Getting to Joshua Tree National Park was a fun adventure in itself! First of all, we had planned on staying on Interstate 10 to the entrance to the park, but my GPS diverted us due to a traffic accident. We were rerouted to the 95 at Quartzsite, Arizona before taking Highway 62 westward. Seeing on the GPS that there were two towns called Rice and Old Dale in between us and Joshua Tree we felt confident in the detour. My gas light came on about 20 miles from Rice.
The first interesting thing that we discovered on this highway was this amazing signpost out in the middle of pretty much nowhere. It is even unclear as to why the pole was even standing there. There are signs of all kinds attached to this post, many being artisan handmade.
As we approached Rice, we quickly realized that there were NO services to be found. This is all that is left of the town. It is the Shoe Fence. There used to be a Shoe Tree near an old abandoned building, but they are both long gone. Now people leave shoes on this fence for reasons unknown. You can read more about the Shoe Fence here.
Of course we can’t forget the adjacent Shoe Gas Station! No gas there!
Well, my gas light was still telling me that we needed gas. I could see that the town of Old Dale was coming up, so I was hoping that we could make it that much further. We had already gone 24 miles since the gas light came on, but Old Dale looked a good distance away. I started singing Kumbaya and white-knuckling the steering wheel. Jessica, my hiking buddy, and I started noting the locations of Call Boxes along the highway, wondering if they even still worked. We had no cell phone service!
Old Dale had…..nothing! It turned out to be another ghost town. We had at this time driven another 58 miles on fumes! Giving us a total to this point of 82 miles on a wing-and-a-prayer. There was NO Way we were going to make it. We made a plan that when we run out of gas we would walk back to the last call box, and started keeping track of how far apart they were. The answer is about four miles.
We see a worker on the side of the road about 10 miles outside of Twentynine Palms. We pull off to see if there’s ANY way he might have fuel. He didn’t, however Chuck offered to follow us into town to make sure we got there safely. By the Grace of God, we did! We have no idea how we made it, I think it was the Kumbaya! We thanked Chuck and offered to pay him, which he refused. What a wonderful, kind man. We started referring to him as Chuck Norris whenever we recounted the story. After filling up we started down the road again, nearly there. Jessica turns to me and says, “You know we shouldn’t have made it, right?” And I reply, “I know! I wonder if singing Kumbaya helped.”
After having our road adventures along highway 62, and miraculously not running out of gas, Jessica and I arrived safely at Black Rock Campground where we rendezvoused with other hikers from the California Backpacking Club and the Arizona Backpacking Club. MJ and Dave were already there when we pulled into the campsite. We all introduced ourselves and MJ recognized me from another hike we had previously done together. We still had to wait for the remainder of our troupe to arrive from Tucson, Palmdale, and the Bay Area. After scouting between the two campsites that we had reserved we set up our tents under two large Joshua trees.
Everyone brought food for a potluck and there was way more food than people. We had Swedish meatballs, healthy mac n’cheese, fruit, potato salad, homemade pickles, sweet cooked carrots, ribs, cake, pies and brownies. We washed it down with beer, wine or a couple of shots of some nasty tequila.
The orange sunset tonight was spectacular as it cast its warm hues over the desert. I was looking forward to exploring the next day.
Thursday, two hikes to enjoy for today!
We woke up early enough to have coffee, breakfast, and to hit the trail by 7:30. Everyone was ready on time and eager to hike this morning. We drove our cars to the Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead.
One of the first views I noticed was where two mountains had joined each other and become one. There was clearly a difference in the composition of each. The part of the mountain to the left consisted of smaller light gray rocks and sand with a scattering of low-lying shrubs. The part of the mountain on the right was made up of huge parchment colored granite boulders with creosote, agave and other plants at their feet.
As we walked up the sandy wash we became enveloped within the landscape. The rock formations continually kept my interest and my camera working. Many of the large granite stones have been worn smooth by wind-blown sand.
Many boulders contained square chunks of marble which is a sign of metamorphic rock interrupted, they were very unique. The marble chunks were smooth and lighter than the granite that they were embedded within.
We did a lot of boulder scrambling along the route, which primarily follows the dry wash. Quite frequently we had to climb, crawl, hop, and stretch to move forward. It was a lot of fun!
Eventually we walked primarily on huge granite slabs. Marble veins were frequently noticed running along the boulders and up the sides of the nearby formations.
From our high perches we had stunning vistas of the desert and town of 29 Palms below.
There were areas where we found standing water, and at the bottom of what would be a fabulous waterfall in wet weather there was still a bit of water that shone, far below between the smooth carved sides of the granite walls.
There were really interesting veins of quartz running through the granite. Of course we just had to dare Dave to climb one!
