Joshua Tree National Park and the Carrizo Plain National Monument

Saturday was departure day and I was heading down to LA to visit my nephew Eric and his 10 month old son Clark – my first great nephew. I also had the additional task of returning to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX to retrieve my passport left behind when returning from Australia. If you read my earlier blog you know how much i dislike LAX. But the only way to get it back was to pick it upon in person. So breaking camp was a slow process as things were still muddy wet and I have, of course, way to much stuff because there was room in the car for it! So I poked out of Pinnacles about 10:30 and headed south. I had to succumb to interstate driving as it was the only practical way to get there before sundown. I did not want to be negotiating the LA freeway system after dark.

However, looking at the map when leaving I spotted another potential adventure. I saw the Carrizo Plain National Monument on the map and since I have seen some quite splendid National Monument already on this trip, I had Siri devise a route on local roads to it. This also would help me avoid some of the freeways.The plain, sitting between the Caliente Range and the Tembler Range, is a drainage basin with the water draining to Soda Lake. During the dry season the water entirely evaporates and what is left is a salt encrusted lake basin. It was a well chosen adventure as the plain is the largest single native grassland remains in California at 50 miles long and at times 15 miles wide. The surrounding mountains have their own unique look and color and were dressed out in shades of maize, goldenrod, desert sand, almond and brown. Soda Lake Road was paved for a bit but then the route turned into a washboard cattle-guarded stone throwing gravel road. But I am always up for the challenge and we jounced on through the pain, marveling at magical landscapes of the of the natural world. Every day I am thankful for these national parks and monuments for the beauty and unique natural settings they preserve.

I do not know how I would have managed the spiderweb of LA freeways without dear Siri. I was aghast at the volume of traffic on Saturday afternoon. The highways were packed and often bumper to bumper 6-7 lanes across. I was staying at the good old dog friendly Motel 6 in Van Nuys. Even this very spare motel with its very spare rooms was $98.00. But I have a distaste for spending $200.00 or exorbitant pet fees to pop in, sleep, and pop out again in the am. I began to have my doubts though when there was a guard for the parking lot and warning signs saying no guest allowed in rooms unless registered. It was across the street from a huge beer manufacturing plant, and there was a spot in the parking lot designated for police car. But all was quiet, room decent and clean and free wi-fi! Didn’t need much more. Besides if I had too much luxury it would spoil me for my camping adventures.

The next national park stop was to be Joshua Tree. But first was a visit with my nephew and first grand nephew Clark We had a lovely brunch with Eric and Allison and even Kili and Simba got along with their dogs. True to the bad habits Simba adopted while in Oregon (i.e. peeing on Tasia’s carpet) he managed to present a healthy poop in the middle of the entry way, only to be discovered when baby Clark crawled over there to examine it. Because the family was under the weather we left about 12:30 and headed to LAX for my passport.

That went very smooth until I could not find my car in the lot across from the International Terminal. Now I had noted it was on level 4 row E but somehow I went in a different entrance and ended up in a different garage. Thanks to imaps the spot was marked and I could wind may way back to the correct garage. I then was able to adeptly negotiate the maze of freeways heading east from LAX to Joshua Tree National Park. In the process of getting there I continued to feel that disdain that I have for most freeways and it wasn’t much different here. As I tried to appreciate the backdrop for these communities, the mountains and hills of the environs of LA, I can’t help but be distracted by the power lines, multitude of signs, and sheer number of chain stores and fast food places which are carbon copied from interchange to interchange. Granted some communities try to make their chain stores fit into the landscape of the area and do a relatively decent job but it still is a challenge to be able to look beyond the back of the cement adobe and sand colored buildings with their registered bright colored trademark signs and appreciate the setting.I arrived around 5:00 at Joshua Tree and encountered a landscape quite unlike any other I had seen.

