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Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Day in the Desert or Joshua Tree National Park

Friday March 7, 2014 Room 120 Quality Inn Barstow, California  4PM PST

As we left our hotel in Blythe we were amused by the tiny sign in the front garden. Unless one got right up to it there was no way to know that it was a warning sign about carcinogenic chemicals in the hotel. You’d think it was a warning not to dig and disrupt a water, electrical or sewer line. Only in California!

Last night we discussed going to Death Valley but decided it was farther north than we wanted to go and that Joshua Tree National Park which sort of straddles the Sonoran and Mohave Deserts would have blossoming desert life as likely as would Death Valley. So, this morning, I was up by 6 and eating breakfast by 6:30 since the Park is about two hours from Blythe and the Visitors’ Center opens at 8. Not exactly sure how hot the day was likely to become and what the drive would be like it was our hope to be pretty well finished by noonish and the hottest part of the day.

We took I-10 through the mountains and mining areas of them to the exit for Joshua Tree. There were several pull outs, similar to those in Organ Pipe, explaining the various types of desert and the plants common to each. On maps the Sonoran and Mohave deserts are subdivided into smaller areas and upon entering the Park from the South we discovered that we were entering the Colorado Desert, a subdivision of Sonora. I loved a stone outcropping that reminded me of the way Bets used to sleep as a baby—on her stomach with her butt stuck up in the air. Little did I know, that though this was not one of them, there would be many rock outcroppings in the Park given fanciful names. I would call this one Baby’s Butt.

After several miles we encountered our first blossom and what a beauty it was—an Arizona Bluebell. Unfortunately, this was the only cluster of these that we saw. Throughout the Park there are several dirt roads that we can explore but for the most part it is suggested that you have four wheel drive. We do not, and, though curiosity does urge us to try, we use common sense and resist. The best I can do is take a photo in the general direction of the road and hope to imagine the mine etc that lies just out of sight. There are also several washes as there are throughout this arid part of our country. They are always dry except during Spring rains and snow melt, though they haven’t been frequent out here in the last few years. There was some heavy rain just about a week ago in the area which explains the widespread greening up and blossoming. The plants have to hurry up once water comes and get themselves pollinated and photosynthesizing before the water all dries up and they have to go dormant once more. I love the names of some of these areas. Fried liver is in the region where some guy thought he could establish a going turkey farm. Didn’t work out and I wonder if this name derives from his frustrating failure.

I fell in love with a spindly tall plant in Organ Pipe seven years or so ago. It is called Ocotillo and I have no idea why it appeals to me so much. It isn’t a cactus but rather a deciduous woody shrub and looks deader than a doornail without water—downright unattractive. But when it is green it is lovely and this time we saw it in blossom—wonderful red plumes, blowing in the wind. When it is green the whole length of every branch is covered in tiny spring green leaves.

Another favorite is cholla which is a cactus. There are several varieties one of which is called the Teddy Bear cholla and it does LOOK cuddly though the spines are pretty painful. They were so aggravating, teasing with lovely yellow and cream colored blossoms which they had not yet opened—I looked and looked for just one opened but NOOOOO.

Soon we came to the transition zone where two different altitudes, temperatures and precipitation patterns meet and overlap. The differences in abiotic conditions result in differences in the flora and therefore the fauna of the different zones within the Park.  This northern section of the Park was littered with huge boulders of granite at the foot of hills and mountains of gneiss. They were as fascinating and attention getting as the plant life around them. The vegetation here was quite different—lots of Mohave yucca and the species of yucca which give their name to the Park.

The Joshua Tree was named by the Mormons who felt the limbs of the plant, pointing in every direction, reminded them of the prophet Joshua, welcoming them to the Promised Land.  In places there were so many Joshua Trees that it seemed to be a forest, though the plants were far smaller than those we are used to forming forests around us. Here we came to some purple ground cover flowers, which, in only one spot, actually formed a noticeable carpet. In this area there were several hiking trails to see such rock formations as The Saddle and The Skull and The Oyster Bed. Also, here we found several groups of people scaling the smooth crevices of the rocks.

We saw only a couple creatures and boy are they fast. A pair of coyotes crossed the road in front of us—I couldn’t see them with the glare of the sun and the difficulty of seeing the display in bright light. But I shot blindly into the brush on my side of the car and did get each of them fleetingly in two separate shots. The jackrabbit that flew across the road in front of us just before leaving the park disappeared instantly in the brush and forget the little rodent that scurried among the rocks. We reached the exit of the  Park around 11:30 having entered at 8;30. The Visitors’ Center at our entrance was NOT open when we got there. At the exit they ask for your pass of receipt and I have a Golden Age Pass so pay nothing at any of the National Parks etc. The Joshua Tree Visitors’ Center is outside the Park and we stopped to get some Post Cards and then went to the Post Office to buy stamps and mail them.

Continued to Yucca Valley and headed North on Ca 247. Climbed high into the mountains on an unbanked two lane road and then descended into the long, long Johnson Valley, green with the run-off from the surrounding hills. We weren’t very far from San Bernadino, one of the suburbs of LA but avoided it all by swinging north out of Yucca Valley. Came to an area that obviously once was plowed and planted but is parched and dry—very great evidence of the drought that California has been experiencing for several years now.  Went over and around the mountains here to the windward side and the difference was unbelievable.

Traveling through this fruitful valley we came to Barstow and Rt 66 once more. Every light post has the name of some fellow from Barstow serving in the military. As is the case in most of the towns on 66 that served the people traveling the Mother Road there are old motels, restaurants etc. Some are closed and falling down others are still functioning, some seedier than others. We arrived at the Quality Inn and were given a very nice room on the courtyard. The weather was so inviting we sat outside our room reading in the sun for several hours. As an Elite I was given a nice box of POLISH chocolates,which we munched as we sunned.

Eventually, we headed over to the Mexican Restaurant where we sad at the sunken bar and visited with some of the locals. My favorite was a Spaniard from San Sebastian in Spain—he is actually a Basque, who raises sheep as he did in Spain. It is all I’ve ever known he told me. We talked wines and cities and museums and the horrors of Los Angeles and the glories of NYC. He and I really enjoyed visiting, while Bill talked sports with a couple of other guys. They did chat as well, about sheep raising etc.

I added this last around 730 and am going to watch a bit of TV before an early sleep—quite tired—a long day. The food tonight was delicious--had a tostada salad after a cup of albondigas soup. YUM! Goodnight KandB

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