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First leg of the road trip: To Joshua Tree National Park.

After visiting my parents again in LA for the past two and a half weeks, I started to feel the need to get out of the city and explore a bit of the eastern parts of California.  I had always wanted to go out to Joshua Tree and into the desert but never got round to it during my other visits since I kept on going up north to the Bay Area to visit my cousins and the rest of my family.  This time, I decided to go for it and early on Wednesday morning, I packed up my little Golf along with 2 gallons of water just in case and headed towards the I-10.  Three hours later, I was already at the northern entrance of Joshua Tree National Park at Twenty Nine Palms.  Map in hand and all the hiking trails highlighted by Jerry, the tourist information man, I headed into the park and scouted out my first trail head.

And we have arrived!

HIDDEN VALLEY

The first trail I went on was Hidden Valley.  Aptly named because it was surrounded by boulders and well hidden from view.  Apparently the cattle rustlers used this area as a hideout and to let their animals graze here, out of sight from others.  The trail was short and an easy walk but because of the intense August heat, I think I took about an hour to complete.  That and taking pictures and getting side tracked with climbing up the rocks nearby.  I must say, this place would be a rock climber’s dream.

Rocks, Joshua Trees and my trusty little car.

There are no shortages of good viewing opportunities in JTNP. This has been one of my favourite parks so far. It kind of reminded me of Hampi in India with all the rocks and boulders.

This is the start of the Hidden Vally trail. The temperature must've been already near 100F by that time.

The famous Joshua Tree. I just found out that it's called that because it was discovered by a group of the Latter Day Saints who came to the Mojave back in the day. Apparently it's because it reminded them of Joshua's hands reaching up towards the sky to stop the sun by God's command (that's according to Wikipedia - true or not I have no clue).

For some reason, I love this tree. It was in the middle of the path, chillin amongst the J-Trees. I thought it's bark was beautiful and so was its colour. Although it didn't provide me with much shade to escape from the midday sun, it gave me something nice to look at.

BARKER DAM

Next stop was at Barker Dam.  Now Jerry, my helpful tourist guide man at the Visitors’ Center had insisted I go see Barker Dam just a few miles east of Hidden Valley so of course, how could I refuse.  He did warn me that there might not be much water (if at all) in the dam since this was the dry season and he reckoned that the water may have evaporated away already.  True to form, it had.  The dam was dry as a bone but I could see where the water level had been.  Apparently some big horn sheep can be spotted here (again, probably only when the dam is full because right now, they’d have no use for it without the water).  On the way back, a few meters off the path is a piece of rock with petroglyphs, carved by the Native Americans back in the day.

A very dry Barker Dam…

I'd like to say I was scaling some rocks but this is pretty much my "rock climbing" for the day.

These are the petroglyphs. Now, the originals don't have the colours. According to Jerry, a film crew came to these parts a number of years ago and painted over the originals so that it would show on film and since then the Archaeological Society has not attempted to take off the paint again for fear of also damaging the original carvings underneath.

KEYS VIEW

Another place that’s worth a visit is Keys View.  It’s about seven miles south from Hidden Valley and Barker Dam but once you get there, they weren’t kidding about the view.  I was told that the San Andreas Fault line can be seen from here and that that’s where it starts off (or ends depending on which way you’re looking at it).  It runs about 300 kilometers to its end on the shores of the Salton Sea from the San Francisco Bay area.  It splits into two strands in the San Bernardino Mountains that rejoin near Indio, in the low-lying Coachella Valley.  Standing at the top of the mountain at Keys View, you can see all those places right in front of you.  I’ve always been interested in Geography and as a kid, I was intrigued by the forces of nature.  Each month, I would flip through the pages of the new issue of National Geographic wishing to one day see these places. Now, to be right there seeing it in person was wonderful.  Like the time I stood at the edge of the the Grand Canyon, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  It was like making the things I only read about in books into reality and to see that they really exist.

Oh and another thing… Jerry warned me about the bees.  He didn’t say how many there’d be but as soon as I parked my car up the hill, they just surrounded my car.  There was a family there with two little kids.  I think one of them got stung because she wouldn’t stop crying – either that or she was crying because of the heat (I would too because it was scorching!).

Lost Horse Mine Road on route to Keys View

The San Andreas Fault is somewhere down there in the Coachella Valley.

Yup... water, hat and shades are a must in this heat.

I was going for the "jumping" shot but thought otherwise since I didn't want to be in a predicament of falling down a cliff and being awarded the Darwin Award... A YMCA stance will have to do I suppose!

SKULL ROCK, CAP ROCK AND CHOLLA GARDENS

Other small hikes and walks around JTNP are those three places listed above.  Frankly, if I had more time, I’d have loved to camp out for a few days and take my time on all the trails.  I’d also bring along a telescope.  The night sky here must be amazing.  This place really reminded me of the village where I grew up in the North West province of South Africa.  Saulspoort was very much like this – dry, with acacia trees, quiet and remote and in the night you can see the Milky Way.  Maybe that’s why I love the desert and places like these so much – they remind me of my childhood.  Growing up amongst the acacia trees and the occasional cacti as well as the wildlife has made me fond of going on hikes and spending time in the bush.  So if you’re in the LA area, it’s definitely worth the three hour drive up north to spend a couple of days in the park.

No cheers for guessing that this is Skull Rock. Doesn’t it look spooky?! Eek…

Skull Rock trail starts from here.

Deserted road cutting through from the north end of the park to the south.

At the Cholla Gardens. This is where the desert transitions into the Sonoran from the Mojave. Basically the Chollas popped up from nowhere and there were no more Joshua Trees. Apparently it's all to do with the climate or the soil or something - I didn't pay much attention when the tourist info guy was explaining this part to me.

The Cholla Cactus - apparently a pain (both literally and figuratively) to get out if you ever land on one.

Right in the middle of the park, on route to the south entrance. It takes about an hour and a half to cut across the park – that’s if you don’t stop. But obviously I couldn’t resist stepping out and walking about the Cholla Gardens so it took me a bit longer to get out on the other side.

Next stop:  The infamous Salton Sea!

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