An Essay on the Finer Points of Joshua Tree National Park
I had been driving all day. I had left the coast of California early that morning. I started driving east into the rising sun, and now I was watching it set as I neared my destination. I had driven 300 miles across California, and I was getting tired. I'd never been to Joshua Tree before, but I usually like most national parks, and was optomistic about what I'd find. I figured I had enough time to enter the park, find a campsite and set up camp before night had completely set in. I followed the signs to the west entrance, there weren't any rangers on duty, so I showed my national parks pass to the little coop they keep the rangers in, and drove on. The sun was turning an intense orange as it neared the horizon. It gave the landscape a rich, warm, strong hued painters quality, that had me craning my head around as I drove trying to take it all in. My eyes were hyper sensitive to the desert evening and the colors of the earth, plants and sky were very intense, almost surreal. The desert stretched around me, relatively flat, with rocky hillsides in the distance. Joshua Trees for which the park was named, stood by the hundreds. They looked like an invention of Dr. Suess, limbs bent akimbo welcoming me into their homeland. Then I began to see the fantastic eroded boulder formations, orange in the setting sun. These eroded, wind swept islands are found all over the northern parts of the park, and make Joshua Tree a climbers paradise. Then, as the sun set over the distant San Bernardino mountains, the warm lighting faded, and was gone. I was happy though, my drive was over, and what an outstanding visual entrance to Joshua Tree!
Joshua tree is one of America's great playgrounds. It's perfectly designed for the active lifestyle. A lot of climbers from around the world come to JT to climb and boulder in the winter, when it's too cold back home. I love scrambling around the rock islands. It's my favorite thing to do here, and I spend most of the day exploring the fortresses of rocks. The stone is very grippy. I find that you don't need climbing gear to reach the tops of these formations, you just need hiking boots, leather gloves, and determination to reach the top. The saying, "Where there is a will, there is a way" definitely applies to JT. There are hundreds of these formations to climb, around campsites, rest stops, picnic areas, and along the roadside. I like to look at the map and plan my climbs ahead of time so I don't need to waste time thinking about it. I'll just drive to the Hall of Horrors, for example, and climb each formation that interests me. Sometimes I need to take creative measures to get where I want. I've slithered underneath boulders, through narrow cracks, jumped from boulder to boulder, and wedged my way up chimneys. It's great exercise for body and mind and a tremendous amount of fun.
The longboarding is good, too. Jumbo Rocks campground has a fine lazy carving run. One of my favorite runs starts at the campground entrance and slopes down to the turn around at the other end of the campground. I've also boarded down the Keys View overlook road back to the park loop road. It's smooth and fast, with a big downside of being extremely popular during the day. Too much traffic during the day, but a night run might be sweet. One run I've been wanting to take is from the North Entrance station down towards the Oasis Visitors Center. It's a five mile run on new pavement, sloping down to Twentynine Palms. Have someone meet you at the bottom to give you a ride back up.
A typical day has me getting up at dawn and having some peppermint tea while watching the sunrise from a rock outcrop. I'll eat breakfast, do some basic yoga stretching, then head off in search of a rock island to conquer. When the sun gets high in the sky, and I'm tired from my mornings' fun, I like to hole up in the shade and eat lunch. Then I'll either nap, read, or pull out my sketchbook to sketch the eroded boulders in charcoal. It's great to stroll out to a nice shady rock perch and take in the afternoon while mindlessly sketching the scene. It's good to relax. Later on in the afternoon, I'll head out for a hike or scramble up some rocks. Then I'll come back and cook dinner, clean up, and settle in with a good book until the stars come out. It's a damn fine life, let me tell you.
There is a wide variety of wildlife and plants at Joshua Tree. I like to get up early in the morning and scramble up a remote boulder with my binoculars to listen and watch the packs of coyotes head off to their secret places. I've seen the kit fox, jack rabbits, lizards, and a variety of birds while hiking through the desert. There are a number of different types of cacti, wildflowers in bloom (mostly in the south) and of course the Joshua Trees for which the place is named. All these parts mix together with the rock formations and make a pleasant backdrop for adventure.
Beyond all the physical features, there is there is an allure to Joshua Tree that pulls me back to it. I fell in love with the place after the first time I laid eyes on it, and my memories of it make me want to come back. It has good karma. I can forget about any other issues going on in my life, and live for the moment. For me, Joshua tree combines all of my favorite things: creative, challenging exercise, a beautiful, natural invironment, and a place to get in touch with my spiritual/contemplative side. That's why I'll keep coming back.