Travel Journal: Joshua National Park

Third day down the road and only now the urge to write a daily journal has hit. Three is indeed a charm! Today has been an exceptional day.  Dutiful to our morning hiking my son and I set the alarm to 7 AM. One hour later we were already parking the car at the head of the Andreas Canyon trail, some five miles south of Palm Springs.

Yesterday’s hiking in the Joshua Tree National Park was nice but no more than that; no "wow" feeling. Our travel guide had classified the trail as moderately strenuous, which I considered to be the upper limit of difficulty in view of my bad knee, my bad back and my bad hiking skills.

 Our destination was the 49 Palms Oasis. When I mentioned to Bruno my intention of counting the palm trees, he quickly observed that the park brochure said “originally”, probably to avoid any liability should a disgruntled tourist decide to sue the National Park Services for misrepresentation. 

The oasis lied in a small valley encrusted within several mountains. To get there we hiked up a mountain profusely populated by a cactus of different forms, heights and colors. Bruno’s favorite was this barrel-shaped cactus with red spikes. It grows in the most impossible places making you wonder not only how it got there but also how it survived there. On the top of huge boulders, the red ones seem like silent sentinels overlooking the landscape opening before their watchful spikes. 

Windy and cold, both of us regretted having left our sweaters in the hotel. Who would have thought it necessary? We were in the desert for pity’s sake, and the thermometers were hitting well past 85̊ F in Palm Springs. Yet, at Joshua Park the frigid wind was mightier than the desert sun.

The elegant Afros in their straw furs

The elegant Afros in their straw furs

We put on a brave face and stepped up the pace. No shade on the way, just this vast and arid landscape of mountains surrounded us till we saw a blur of green: the 49 (or so the name goes) palm trees looking like giant twigs topped with oversized green Afros and dressed in puffed beige fur coats. Imposing figures! The oasis itself was small but surprisingly lush. After a short rest, we made our way back. No, I did not count to check whether the original forty-niners were still there. I thought it was better to leave as it was, undetermined. Incidentally, they seem to like the number nine in the region. A city nearby was named Twentynine Palms (no space, no dash) with the unavoidable motel named Twentynine Palms Inn. The inn was located between the Nineteen Palms General Store and the Thirtynine Palms Taqueria, just across the Fortynine Palms gas station. Yes, originally. 

Joshua Trees

Joshua Trees

Moderately strained, we were happy to head to the car and start the recommended “scenic drive”. We left 49 Palms Oasis and the town of Twentynine Palms behind us and dashed towards other exotic destinations in the park: Hidden Valley, Keys Views and White Tanks. To those, we added stops at the Skull trail, with its imposing huge rock in the shape of you know what, and the Hall of Horrors, a favorite rock climbing spot. It was a striking site dominated by a collection of massive and smoothly surfaced boulders. They were strangely but beautifully piled up, some of them artfully defying gravity. The boulders were surrounded by Joshua trees with their twisted branches and pineapple looking leaves. Or would it be mop looking leaves as in Dr. Seuss’s books? Somehow, to me the leaves looked like misplaced pineapple leaves growing out of the branches. And then, a pleasant surprise: the ground was dotted with minuscule wild flowers sprouting out from nowhere and covering the earth like a gentle laced carpet. The place had more varieties of cactus than I have ever got to know in my several trips to the Brooklyn Botanical garden. Some of them with vibrant magenta flowers sharply contrasting with the pastel tones of the landscape. Plus…the inescapable cold wind.

Fortynine miles later, we were out of the park driving towards an overdue meal. I couldn’t decide whether it was going to be a late lunch or an early dinner: it was three fortynine when we entered the restaurant. Originally…

 [ First published on May 1, 2014]