We began and ended our search in one click. Results for "best parks to visit in spring" yielded a top ten list which included some wed been to, some we weren’t interested in, and a few that sounded just right. The rightest of the right was Joshua Tree National Park.
Now that we had our destination we needed our lodging. I was up for camping but you-know-who felt otherwise. So the hunt was on for the precise combination of rustic nature and running water. Again, we began and ended our search in one click. Results for "secluded unique fireplace "hot tub" starry sky "joshua tree"" gave us Rock Haven. I can count on one hand the number of times I have found a lodging that looked so perfect that I didn’t even look at a single other option. Admittedly I believe I took to the cabin due to its likeness with my grandmother's farm in the mountains of West Virginia. A no-frills but exceptionally homey mix of woodstoves, fringed rugs, screen doors, and afghan-strewn sofas. Endless hours spent on the patio hearing nothing but nature and the creak of that old porch swing are the very root of who I am today.
[Pause for moment of nostalgia]
Off to Joshua Tree.
We forgot to bring our GPS. And it’s something like $10/day to rent one with the car. We decided to risk it and put our journey in the hands of our cell phone which for whatever reason relies solely on “Bing maps” (putting in quotes because initially it was said with such disgust). Our first test: find a car charger cord (typing Target into Bing maps, expecting nothing and….it was fine). Next: swing by our 2 staples to buy provisions for the week (enter Trader Joes for him (was tempted to try the $2 TJ wine we’d heard so much about over the years), Whole Foods for her…both fine). For the record the car rental, TJ, and WF are all within a few miles of the airport in an area called Manhattan Beach-we checked into this before we left but, you know, we weren’t sure “Bing maps” was going to pull through. I’ll stop putting it in quotes now b/c it did a great job.
Despite the giant wind turbines, with the freaky red eye and slowly spinning arms, which have some serious alien-like qualities, the drive was really a pretty one and we both shrieked with excitement when we caught our first glimpse of the unmistakable branches of a joshua tree!
Then on to sunset at the Cholla Cactus Garden, which was something I had been looking forward to. Thanks again to earthquakes, in a basin within the transition zone between the Mojave (high/north) and Colorado (low/south) deserts, lies a large collection of almost nothing but Cholla ("holla!" heh) as far as the eye can see. Chollas are an interesting looking cactus which are a mixture of white, greens, and browns and can get pretty tall. They really look so pretty against the setting sun so it was a neat sight and we took our time lazily following the meandering path.
After my cautious observer role I took on the role of silent passenger. I was using the "even the worst case scenario isn't that bad" logic. Worst-case scenario I thought might be having to spend the night in the desert. That in and of itself didn't scare me. And wrong though I may have been I didn't think animals eating us would be an issue. Nor did I the think the cold would get us in the end. It was that this canyon was so tight and so steep it felt like it was closing in on us. I remember thinking or saying: it's amazing to me how, in the day so majestic, the same mountains are in the night so ominous.
We had exited the park at around 6:00 on the map and decided to swing around the southern loop through Palm Desert and Palm Springs. Lo and behold we come across a Del Taco. Hello dinner!
The next day Chris shined up the jeep inside and out, as he would do each morning thereafter, ridding it of the dust and debris we inevitably collected each day on our adventures.
Then we tackled Contact Mine (the mine produced gold and silver in the early 1900s. Building ruins, old machinery, tram tracks, a cable winch, and partially collapsed shafts are still visible). We drove to the parking area where we had read the trail begins which isn't a parking area for the trail, rather, a parking area for the park information sign that sits along the side of the road. One other car was there. There is no trailhead for this hike and no real markers (I know what you're thinking) so you are relying on the words of others when they say things like "walk southeast toward the mountain range" and "spend two hours trudging through a wash." Ok so not really 2 hours exactly but it certainly seemed like it b/c walking through a wash is like walking through cookie dough.
So along we go-still not completely sure we are going the right way but still really enjoying the hike and, like most of the week, not encountering another single soul. The mountains begin to converge and we eventually reach a canyon packed with branches and boulders. Is this right? While we occasionally do see footsteps (in all directions) the "path" by this point has long since disappeared. The setting sun is now hidden by the canyon walls and the familiar transition of "beauty" to "scary" has begun to take place. The canyon opens up and we feel good. Then it begins to narrow again and we dont feel good.
We return safely to the trail head to, as always, the only car in the lot. A bit of sunlight remains and we check the map to see how we can finish off our day. Eureka Peak. I dig sunsets just like PonyBoy. Driving up a single lane tightly wound dirt mountain road flanked by steep drop offs (me laughing uncontrollably as Chris honks around each turn) we reach the peak and it is awesome. It felt like we were the only people on earth. Arm in arm, wind whipping around us, watching that sunset....