Day 1 - Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree Travel Blog

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Windmills on the highway north of Palm Springs

The first night was cold. Super cold! I'm not used to being cold in the desert, somehow I usually end up there in the summer.  But in the winter, as soon as the sun sets in the cloudless, dry desert sky the temperatures quickly drop below freezing.  It's like being on Mars. The sun went down at 4:30, and by 7:00 we were in the tent, bundled in sleeping bags. That was just a couple hours before the 40 mile an hour wind came up and flattened the tent into a flapping nylon tarp on the ground...

My old coworker Lianne had come out from Washington DC to visit some of her old friends here and one of the things on her list was to see Joshua Tree National Monument.  It's about 5 hours from San Diego, 7 if you make stops on the way (I'm master of making stops.

The town of Joshua Tree, outside of the park, a typical high desert town
..)  She had only one day, but we decided to head up anyway.   Not a lot of time to see a park the size of an east coast state, but if we stayed overnight, we'd have the whole day.  Lianne's cool, she's a Washington bureaucrat now but used to do research on bats and squirrels.


The ride up is pleasant - well, you start off in horrible Riverside County, some of the worst urban sprawl in the world, but progressively head into more open space. First the narrow Morango Valley opens up into the Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs, where the hills are encrusted with slowly spinning windmills, generating a quiet roar on the hillsides. Entering the high desert, the first Joshua trees, 30-foot tall giant succulents in an otherwise low scrubland.

Lunch in Joshua Tree
A series of small desert towns, progressively more funky, lead to the enterence at Twentynine Palms, across from the massive Twentynine Palms Air Ground Combat Center, where the Marines have a huge chunk of California to blow things up. From jets.

Well, after a lunch stop, we rolled into the park only about an hour and a half before sundown.  Fortunately, the main sight in the park is the hugeness and openness of the park itself. You can look to the horizon in a lot of places there without seeing power lines, hotels, roads.... just endless rocks, scrub, and Joshua trees. After a quick look around, we found a campsite, wanting to get the tent up in the last daylight.

The tent was interesting. See, instead of just going and buying a tent like a normal person, I found one at the swap meet.
Tofu with sprouts, organic free range cheese and avocado... yes, the hippies have found the high desert...
A new-looking one for only 5 dollars. Why not? The guy swore that it'd only been used once! I'd dragged it home a year ago and put it away without looking at it. Well, when we pulled it out, it was like-new but HUGE! Probably 15x15 feet, big enough for a good 8 people! After finding a spot which was actually big enough to set it, it went up pretty easily.

It was great! I mean, you can stand up and walk around in the thing. It was great until the wind came up at about 10pm... In the desert things happen fast. It gets dark within seconds of the sun going behind the mountains. It gets really cold a few minutes later. When the cold air starts contracting somewhere to the east... it get windy really fast! Next thing we knew the high profile tent was flattened and holding us against the ground.
Lianne tackling and overly organic sandwich
We crawled from the wreckage, leaving everything but the sleeping bags behind, and retreated to the tiny car Lianne had rented. Morning couldn't come soon enough sleeping upright in the hard seats as a half inch of ice formed on the car roof and coated the tent during the night. I'm always getting stuck in the car overnight and Lianne used to do bat research in Nevada, so at least we were both used to such things.

In the morning we quickly stuffed everything into the car with our numb fingers, I mean even the tent with all the stuff in it just got stuffed into the back seat and we headed out to Amboy Crater, about 50 miles to the north.

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Windmills on the highway north of …
Windmills on the highway north of…
The town of Joshua Tree, outside o…
The town of Joshua Tree, outside …
Lunch in Joshua Tree
Lunch in Joshua Tree
Tofu with sprouts, organic free ra…
Tofu with sprouts, organic free r…
Lianne tackling and overly organic…
Lianne tackling and overly organi…
Shadows are already long when we r…
Shadows are already long when we …
Hunting monsters
Hunting monsters
There are a lot of rocks at Joshua…
There are a lot of rocks at Joshu…
Juniper
Juniper
Long, lonely roads cross the park
Long, lonely roads cross the park
Theres a LOT of open space here...
There's a LOT of open space here...
LOTS of cholla cactus
LOTS of cholla cactus
Ha!  The tent went up in record ti…
Ha! The tent went up in record t…
Lianne crawls from the wreckage as…
Lianne crawls from the wreckage a…
A long night in a freezing subcomp…
A long night in a freezing subcom…
Cant believe the tent didnt blow…
Can't believe the tent didn't blo…
Half an inch of ice on the roof
Half an inch of ice on the roof
Early morning desert sun as the mo…
Early morning desert sun as the m…
Long shadows once again
Long shadows once again
This would be a Joshua Tree
This would be a Joshua Tree
70 km (43 miles) traveled
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photo by: jenn79