Monday, July 20: After Rosie and I have breakfast at the 29 Palms Inn, we take a walk around the hotel’s 70-acre property adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park. We find some Native American artwork on some of the buildings, along with some other interesting sights, including a Cinderella pumpkin carriage (??).
After our brief walk, we check out of our room, The Gold Park, and take off to explore Joshua Tree National Park, since our visit yesterday was cut short by torrential downpours. (Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.)
our room at the 29 Palms Inn: The Gold Park
a Cinderella pumpkin carriage !!
Directions at the 29 Palms Inn
The pool at the 29 Palms Inn
We head into Joshua Tree National Park through the Oasis Visitor’s Center at the North Entrance Station. We make some stops along the way to take pictures of the Joshua trees and the hedgehog cacti.
The wild-armed Joshua tree tells us we’re in the Mojave Desert. It isn’t really a tree but a species of yucca. Like other desert plants, its waxy, spiny leaves expose little surface area, efficiently conserving moisture. Joshua trees can grow over 40 feet tall — at the leisurely rate of an inch a year. Its clusters of cream-colored flowers bloom February through April. Branching occurs after flowering.
The Joshua Tree is to the Mojave Desert as the saguaro cactus is to the Sonoran Desert – both plants are hosts to many animals dependent on them. Both illustrate how intertwined desert life really is. For the Joshua Tree, it all begins with a moth.
The blossoms of the Joshua tree are pollinated only by the yucca moth. The moth collects the flower’s pollen to help nourish her expected offspring; she taps the pollen into the funnel-shaped pistil. At the base of the pistil are undeveloped seeds; it is here that the moth lays her eggs. Now fertilized by the pollen, the seeds grow and provide food for the hatching larvae. The larvae grow and emerge, and ample seeds are left to scatter.
Rosie and I stop for a picture with a Joshua tree. A nearby placard tells all about the interdependence of life in the Mojave.
The Joshua tree is considered the Tree of Life because desert life is so dependent on it. For example, the loggerhead shrike skewers its prey on a Joshua Tree spine. The wood rat builds a nest of cactus joints and discarded Joshua Tree leaves at the base of the tree. The spotted night snake crawls among the dead tree limbs searching for its favorite prey – yucca night lizards. The Scott’s oriole hangs a basket-shaped nest in protective Joshua leaf clusters. The antelope ground squirrel feeds on scattered Joshua Tree seeds. The ladder-backed woodpecker pecks a nesting hole in the Joshua Tree trunk.
We drive on through the park, where we see mountains of boulders scattered among the Mojave yucca, juniper, scrub oak, and prickly pear cactus.
At the Jumbo Rocks area, we find huge boulders in all shapes and sizes. The rock piles began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity. Magma – in this case a molten form of the rock called monzogranite – rose from deep within the earth. As it rose, it intruded the overlying rock, the Pinto gneiss formation.
As the granite cooled and crystalized underground, cracks (joints) formed horizontally and vertically. The granite continued to uplift, where it came into contact with groundwater. Chemical weathering caused by groundwater worked on the angular granite blocks, widening cracks and rounding edges. Eventually the surface soil eroded, leaving heaps of monzogranite scattered across the land like careless piles of toy blocks, according to a Joshua Tree National Park pamphlet.
I love the desert on this day after the storms. It seems a bright and cheery place, happy to have quenched its thirst. The clouds make the scenery spectacular.
According to the National Park Service website, the Joshua tree was recognized by American Indians for its useful properties: tough leaves were worked into baskets and sandals, and flower buds and raw or roasted seeds made a healthy addition to the diet. The local Cahuilla have long referred to the tree as “hunuvat chiy’a” or “humwichawa;” both names are used by a few elders fluent in the language.
By the mid-19th century, Mormon immigrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward. Concurrent with Mormon settlers, ranchers and miners arrived in the high desert with high hopes of raising cattle and digging for gold. These homesteaders used the Joshua tree’s limbs and trunks for fencing and corrals. Miners found a source of fuel for the steam engines used in processing ore (Joshua Tree National Park).
