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.)
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.
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!