Journal

Joshua Tree National Park

I left Saguaro on a photographic high. I came away with some pretty decent photos and I was really impressed with the scenery. So much so that I didn’t want to leave, but at the same time excited to see what the next park would bring. I set off on I-10 west for the five hour drive that would take me to Southern California and Joshua Tree National Park.

I pulled through the park gates at 2pm with the time change, that gave me a little over three hours to find a good sunset spot. But first I had to find a campground. I wasn’t sure where to go so I asked a ranger at the station. He told me a couple of things. The first was this being Saturday all but three of the campgrounds were full, and those would soon fill up. Second, they only take cash. It was $10 per night and I had $9. I asked where it was possible to get money and he told me to ask another camper…then another ranger jumped in and told me about the town of Twenty Nine Palms, to the east of the campgrounds. I knew I had at least a dollar in change in my car but tomorrow I needed to get cash.

In a hurry to get to a campground before they all filled up, I started the one hour drive north to where they were. It was a great drive up there. Desert and mountains on both sides of the road with all the vegetation that thrive in this climate. The first campground I hit was called Jumbo Rocks. Not completely sure how the whole thing worked, I stopped at the pay station and as I was grabbing an envelope, another camper jumped out of her car and asked me if there was any space left in this campground, in the same breath saying all the others they went to were full. Having no clue about the capacity of this area, I said, let’s check it out. She jumped back in her car and me mine and we headed in. The second space we came across had one opening. We both pulled in and agreed that we could share the space. There were four of them and I would be camping in my car so it worked out perfect (and I didn’t see any other open spaces at this campground so it had to). After the sun set we chatted for a while, they were from New Zealand over to see some national parks in the states. Very cool people but hiking miles everyday and getting up at 5am every day takes it toll, so I called it a night...early.

When I got up the next morning it was foggy, really foggy. I knew this was going to make sunrise photos a little tricky but you take what you get so off I went in search of what I could find. As I drove deeper into the park, it became apparent there was not going to be a traditional sunrise but the fog and overcast morning brought it’s own set of interesting photos. I’m glad it did because a few hours later it was full on rain. This wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been carrying a camera and had a place to dry my clothes. My hiking was limited to short jaunts. When the rain would let up I would get out and head down a trail but the rain would start up again and I would make a break for it back to the car. I came across an overlook called Keys View that is supposed to be pretty impressive. I went up there and all you could see were the few rocks and a small tree right at the edge of the cliff. I made a mental note to go back to the spot later when the fog had cleared out and I could compare these two photos. The first photo below was at 8 in the morning, the second was at 11. 

My dodging of the rain went on for the rest of the afternoon and into evening. I decided I would look for another campsite. There is a spot that I learned about that is quickly taken by climbers on the weekend called Hidden Valley. It is filled with what apparently are great climbing routes. I headed over there to see if I could catch anyone climbing and if there were any open spots. When I pulled in there I saw three open camping areas so I took the first one. Once settled, I could see why this was popular. There were bouldering rocks and technical climbs next to petroglyphs. It was pretty amazing.

Luckily the rain tapered off around 7pm so I could get out my camp stove and cook some soup. I explored the area a little but by that time it was dark enough I couldn’t really see anything without my headlamp and the stars were hidden behind the dense clouds. So off to the car camper to read, the life of a vagabond when it rains. 

The next morning brought more fog and haze. I figured it would be about the same as the previous day so I would go to a few different areas. I headed back towards the point where I came in, Cottonwood Station. I stopped nearly every ten minutes to get a few more morning photos before I would leave to get back on I-10 to head out. 

Once again I encountered a park that has features that I have never seen before. The joshua trees were cool, but the gem of this park are the enormous boulders. They are fascinating and something that we just don't get in Kansas City. And they are very climbable. There will be a time when I go to the Death Valley and Kings Canyon parks and I will certainly make another pass through this one when I do.