We go in search of the Cholla Cactus Garden, but sadly the road to the south entrance is blocked off due to yesterday’s floods. I was really disappointed as I wanted to see it, especially after the enthusiastic recommendation from the couple we met yesterday at the cafe. Instead, we turn around and head to Hidden Valley, said to be the best hike in the park.
Hidden Valley is a one-mile loop trail that starts in a picnic area and winds among massive boulders through a legendary cattle rustler’s hideout. I figure one mile isn’t a very long walk, as I walk 3 miles quite regularly, so I don’t bring any water with me. After all, I rarely even get thirsty. Rosie, on the other hand, is smart, and brings her water bottle along.
We see a lot of interesting sights on the walk. You can click on any picture below for a full-sized slide show.
Plant life at Hidden Valley
Joshua Tree in Hidden Valley
Ominous clouds & trees
The Great Burrito
Strange boulders in Hidden Valley
Plant life in Hidden Valley
Cacti in Hidden Valley
Monolith in Hidden Valley
I love some of the bare and weathered trees we see reaching up to the sky.
Rock climbers call the monolith below The Great Burrito. While Joshua Tree National Park is known as a world-class rock-climbing spot, many problems have arisen. People have created a network of trails to and from formations, trampling vegetation in the more popular areas. Nesting birds are disturbed. Archeological sites can be damaged. Climber groups are working with park staff to find a balance between climbing and resource protection.
The hike in the hot sun seems to be a lot longer than a mile, and I find myself regretting that I didn’t bring my water bottle. My mouth is getting very dry and I’m sweltering. I start to get a little worried until, alas, we’re back at the beginning. Whew!
After our hike, Rosie and I have to drive back to Los Angeles. I’ve made plans to have dinner with my sister and we have about a 3-hour drive ahead of us. Luckily, we don’t encounter too many traffic problems, although we do find some slowdowns as we get close to L.A. I am so glad Rosie accompanied me on this outing. 🙂
I only have one more day with Stephanie before I head back to Virginia on Wednesday morning. Time to go home to my family and home!
Sunday, July 19: This morning, I pick up Rosie of Wandering Rose and we drive about 3 hours from LA, or 140 miles, to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s been about a year and a half since I last saw Rosie in California, so we have a lot of catching up to do. Three hours in the car, plus some, gives us lots of chat time.
We arrive in the town of Joshua Tree just in time for a late lunch, so we stop at a little health food cafe near the park entrance. We sit outdoors and have a chat with a young man who’s in the military, and his wife. They’re really talkative and laid-back and they tell us we should check out the Cholla Cactus Garden, their favorite spot, while in the park.
After lunch, we drive into the park, making a number of stops along the way for pictures. Our route, coming in through the Joshua Tree Visitor Center in the northeast, brings us into the Colorado Desert part of the park. Further to the west is the Mojave Desert, at elevations above 3,000 feet.
The eastern half of the park, below 3,000 feet above sea level, is a sun-baked bowl composed of creosote and punctuated by ocotillo, green-barked palo verde, and patches of jumping cholla cactus.
The forecast is for rain this afternoon, but upon entry, we don’t see any signs of it. It’s been quite strange to be in Los Angeles during a number of big thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. My sister has been shocked by so much rain in July, as she says it rarely rains at all in California, much less in July.
We are told by the park ranger that the best hike in the park is Hidden Valley, a one-mile loop starting in a picnic area and winding through massive boulders. The path traverses a legendary cattle rustlers’ hideout.
Besides the wonderfully distinctive Joshua Trees, we also see some hedgehog cacti.
As we arrive at the Hidden Valley picnic area, we can see the sky is becoming quite ominous. We wonder if it is wise to take the one-mile hike, and ultimately we decide we better not try it until the storms have passed.
I love all the desert plants, including the Mohave yucca, seen below.
I’m attracted to the purple stems of this cactus.
We decide to drive further on, and we make several brief stops to explore along the way. The skies are becoming darker and more threatening, so we drive back toward Hidden Valley, making a stop at Jumbo Rocks to explore.
We come across more hedgehog cacti and soon after this stop, the deluge begins. We decide we better make our way out of the park.
