Sunday, May 30, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park

Comin' back at ya with a killer adventure to Joshua Tree National Park with dad and Andrew.

We got on the road bright and early due to the fact that Joshua Tree is located about 100 miles due east in the high deserts of California. With a slight "scenic detour" through the San Fernando Valley, we arrived in the city of Yucca Valley after a 3 hour trek through the expansive sprawl of the Los Angeles Empire.

Yucca Valley had a little surprise waiting for us in the form of a Memorial Day weekend parade which featured all of the town's law enforcement and several antique and contemporary John Deere tractors. Now, that'd be all well and good if it hadn't shut down the major thoroughfare and re-routed all of the Memorial Day traffic through residential areas (with hardly any detour signs). After some traffic merry-go-round and following a very unreliable RV, we finally arrived at Joshua Tree.

Enough of this. Let's get on with the pictures.

(See this big here. To see it HUGE, contact me. I think it's worth it.)

The valley is gorgeous. One would think that a desert peppered with shadeless Joshua Trees would be lackluster but there is nothing pedestrian about this land. Mammoth rocky outcroppings complete the picture as the boulders, sprinkled with Pinyon pine and California juniper, form granite skyscrapers just waiting to be conquered. And we did just that.

(See this huge here.)

We parked at the Hidden Valley (34.014, -116.171), which has a very interesting history.

The Hidden Valley was a fertile ecosystem, separate from the surrounding desert ecosystem, which featured grass ideal for supporting cattle. The valley is encircled by a large rocky wall on all sides - a natural corral. In the late 1800s, cattle rustlers hid cattle stolen from ranges all across the southwest here so they could be re-branded. Months before Joshua Tree was to become a National Monument in 1936, Bill Keyes blasted through the wall in order to accommodate visitors. This hole introduced the desert vegetation previously absent from the valley into the ecosystem. The new vegetation won the battle and there is no remaining grass from the time it was used as a corral.

Dad had an interesting story about how last year he climbed the rocky walls surrounding the Hidden Valley and barely made it out alive. He had to jump across deep crevices and chimney between rock faces. Of course that means Andrew and I had to take a crack at it.

No, it was not easy

but it was well worth the challenge.

(See this big here. To see it HUGE, contact me.)

We found this funny rock formation early on - it seemed concerned for our well-being.

Well, after some blood and sweat we finally made it as high as we could go. It was a big challenge - we, too, had to chimney down some rock faces and I remember one place where we had to leap from one rock to another across a crevice that dropped probably 50 feet straight down. It was intense but very rewarding.

A view of the Hidden Valley from our perch atop the granite boulders.

(See this huge here.)

It's difficult to tell depth from this picture but that is the Hidden Valley to the right of me.

Up there at the top we experienced some serious wind gusts that nearly took the hats off our heads. I'm glad we weren't teetering on the edge of a crevice when that wind hit...

One of the most surprising things about the Hidden Valley was the diversity and color of the plant life.

Bee + bonus fly!

The three of us hiked down in the valley after Andrew's and my adventure up in the surrounding rocks.

We wrapped up our adventure in Joshua Tree with a drive out the north entrance. Highlights include more Joshua Trees, great granite boulders, and even a copper-colored snake crossing the road (didn't bother to stop).

An ambitious challenge, perfect weather, and grand scenery. All told, a very successful trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Until the next adventure...