Two days in the Wild West
My son and husband fancy the desert, while I prefer the mountains! We decided to retrace our path back to Joshua Tree National park, after a good 10 years, to the day, to discover a few more trails that we did not follow in December 1998. The memories of this otherworldly place were vivid but it was time to refresh them! This park located about 140 miles east of Los Angeles, in California, spans the Mojave and the Colorado (Sonoran) desert. Only a very small portion of this park is accessible by paved road.
Joshua tree is actually a cactus but it is tree-like in habit. It is also called the Yucca palm. The name is given by the early Mormon settlers. The tree's unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
We entered the park from the West entrance around noon. A very colourful house just outside the entrance caught my attention. It was striking, against the stark mountain shielding it.
It was a surprise to see so much of snow all around. Several trails were closed because of the weather and icy conditions. We did a small hike in the Hidden Valley. It is a rock-enclosed valley rumored to have been used by the cattle rustlers of the Wild West.
We went for a hike up to Lost Horse Trail. This trail was also closed but we decided to go anyway. The ranger had told us that we could do so if we were comfortable doing so. The Lost Horse Trail is a 6 mile round trip to an abandoned gold mine. It took us much longer, given the slushy, icy, and muddy trail. But the crisp air and the beautiful sights made it rewarding!
It was much harder to trek in such conditions. My left knee was acting up again and I decided not to keep pace with Rahul and Amit. There was only one couple and a solitary hiker who we met on the hike. It is nice to be able to only hear your own footsteps. A little solitude gives time for introspection too.
We drove up to the Keys View. One gets a good view of the San Andreas Fault, Mt San Jacinto, Mt San Gorgonio, and the Salton Sea. The infamous San Andreas Faultline is cleary visible as a dark horizontal line in the middle of the pictures. Also note the rings of cirrus clouds in the sky!
The other interesting place is the Cholla cactus garden. The "jumping cholla" name comes from the ease with which the stems detach when brushed, giving the impression that the stem jumped onto you. The touch will leave a person with bits of cactus hanging on their clothes or shoes, only to be discovered later when either sitting or leaning on them!
The Ocotilla plant, on the other hand, is common in the Sonoran Desert but grows in a very small patch in Joshua Tree National Park. The leaves of the Ocotilla shrub can grow several times in the year depending on the amount of rainwater available. The leaves can sprout within 3 day of a rainfall. The leaves fall off when water is scarce.The Ocotillo can be leafless for a long time.
We drove out of the park, at the Cottonwood Visitor Center which is on the south side of the Park. It was late in the evening. Since we had been to the Salton Sea area on our previous trip, it was not part of our current itinenary. We headed back to Westwood, a good 2.5 hrs in the LA Traffic!