As we drive back toward the park entrance in the midst of thunder, lightning and heavy rains, we have to drive through numerous rivers that are flooding the road. I tell Rosie that this is similar to the wadi floods I encountered in Oman, on some of the few occasions it rained. I generally feel confident crossing the rivers in the car, but then we get to one that is quite deep and raging. We pull off the road at a high spot to wait for the water to go down. We get out of the car to check out the flood.
It takes us quite a while to get out of the park because of all the flooding. When we finally get out on the main road, Route #62, we have to head west to Twentynine Palms, where our hotel is. We come quickly to a traffic jam. The traffic heading west is not moving at all! Periodically cars come from the opposite direction, heading east, but in the westbound two lanes, we are at a dead standstill. People are getting out of their cars and walking around. What’s so frustrating is that we’re not on a divided highway, just a highway with four lanes. Seeing the eastbound traffic go past means that the traffic is not being properly managed; we should be alternating going around what we assume is partial flooding across the road. It turns out we sit in this traffic jam for nearly two hours without moving!! By the time we get to our hotel, The 29 Palms Inn, we are exhausted and frustrated from sitting in that traffic with no idea what was happening and when it would end!
Hopefully tomorrow, we can go back into the park and explore Hidden Valley and the Cactus Garden.
Wednesday, July 15: This morning at 6:30 a.m., I leave my humble abode in Nanning, China, locking the keys inside. I feel a little strange leaving the place I’ve lived for the last year, knowing I will never see it again. Outside, a car arranged by the university is waiting to drive me to the airport. I get to the airport by about 7:30 and check in without incident at Shenzhen Airlines for my 9:40 flight.
Planes departing from Chinese airports are almost always late, but I don’t worry because I have a 3-hour and 20 minute layover in Beijing and I will check in to Air Canada at the same terminal where I arrive. Today, when I have a nice long layover, my plane surprisingly leaves Nanning on time. When I arrive in Beijing at 12:45 p.m., I pick up my bags from the baggage claim and make my way to Air Canada, where I must check my bags back in for the international flight. There is a long, slow-moving line at Air Canada, so I get a little antsy as the time seems to be going by rather quickly.
Then I hit the line for Customs/Immigration in International Departures. The lines are snaking queues with hundreds of people in them, and they’re barely moving. I stand in that line for well over an hour! By then I’m starting to get worried I will miss my plane in Beijing! After I finally make it through and send my bags and tennis shoes and every possession through security, I have about a half hour before we board.
When I arrive at the gate, I have time to sit for about 5 minutes before we start boarding at 3:35 p.m. I get in the line for Group 5, which is already about 30 people long. We board and are ready to take off on time; however, air traffic control tells the pilot we will have a 30-minute delay, which worries me as I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver.
I realize too late that I’m booked into a middle seat. They can’t change me to an aisle seat because the flight is fully booked. Misery! I sit between two Chinese boys, one of whom speaks both fluent English and Chinese. He’s from Los Angeles, but has spent his school years studying in China. He is going to stay with his parents in Los Angeles for a month before attending Berkeley in the fall. He’s a very bright 18-year-old kid who plans to do a double major in mechanical engineering and economics. He chats with me a long time about his plans and I’m very impressed. When he talks to the boy on the other side of me, they speak over me in Chinese. He says, “I hope you don’t mind us talking over you.” I say, half-jokingly, “I don’t mind but I’d rather you switch seats with me!” After several hours, he luckily takes me up on my request and gives me his aisle seat, which I’m very happy about, although even that is uncomfortable on a 10-hour and 20-minute flight.
When we arrive in Vancouver at noon, the Chinese boy and I take off together toward our flight bound to L.A. We come to a bottleneck where about 25 people are standing in a slow-moving line. First, an Air Canada attendant asks us to identify our bags on a TV screen. One of my bags is visible on the screen, but the other isn’t, so she tells me to go sit into a room until I can verify both my bags. I tell her we have a very short connection, but she doesn’t seem phased. The Chinese boy has to wait to identify his bags as well. When we finish, we are finally able to get into the slow-moving line, which has gotten longer while we’ve been held up. I tell one of the officials from the airline that we have a very short connection, but she says, “There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s U.S. Customs and I have nothing to do with that!” The line is moving slowly and the boy, who is about 3 people behind me, and I are commiserating about how we’re never going to make our flight. Suddenly he starts to go to the front of the line and I follow him. He says, “I called my mother and she told me not to talk to the officials. She says I should depend on the kindness of strangers.” He goes to the front of the line with his bag, and I (who can’t stand people who cut in line, and would never do it myself under ordinary circumstances), follow him. We beg the people at the front of the line to let us in so we won’t miss our flight. Luckily, they kindly allow us to pass, although the poor people behind them have no say in the matter.
