Exploring Joshua Tree

I’d like to say we had a restful night, out there in the desert, but it was not the case. There’s always something, from animals, to people, to transport. This time it was transport, namely trains. Two commercial train lines run through this valley, it wasn’t so bad in the daytime because they didn’t use their horns and the steady chug of a freight train in the distance could almost be considered therapeutic. The night time is different, horns blaring the trains endless drive past. One passes on one line and then minutes later another on the other line. Sufficient time passes for you to be on the brink of sleep, before the whole horrid cycle starts again.

Now I grew up in rural England, it was very dark and very quiet at night. So when I first moved out of my parents’ house at the age of 18 and into a busy city right by the ambulance depot, it took me a long time to acclimatise! Skip forward a few years to our home in Birmingham, which is not without the steady roar of the M6 a few miles away. In between all this on numerous camping trips we have gotten used to dealing with everything from untimely church bells to overzealous cockerels. For situations when it is just too dam loud, we also have some pretty good earplugs. None of this has prepared me for trying to sleep through the noise of night trains, in fact I think I slept better on the edge of an interstate in Florida (but I may have been drunk). So our lovely, free, picturesque and tranquil spot, was no longer. When Aimee began ripping the windows open at 6am, I didn’t know whether to be relieved or even more annoyed.

The plus side of all this, is at least I don’t have to go to work today. If I don’t wanna do anything, then I won’t. Still, I’m basically incapable of sitting down for more than a few hours, so let’s just get on with it. After a morning of blogging in the sun (this place at least has signal) and chatting to the friendly people who maintain the place, we moved on. The next stop was Joshua Tree national park, not far at all from where we were.

It was also a nice scenic drive to get there. Up and over the mountains into Sheephole Valley Wilderness, turning off in Twentynine Palms and into the park itself. Normally there’s an entrance fee, not that it mattered to us with our pass, but this time the booths were shut and we drove straight through into the park.

After driving a short way we ended up in Bella Campground, which despite the many signs saying that the campsite were full, had a few spaces. Happy to find such a pretty spot we parked up.

It was still early in the afternoon, but we didn’t want to lose our camping spot so we decided to leave the van and walk from here down a trail to a rock arch. Strolling through the desert in the sun was lovely.

No pets are allowed on the trails, but Aimee had already spent most of the morning running around like a complete nutter so she was happy cat napping while we walked.

It’s an easy trail across the desert and we strolled along in the sun, admiring all the cacti and seeing several hares darting through the landscape.

Before too long, we reached the rock formations where the arch was.

It was pretty cool climbing up and around the rocks, as well as reading the little plaques around the trail that explained about the geology of the place.

The arch itself.

It’s a gorgeous landscape, especially with the sun shining on the rocks and the blue of the sky.

Some interesting landscapes within the rocks that’s have been carved over many years of weather.

Once we had clambered around our own made up route, we retraced our steps to the campground to enjoy the last of the sun. The park is indeed a beautiful place, both during the day.

Aimee enjoyed some tree climbing in the park.

The sun started to set, with the silhouettes of Joshua trees all round.

The stars at night are also fantastic, but I didn’t attempt to take a photo as it wouldn’t have been any good on the cameras we have!

Not in any hurry to leave, we had a leisurely morning before driving further south. We were happy to stay another night here, but didn’t know if there were any other campgrounds, so decided to drive and see what happened. The first thing we came to was Cholla Cactus garden.

As you might expect, there is a lot of cactus and a sign warning that they are hazardous. There’s also a first aid box with a pair of pliers and plasters, if you accidentally get stabbed. This was obviously not spotted by the Japanese tourist, who had just impaled himself on a large lump of cactus and was trying to have it removed by another person who was using two rocks as a pair of tweezers with limited success.

We went for a short walk around this slightly alien landscape. Alive and dead, the place is a sea of spikes.

Even the dead cacti were cool to look at.

Some of the cacti are still quite small, but the majority of them are massive. The same height or taller than me.

I guess this is what their flowers look like?

Heading back to the van on the little trail you can walk around.

Continuing south, it wasn’t that much further before we were about to the leave the park. Wanting to see some more of it before we went, but not having any signal to look at trails, we pulled up near the exit. Finally getting some internet we saw an interesting looking walk that was only 10 minutes back the way we had come, starting at Cottonwood springs and walking down to a palm oasis. There was also a large chunk of BLM land very close to us, which meant we had somewhere to stay for the night.

It’s a 3.6-mile walk each way and starts here at the springs.

The path winds through these gigantic palm trees before heading out across the desert.

Soon, you leave this oasis behind and the terrain is much bleaker. A view over to Salton Sea emerges in the background.

Some big old cacti out here.

The trail is quite varied, and winds across hill tops, through valleys and along dried out river beds.

Not sure what these plants are, but they are among the only green things living out here.

Views of the rest of the park stretch out in the distance, way beyond the end of this hike.

It’s an easy enough trail, but quite slippy due to how dry and gravelly it is. This is especially true of the last section which drops down to the oasis.

The oasis first comes into sight, nestled in the valley below.

A scramble down later and you can walk amongst these massive rocks and palms. While now it’s very dry, there’s signs of flash flooding with the way the grass and branches are wrapped around the nearby rocks.

It was time to make our way back now, the sun casting long shadows across the path as it dropped lower in the sky.

The are several desert hares around on the way back. The trail is a lot quieter now and I managed to actually get a picture of one.

We get back with around an hour of light, plenty of time to get a good spot on what was supposed to be quite well used spot of land.

We hadn’t long found our chosen spot, a short way in down a dirt road, when we were approached by a couple. They had spotted our English plates and came over to say hello. Promising to go over and see them later, we got busy cooking and unfortunately in the end, never quite made it.

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