Joshua Tree NP
We waste no time getting out of Yuma. Dog walk, of course. Packed and hitched up by 8:00, then off to pay our electric at the office. If the office had been open at 3:00 AM weíd have been waiting. West on I-8 to El Centro Ca, then north on secondary roads to our old buddy, I-10. The area between I-8 and I-10 is desert mixed with irrigated SoCal agriculture. The intense farming was interesting to see. The truckers who haul the farm produce fly around on the farm roads that run perpendicular to the main drag. To the last Mexican, they all seem to run right to the stop signs, then jam on the brakes at the last second. Iím not sure I can actually bring the truck/RV combo to a complete stop, and if I can, it must take at least a mile or so. These lunatic truckers playing chicken did rattle my nerves a bit. About half way up to I-10 we passed the Salton Sea on our right. The atlas has this section listed as a scenic route, but I think that was a stretch. Interesting, yes, scenic, not so much.
At I-10 we head west to CA 62 at the western edge of Joshua Tree NP. There is a substantial windmill farm at this location and when we stopped for diesel it was obvious why. The wind was a steady 50 or so. Driving the RV in this was delightful (not). At the north west corner of Joshua Tree CA 62 turns back east and we follow that to the north park entrance at Twentynine Palms, CA. There are five entrances to the park and the north entrance was the closest to our planned rendezvous with brother Rick for my birthday.
I was grumbling to myself about being a bit tired of the desert and looking forward to getting our Joshua Tree commitment behind us so we could move north and maybe actually experience a little shade and ground water. As we climbed to the high desert that is Joshua Tree, my ďtired of the desertĒ feelings changed. Once again, astonishing beauty.
We found the aptly named Jumbo Rocks campground and went about trying to get a spot. We went with an RV no bigger than 30í because thatís supposed to be the largest one can legally/comfortably fit into many local/state/national campgrounds. At this point I think I can say a 30í RV was the sweet spot for us. I donít think we could live in anything smaller, and I certainly donít think Iíd want to try and fit anything bigger into our campsites.
Although weíve done five and six hundred mile days, and no doubt will do more, the 250 we did on this trip seems to be enough. We are tired. We shoehorn into a site, but donít unhook or even level the RV. Weíve decided to hit a couple different sections of the park and return later in the week to meet Rick. The fact that we didnít have enough experience to fill our water tank at the welcome station 15 miles back helped make our decision to move on in the morning. There is no water, or dump station, available at most of the campgrounds in this park, or many national parks for that matter. One must plan ahead and we didnít. Since we didnít unhook from the truck, after a bit of exploring, leaving the next morning was a simple matter of putting in the slides and driving off.
We decided to backtrack to a small campground, Black Rock Canyon, located on the northwest corner of Joshua Tree. All of the campgrounds arenít accessible from inside the park, and this was one of them. You must leave and then re-enter at that location.
One must have faith that the campground is actually where the map says it is as there arenít any reassuring signs along the winding 5-mile trek through residential neighborhoods to tell you you are indeed going the right way. This wouldnít be so bad if we werenít dragging along a 30í X 8í X 12.5í 14,000# monster behind the truck. We obviously arenít the only ones to be confused because when we pulled over to better scratch our heads a local quickly pulled up and asked if we were looking for Black Rock Campground. I am most appreciative of that kind soul.
Paving the roads of Black Rock apparently hasnít been any priority for many years. The narrow roads, steep grades, no shoulders and potholes make driving 5 mph difficult. The park is not first come, first served, like most, but accepts reservations. We were told we could expect to get a space for Thursday night, but not Friday or Saturday as the weekend warriors keep it booked up. It turned out, with a little patience, and the good graces of the park staff, we were able to book three nights.
So, yes, Black Rock Canyon Campground is old, and shabby, and hidden away, and almost completely deserted on a Thursday, but I love the place. We actually have phone and internet access, and thatís a nice change of pace. The rangers inform us the park is popular only for the hiking. I can see that, as the hiking is spectacular, but the quiet deserted nature of the place on weekdays is a big plus.
Soon after weíre set up on Thursday a big, brand new $200,000 34í class a comes tooling down the pike, generator running, and starts to set up right next to us. Weíd seen these same people last night at Jumbo Rocks trying to shoe horn a big RV in a tiny space (sort of just like us). A big, empty campground, and this noisy beast has to be parked next to us? Iím expecting the worst, as usual, then the guy comes over to politely inform us they only run the generator long enough to charge the batteries. Fair enough, as easy I form storm clouds, they can be dissipated. They turn out to be a great Canadian couple who were a lot of fun to be next to for a day. They invite us to join them at their campfire, something Donna has been wanting to do, but as usual Iím asleep long before itís dark enough to light a fire. We were sort of planning, from Joshua Tree, going to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, then making a run to Alaska. Well, it turns out these fine folks had made the same trip in reverse the previous year or so and took the time to help us map out the best route, plus must see waypoints. It was a pleasure to meet them.