When I get to U.S. Customs the officer asks me where I’m staying, and where I live. I tell him and then mention that we have a very short connection. He says, in that way that people in positions such as these like to flex their power, “You can’t rush me, lady. I will take as long as I need to take.” I say, “Fine!” Then he asks a few more questions and releases me. I won’t mention the name I call him to the Chinese boy when I’m out of earshot.
At that point we see our gate #83 is at the far end of a long hall, and over the loudspeaker, I hear my name among a list of names for “last call.” I panic: “That’s us! We need to run!” The boy and I go tearing through the airport, and barely manage to board the plane. The airline stewardesses close the door behind us and we take off as scheduled at 1:00 p.m.
I make it to LA right on time, by 4:00 p.m. My sister Stephanie is waiting to pick me up right after I pick up my bags, and we head directly to dinner at a cozy sushi place. We celebrate by drinking hot sake followed by cold Sapporo. I am happy to be with my sister on American soil after one of the longest days of my life. It’s still Wednesday, July 15 when I arrive in LA around 4:00 p.m., having left China at 6:30 a.m. that same morning. 🙂
During our dinner, and after a few sips of Sapporo and sake, Steph asks what I’d like to do next. I say I’d love to find my way to Morocco or Ecuador. She says, “Oh. I wouldn’t want you to go to Morocco. I wouldn’t want you to lose your head or anything like that.” I say, “Well, yes, I really would prefer not to lose my head. Of course. I don’t think it would be in my best interest.” For some reason, maybe it’s the sake and Sapporo, but we find this hilarious and have quite a laugh over this ridiculous conversation. 🙂
Thursday, July 16: We have quite a lazy day today, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch together, running out to Trader Joe’s, and watching movies and TV series. Stephanie gets me interested in the Danish political series Borgen, and we watch a coupe of episodes. After meeting her good friend Yvonne for more sushi, sake and Sapporo at another favorite sushi restaurant, we watch the TheSecond Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I’ve been dying to see. In my opinion, it isn’t nearly as good as the first one. 🙂
I really needed a day of rest!
Friday, July 17: This morning, my sister drives us to Oxnard where we’re to catch an Island Packers boat to Anacapa Island, one of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park. Yes, my British friends, we have our own Channel Islands here in the U.S. 🙂
We arrive in plenty of time for our 10:00 a.m. departure. When we left Steph’s house in Reseda, it was warm and sunny, but here on the coast it’s cloudy and very cool. I’m worried I’m going to be freezing on the boat. I have no jackets or sweaters as I sent all of those home from China in boxes, thinking it would be hot and desert-like in L.A.
We board the boat with about 50 other people and take off through the marina and into the channel.
Luckily the seas are calm this morning, as Steph is worried she will get seasick. I’m lucky that I don’t often get seasick; I’ve been on many boats in rough seas where people all around me are getting sick into plastic bags but I am just fine.
We pass a big oil rig.
According to Wikipedia, the Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands off the coast of southern California in the Pacific Ocean. Five of these islands are part of Channel Islands National Park. The Islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago, who were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location (Wikipedia: Channel Islands of California).
Below is my sister on the boat bound for Anacapa Island.
We see a lot of dolphins playfully following in the wake of the boat, but I don’t seem to have luck capturing any of them in photos.
Anacapa Island’s name is derived from the Chumash Native American Indian name Anypakh, meaning deception or mirage. The three islets of Anacapa look almost like a mirage in the morning fog. These islets (appropriately named East, Middle, and West Anacapa Islands) stretch out over five miles and are inaccessible from each other except by boat. They are about a quarter-mile wide and have a total land area of about one square mile (700 acres) (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
As we approach the island, we can see the lighthouse and 40-foot-high Arch Rock, a symbol of Anacapa and Channel Islands National Park.
