Sunday, 8 November 2009

U4 in Joshua Tree!

Up and off early today to head up to Joshua Tree National Park, made famous partly by the band U2, with the picture of a lone Joshua Tree, on the front of the album of the same name. The Park lies on the border between two deserts, and two subtly different climate and vegetation zones- the Mojave Desert, cooler and more moist than the Sonaran Desert, its slightly hotter, drier neighbour. The route there took us through an extensive area of windmills- 4800 in all. Situated in the valley between the San Bernardino Mountains to the north and the San Jacinto Mountain range to the south, the windmills are perfectly placed to catch the winds which almost constantly funnel down between. (Just a little bit of info especially for our mate, Stuart, who's training to be a wind turbine service engineer, or a "wind-surfing" dude, according to Jools). A weird desert landscape, full to the gills with huge wind machines, set against a crystal sharp, bright blue sky. Mum and son had to get out and take what were to be the first of a gazillion photos that day, whilst Ian patiently waited around!
We drove in through the west entrance to the park, having paid our 15$ admission fee, which was good for seven days. From top to bottom of the park, you travel over fifty miles. There are short walking trails of .25 to 3mls and a hiking trail of over 30 mls, with several campsites for tents and RVs, so that you can spend the night under the stars, with basic facilities of small restrooms, picnic table and even fire grate for bbqs, so really well equipped.
The Lonely Planet guide recommended a 3ml trail into the Hidden Valley, discovered by a member of the Keys family, who lived on a nearby ranch from 1920s to 1960s, raising five children in this hostile environment, pre-air-conditioning! The Hidden Valley has some of the best views of rock formations and plant life anywhere in the Park. Rock climbers flock in to scale the unique landscape. The circular route winds in and around the rocks, with views of Joshua Trees, yuccas and cacti, and dozens of other tenacious plants that manage to live here. Info boards tell you that the huge rocks cast shadows over the desert floor, encouraging moisture and enabling life- its own micro-climate.
Several dozen photos later we managed to tear ourselves away and drive around to Keys View, at about 5000'. We were able to look across to the famous San Andreas Fault and the Plateau below. I met and chatted to a couple from Wickersley, Rotheram, who were here in an RV and had almost been joined at their previous evenings bbq by a passing coyote, and they'd gone to sleep listening to coyotes howling to each other at night. I liked the sound of that.
We drove south through the Covington Flats, into the Sonoran desert, lost the Joshua trees, which were replaced by miles of drier hotter conditions, cholla cactus "gardens", which have a strange, stark beauty of their own. After an hour or so of this, though, we all agreed that we were more at home in greener forests and mountains!
We emerged from the south exit of the Park, after about five hours, and drove the short way back to the Hampton Inn in Palm Desert.
Because Ian spends so much time in the car driving during the day, we tend to take the easiest option at "night", and grab a burger or quesadilla, beers and margaritas a short walk across the road to "The Firehouse". Really good reasonably priced food that pleases everyone.
"night" because this can be anything from 5pm to 6.30pm. We're up at 6.30, off by 8am and back by 4pm. So meals tend to be pushed forward as a result, and as for sleeping, we haven't made it past 9pm yet!!!

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