spot where we thought we’d be stuck.  A narrow passage between two rocks had a rock wedged in between them that was taller than us.  Eventually we figured out that we could wedge one foot in to boost ourself up and we scrambled the rest of the way to the top.  We had a really good 360 degree view of the surrounding area.  A couple pictures later, we made a quick descent, finding an easier path down a gully.

The wind was picking up as we got back to camp.  That night we experienced a first.  So, the desert because of the dry air and lack of water, abounds in static electricity.  When we set up our camp, we picked a spot that only allowed us to stake down one of the two doors on our tent.  The door on my side just was laying there, though I had tried to keep it pinned down with a few rocks.  Well, the rubbing of the tent’s rainfly on the desert floor created a lot of static electricity.  All night, every time the wind hit the tent, it created weird noises.  At first we were freaked out by the noise, since it sounded like something was hitting the tent, almost like raindrops except it wasn’t raining.  After figuring it out, it was just an annoyance.  Lesson learned.

The next day, we packed up and continued on the Boy Scout trail, going past Keys Mountain, and then beginning a long descent to the other end of the trail and our car.  We purposely planned the route so as to get to go downhill on that section of the trail.  Smart thinking, it would have been a bear toting our full packs up that.  I’m out of shape right now for backpacking, so the downhill trek was welcome.  The trail went down into a big wash which you walked through for a while, flanked on each side by large rock walls.  The last mile or two was back up hill, but not too steep.

We spent the rest of the day driving from the north end of the park to the south end in hopes of seeing more desert flowers in bloom.  We’d seen quite a few during our backpacking, but in the lower elevations we thought we’d see even more.  There were patches, below is a sample of some really nice yellow ones I took right before we exited the park.  There were some blooms on a large cactus-like tree whose name eludes me at the moment.  All in all a very nice trip.

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