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.