I stopped at the visitors center and got a map and discovered on the map that the campground I had reserved was another 10 miles down the road. By now I was in the desert with an elevation of 3000 feet. Things looked quite barren and bleak at first glance but I headed on toward 29 Palms Oasis. We were now in rattlesnake territory rather than bear territory. I easily found the campground and immediately fell in love with the area. The rock formations were incredible and unlike any I had seen before and the campsites were nested within the protection of massive boulder. I was definitely at this point a very happy camper and camp setup was easy and accomplished before dark. I had great enthusiasm for tomorrows adventures. The first thing I learned however was the Joshua Tree is not a tree or a cactus but a monocot which is similar in structure to grasses and have a slow growth cycle (one inch a year) . To me that was fascinating.

Given the anticipated high temperatures and lack of shade in the desert ,I knew this would be a scenic driving day. The dogs and I took a early morning walk before the heat began to build up then it was off in the car. I had not anticipated how large this national park are would be so I knew I had no desire to do the whole circumference of the park. So we headed back to the West Entrance Station and cruised from there. I knew I wanted to head through the Hidden Valley area and on up towards the Keys View at 5185 feet. It was a beautiful view of the valley, surrounding San Bernadino Mountains and desert. I later learned that one could observe the St. Andreas Fault in the valley below but wasn’t aware of that up top. I was a suburb view of the valley and of course a great little opportunity for a short walk with the dogs. Yes, there was a 1/4 mile path they could be on! Just as we were thinking about moving on up pulled a full busload of tourist, so rather than be engorged by this mass of people, we headed back on down to the flats.

Hidden Valley

Visiting the Cholla Cactus Garden and Ocotillo Patch in the Pinto Basin seemed interesting so we head out the Pinto Basin Road toward the Cottonwood Visitors Center. What became quite fascinating was being aware that two deserts, the Mojave and Colorado (part of the larger Sonoran), transition in the middle of the park and though there is a great biodiversity in this transition zone you can see the in the northwestern Mojave give way to the Colorado in the southeastern reaches. The Joshua Tree is unique to the Mojave and is mixed in with pinyon, juniper, scrub oak, yucca and prickly pear. They thrive in this moist cooler higher elevation than of the Mojave I could observe the gradual changing to the vegetation as I moved southeast into the more arid climate of the Colorado, I began seeing the dominant vegetation was the creosote bush, ocotillo, palo verde and the infamous jumping cholla cactus (teddy bear cholla). There was very little wildlife to observe as it was the heat of the day and few flowers as it is the waning season even in the desert.



I spotted a patch of cholla cactus as I drove along and stopped to take some pictures. I had not yet fully understood their reputation but I ended up with a couple off cholla hitchhikers embedding in my crocks and had a horrible time getting them out and not lacerating my fingers or have them poking through the sole into my foot. So when I reached the cholla garden I was super cautious as their barbs are viscous . The ocotillo patch was minimal but became interesting as it appeared to be a cactus but is not. And and up closer look, from a very rough woody textured bark, revealed tiny leaves budding all up and down its stalks. Though from a distance it appears dead, it can be very much alive just waiting for the rains. Our tour ended down at Cottonwood Springs were I went up a sandy gravely incline better to observe the Palm Oasis and managed to loose my footing on the sand surface and take a beautiful skid ending with some vivid road rash on my left thigh. Another lesson in not wearing the correct shoe for the activity.

One of the most fun activities was to observe the myriad of stacked boulder throughout the park, with joints formed horizontally and vertically, resulting in piles of angular granite blocks. Over time, they weathered and eroded and scattered across the desert. Ones imagination can run wild and I could find all kind of faces and objects in the rock formations. The rest of the stay was peaceful with a beautiful sunset walk, dark starlit skies, and a night in my cozy tent with my canine buddies.


After breaking camp the journey down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument commenced. Kili, unlike myself, does not do well with change.  And so began his pattern of finding a spot on the campsite to rest and resist leaving. even when all spaced and cleared away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s