Donna has family a few miles away in Desert Hot Springs and on Friday she stopped for a visit and to watch a movie. I use the movie as an excuse to finally get my lazy butt out for a decent hike. Itís hard to describe the fantastic beauty of the high desert hiking trails and apparently amateurs with cheap digital cameras canít get the job done either, so youíll just have to take my word for it. In just a couple of minutes walking from the campsite one is completely alone in a desert wonderland. HiView Trail is only 1.3 miles with the trails to and from making the trip right at 3 miles. There was some serious climbing that tested this flatlanderís knees.
Friday, 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM was a very interesting lecture at the campground meeting room. The Expanding Universe: Dark Matter and Dark Energy, by Gillian Wilson, PhD, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside. A lot of it was over my head but I got enough to rattle my concept of the cosmos. Iím sure Iíll spend a good bit of idle time pondering her theories.
It was a lot of fun to watch the park fill with said weekend warriors. Most were tent campers and pop-ups, with only a couple of hard side rigs in the mix. There were probably three kids to every adult and it was great fun to watch them have such a good time. Evening walks around the outskirts of the park during the weekend were particularly interesting as there were campfires and noisy camp sites scattered all over the hillside. You couldnít really understand any language; it was easy to imagine being at an early settler gathering or Indian camp.
Sunday was moving day again but we were just moving the 20 miles back to Jumbo Rocks so there was no rush. I managed to fit in a five-mile morning hike and it will make me want to return to this spot for more. It was, from what I can tell, a pretty typical high desert mountain hike. Itís hard to keep walking because you tend to just stop and stare in wonder at the landscape. Iíll remember this hike for itís gradual 500í ascent up a narrow winding path of very soft sand. Never before heard from muscles in my lower back were letting me know they werenít going to cooperate forever. Fortunately this part of the hike was shaded from the morning sun as it was cool in the shade and already hot in the direct morning sun.
Weíre beginning to work better as a team setting up for camp and breaking down for hitting the road. Donna has done her part from the beginning with cleaning and storing things before departure, but she is assuming more and more of the chores of setting up and breaking down the truck and trailer. I keep forgetting little things and I donítí think that will ever change. As long as itís only minor glitches and no disaster, Iím ok with it. This moving day it was forgetting to plug in and check the brake/lights connector. As soon as we hit the steep descent to the dump station I knew something was wrong. I was wondering just how well the trailer brakes were working and this bit of not working let me know.
Sunday by 1:00 PM weíre pulling into Jumbo Rocks Campground to scout out a spot. The main drag of the campground is easy enough to navigate but the side loops are very tight going. Without my permission, the RV did battle with a bush in one of these side loops. No real damage to the bush. The RV has some scrapes running the length of the left side. I think they look pretty cool and fit right in with the dent the RV put in the cab of the truck making a tight turn early in our career. Iím glad it wasnít a rock and Iím glad weíre traveling in an already well used RV. By 2:00 PM weíre settled into a pretty nice campsite. For the rest of the day I get to watch the late arrivals scrounging around for leftovers. It was a big spring break/free park entry week-end and it wasnítí long before the park was full.
Mondayís big event was a 30-mile drive from the north side of the park to the south side of the park. High Mojave Desert to low Colorado Desert. There were lots of interesting observation points along the way. An old silver mine, descriptions of the changes in plants from one desert to another, an ancient river that had human inhabitants 9,000 years ago, the wash channels that drain the basin, changes caused by the ice age, cactus and ocotillo groves, different geologic zones, all very interesting.
One of the items I didnít check on the RV before departure was the propane side of the hot water heater. As the saying goes, if you wait until youíre completely ready to go, youíll never go. We were already two to three months behind schedule in my mind so I was willing to forgo a few repairs. The quirky dump valve was one and it wasted no time in causing problems. Propane hot water, ditto. The part I suspect of being the culprit is due in Twentynine Palms PO general delivery Tuesday or Wednesday. Donna has managed to take cold showers. I canít go there. My work around is to heat up a water bottle in the microwave and take a squirt bath. I have to remember to be nice to Donna for several hours before bath time as it takes two bottles and she has to stand by to heat the second (we only have one squirt bottle).
April 19, the big 56. I celebrate by waking up in the morning. Brother Rick shows up around 3:00 PM with high school friend Rob riding matching Triumph 900 cc motorcycles. Rob headed back to his hotel room back in town and Donna, Rick, Buddy and myself had a steak cook-out.
We spent the next day hiking in the rocky desert and bonding. Rick, Rob and friends have been going out to Jumbo Rocks since high school days so they knew the area pretty well and had lots of memories to recount. I find a bit of time and install the part I though was the problem on the hot water heater but it still wonít light. Iím thinking Iíd better buy a second water bottle.
Thursday was one last hike to Skull Rock with Rick before he left to meet Rob in town, and we pulled out for an undetermined stop somewhere north and east of the Colorado River in Arizona.