The last week in the US had begun and we were driving into another special landscape. We had just left the coast of California. Again everything around us was changing. We headed toward Joshua Tree National Park on the Interstate that cuts across the arid and almost deserted Mojave Desert. Bizarre to see how some people can make the desert their home, assuming someone lives in the dilapidated RVs set up here and there along the road and in the fields. We wondered what people chose this lifestyle and if they had anything to choose at all. We won’t find out.
We first visited the Whitewater Reserve near Palm Springs. A stream that finds its way through the valley literally creates an oasis in the otherwise arid environment. A number of hiking trails have been established in this area including the inviting Canyon Loop trail. At five kilometers the trail was not too long, so perfect for us to get through the day in a relaxing way. We did have some elevation gain to cover, but in return we got a beautiful view of the oasis and the valley.
On the way to Joshua Tree, we took another small detour and visited Pioneertown. This village was created in 1946 as a film set for western movies. Many movies were shot there and in heyday even several at the same time. The funny thing is that behind some of the facades on Main Street there is no building at all. Yet it looks like the bank, post office and saloon could open their doors in five minutes.
The “Joshua Tree” is actually not a tree, but an outgrown yucca plant. Plants that can grow up to 12 meter tall and thought, it was cooler to be a tree.
After we passed the entrance gate, thousands of these plants suddenly popped up left and right in front of us. What a bizarre sight. The first hike we had chosen was the one to Hidden Valley. Spring, autumn and winter are the best times of the year to visit this park since summer temperatures in the desert are unbearable. We walked through the Hidden Valley and were surrounded by boulders of “big” size. It just looked like someone shook boulders out of a bag in several places and left them like that next and on top of each other. They are perfect for climbing up and enjoying the view at a higher altitude. Sitting in the sunshine and relaxing is exactly what we did.
The next leg went on the mountain Ryan Mountain where it was mostly the many cacti that stole the show. On the way to the top, we spoke with a ranger who was able to tell us that there are 11 different species of cacti “at home” in the park. We were not able to discover them all, but were satisfied with the number we saw. Satisfied we were also with the view from atop Ryan Mountain. In the distance we could see the smog from Los Angeles that settles between the mountains here. In 360 degrees we looked around and then quickly started our descent. The sun slowly began to say goodbye, disappearing behind the mountains. We still had 80 kilometers ahead of us and wanted to add yet another cactus species to our list along the way.
The road dropped rapidly to below 1,000 meter. Apparently an altitude that a Joshua Tree does not tolerate, because they suddenly disappeared quickly like snow in the sun. For fifteen minutes we drove through a desert landscape that became visibly greener as we lost altitude, until suddenly there appeared a forest of Cholla cacti. In an area of perhaps two square kilometers, these cacti were growing side by side, sometimes over a meter high! We were able to take a few nice pictures with the sky that changed color in the background from yellow to orange to purple like a chameleon. What nature sometimes comes up with continues to fascinate us.
We woke up after a wonderfully quiet night on the large gravel parking lot just past the national park entrance. This area is so-called BLM (bureau of land management) land and freely usable by everyone. Because today was supposed to be nice weather again and because we had liked it so much yesterday, we decided to drive into the national park again. There was one more hike we wanted to do. Two hours on the Mastodon Trail seemed like a pleasant morning activity for us.
The trail started at a small oasis with large palm trees, once again a completely unexpected sight here in this seeming wasteland. And the palm trees were not the only plants we marveled at on the beautiful tour. We were also fascinated by the many cacti, especially the Ocotillo cactus. And it even bloomed yellow and blue here and there. We climbed a small mountain of huge boulder and had a great view from up there.
On the way back, we passed the remains of an old mine. It’s hard to imagine that in this hostile area people have worked underground, but there were actually once about 300 mine shafts in the area of the national park. They have all since been decommissioned and are no longer accessible, and they are now only home for many bats. We decided to head back to the BLM land for our lunch. The sun was shining briskly and it was really warm. The camping chairs were dusted off once again and quickly it was so comfortable that we postponed our onward journey until tomorrow and spent a relaxing afternoon and another night here.
But the next morning it was “back on the road” again and today was a day of errands. Before we leave for Mexico in a few days, some practical things have to be done. First, doing laundry was crossed off the list. We got by in Indio at a Laundry that was not only packed with washers and dryers. Sundays seemed to be laundry day for the Latinos living here, the whole building was teeming with Spanish-speaking people and everyone was already in the Christmas spirit. Now we needed reasonable internet. The search for it turned out to be difficult again, but in the end we ended up in the library and could cross off points 3 and 4, take out car liability insurance for Mexico and print out all the important documents for the border crossing. We still had to withdraw money and take a shower, but that had to be postponed to tomorrow. Now it was time to look for a place for the night and we found it in the parking lot of the Fantasy Casino.
Our main goal for today was to shower. After an hour we arrived at the Ranger Station of the Anza Borrego State Park where we could shower for two minutes for 50 cents. Probably these showers are made for those who want to get the sand out from between their butt cheeks after offroading, which is a favorite pastime in this desert area. Our car is not made for offroading, but we liked the showers anyway. To get to our chosen sleeping spot we then did have to go off road, though. Deftly Romy steered us through the loose sand to Hawk Canyon. An overnight spot worth mentioning Beautiful, quiet and remote.
Upon waking the next morning, the sun was already shining brightly and we enjoyed a cup of coffee in our heated car. We left the car alone for a while in deserted Hawk Canyon. We scrambled up the canyon wall before following the clearly visible trail at the top to the trailhead parking lot on the other side. From here the trail descended into the slot canyon, until the walls to the left and right were so high that all the sunlight was obscured. After about a kilometer and a half we walked out of the canyon and with a bit of sleuthing found a trail at the edge of the canyon back to the car where we ate our lunch outside in the sunshine.
On the way towards the town of Julian, we took time for a little walk through a natural cactus garden. Not much grows in this desert-like environment and somehow we like it very much. The many cactus species make it an interesting place.
Originally, we had planned one month and in the end it turned out to be almost three. In retrospect, we are so glad that we had the extra time. This country has just so much incredibly fantastic national parks with varied and beautiful landscapes. Mountains and geysers, deserts and rocky landscapes, the Pacific Ocean and forests with giant trees. We have seen all of this and still there would be so much more. We will come back! Now the Mexican border was not far anymore. In the small town of Tecate tomorrow we would enter the third country of our trip. We are a little bit nervous, but also excited!