Our boat pulls up at a dock built into the side of a cliff and after disembarking, we must climb up several hundred steps to reach the top.
We are greeted immediately by some of the thousands of seagulls on the island.
According to the National Park Service, thousands of seabirds use Anacapa as a nesting area because of the relative lack of predators on the island. While the steep cliffs of West Anacapa are home to the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans, all the islets of Anacapa host the largest breeding colony of western gulls in the world. Western gulls begin their nesting efforts at the end of April, sometimes making their shallow nests just inches from island trails. Fluffy chicks hatch in May and June and fly away from the nest in July (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
It’s a surreal experience walking through the squawking seagulls and their almost-full-grown grey fledglings. It’s incredibly noisy and pungent, especially in certain areas. I feel like we’re the aliens here in a bird world. Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” comes to mind.
The mission revival style buildings on the island are part of the 1932 light station. They include the lighthouse, fog signal building, one of four original keeper’s quarters, a water tank building, and several other service buildings. One of the buildings is now the East Anacapa Visitor Center, which houses some informative exhibits, including the original lead-crystal Fresnel lens, which served as a beacon to ships until an automated light replaced it in 1990 (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
We accompany a park guide on part of the two-mile figure-eight trail system to learn about the island’s native vegetation, wildlife, and cultural history. Apparently, the plants look drab and lifeless in summer but come alive with color in the winter. Vibrant red paintbrush, island morning-glory, and pale buckwheat add touches of color to the island’s palette.
More plant life
Steph and I leave the ranger-led hike and venture out on the trail to Cathedral Cove.
Looking down on Cathedral Cove, we can see the kelp forests and sea lions on the beach and the rocks below.
We backtrack along the same trail where we pass by the ranger and her followers.
The strange tree sunflower, or coreopsis, blossoms in winter with bright yellow bouquets. You can see the dormant giant coreopsis below, topped with seagulls.
Stephanie and I stop at a picnic area near the figure-8 crossover on the trail and eat our Trader Joe’s lunch of lentil wraps and cherries. There are no services on the island, so everyone must bring their own food and water.
At the far western end of East Anacapa Island, we stand in the breeze at Inspiration Point, where we can see the other two islets stretching out into the Pacific. Waves have eroded the volcanic island, creating towering sea cliffs and sea caves, where California sea lions droop themselves over rocks, sunning themselves.
We’re glad that the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, but then we find it gets hot rather quickly. We’re both surprised that there are no trees on the island.
We continue walking back to the east, where we can see the old lighthouse. The lighthouse blares its foghorn every 20 seconds or so. The ranger has told us that we’re blocked from getting in near the lighthouse because its loud foghorn can hurt our eardrums.
When I decide to take a 360 degree video of the island, my sister throws in a little surprise at the end. I think the seagulls are rubbing off on her 🙂
We head back to the docking area to wait for the boat.
We board the boat at 3:30 p.m. and are back on our way back to Oxnard by 3:45.
Before we leave the island, we go by boat around the eastern end where we get a better view of Arch Rock.
The rocky shores are perfect resting and breeding areas for California sea lions and harbor seals. We can see them lounging on the rocks, but the light is so bad on this side of the island that I can’t get any decent pictures.
Finally we return to the marina in Oxnard. It has been a lovely yet strange and surreal day.
We end our day with beers and dinner at an outdoor cafe overlooking the marina. Steph gets a blackened snapper sandwich and I have Mahi Mahi tacos with mango salsa. I am so happy to be eating American food again! 🙂
We drive back to Reseda, about an hour’s drive, and relax in the evening, watching several more episodes of Borgen.
Saturday, July 18: The highlight of today is the cheese platter a la Stephanie. I love cheese, and I’ve missed it dearly while in China. This one has cherries, cheeses, chutney, watercress, smoked oysters, Japanese cucumbers and healthy crackers. It’s one of the highlights of American cuisine. 🙂