When we reached the end of this trail we stopped in the cool shade to have a quick rest and snack before heading back the way we had come. It was a great workout for the total mileage of only 1.9 miles.
When we arrived back at the trailhead parking lot my car failed to start, there was nothing, no turning over, no clicking. MJ had a battery charger in his car and Dave tried to roll the car to reset “something” and it started up. We decided for everyone to stop at auto Zone on the way to our next hike. Sure enough, my car’s battery was bad. A half hour and $130 later we were all happily on our way again.
49 Palms Canyon
The next hike for today was to see 49 Palms Canyon. This riparian area has a stand of palm trees that have grown on their own. Presumably birds had something to do with bringing seeds to the location.
This trailhead looks very different from the one at Rattlesnake Canyon. Definitely more barren looking, and lacking the incredible boulders that we had just scrambled over. It was a welcome sight to see a straightforward trail meandering through the hills.
Before very long we were able to spot a green canyon ahead. As we drew nearer we were able to tell that these were the palm trees. It is quite a sight to be hiking in the desert, amid nearly white granite to come upon such an oasis.
The green was so bright in contrast. There was evidence of a previous fire that had charred the trunks of a few of the palms, yet they remain healthy and thriving. There is a spring nearby and you can hear the water running in places.
The environment here is fragile, and hikers are only permitted to get a view of the creek area, and are not allowed to invade the natural terrain along the water. We were very respectful of that, and I hope that others are as well.
On the way out we noticed the red barrel cacti dotting the desert, their spines a bright red. This hike was 1.7 miles each way for a total of just 3.41 miles.
From the parking lot we decided to visit the Joshua Tree Saloon for some nourishment and drinks before heading back to camp. Our group gets along well and we clearly enjoy each other’s company.
Panorama Loop at Black Rock Canyon
This hike commenced right from our campground. After breakfast we saddled up and headed out.
The day had a bit of cloud cover as we started out along the sandy trail which was bordered by sagebrush, palo verde and Joshua trees.
The level trail became a wash as it led us into a pretty, small canyon. We meandered around the canyon for a while before it opened up into a little desert valley.
We did some climbing along hills and small mountains to the top of a vista.
Panorama is right! From here we could see all the way to Palm Springs and Mt. San Jacinto, where clouds were resting all along its ridges.
At the top we discovered three United States Geological Survey markers from 1939.
We took our time and enjoyed the views while we had a break before heading on. The native plant life was interesting as was the geology of the desert on this 7.96 mile hike.
Joshua Tree National Park
Barker Dam (Bighorn Dam)
Barker Dam offers park visitors a short scenic walk to view a small handmade dam and the lake created there. The Keyes family was early cattle ranchers in the area.
The dam is a crude structure created by stacked boulders and concrete.
On one side of the dam is a small lake that has become a welcomed refuge to many of the park’s wildlife, especially birds.
On the other side of the dam visitors can see the interesting trough that was also built by the Keyes’. I am still curious about the shape of it.
The rest of the loop led us through amazing rock formations with signs pointing out items of interest, like the cheesebush. I came up with too many jokes about the cheesebush, but I digress.
Another place marked by a sign was a much eroded large boulder that had Native American petroglyphs etched inside the hollowed-out area. Someone had come along and highlighted some of them with paint, very bad!
Wall Street Mill
The last hike on our itinerary was to visit the ruins of the Wall Street Mill. The hike in was very level and easy as we skirted the formations on our left.
This mill, which had once been owned by Keyes the cattle rancher, was used to crush gold ore that was mined nearby during the Second Gold Rush that took place during the depression. This easy hike follows a sandy trail through the scrub, and around some of the formations.
One of the first artifacts that you come upon here is an old truck that was left abandoned. We just had to use this prop to take some fun pictures!
We also located the remnants of a really sweet old building.
Coming upon the Mill we could see tracks running between the roof and the ground below. The building itself is constructed of corrugated steel siding, looks to be in remarkable shape. The desert, after all, is a wonderful preservative for metal. On the roof are a series of wheels and a winch that were presumably used to pull the ore carts up to be processed.
Below the Mill we located the well with old pump equipment situated on top.
There were several other old cars found around the site as well which made for some really great photos.
Hiking out the same way in which we had come in we completed the last of our scheduled Joshua Tree hikes.
I had greatly underestimated Joshua Tree National Park! On my travels I have often driven down Highway 10 by Palm Springs and Desert Center going between So. Cal. and Arizona. I had seen the signs that there was a National Park there, but I had never given it much thought. I love the desert, but I never thought that Joshua Tree would offer anything special. I hate to admit it, but I was wrong. From the very moment you enter the park, your eyes are amazed by the sights before you. The formations and grandeur of the park is very, very special. It truly is not like any other place that I have ever seen. It has a unique and magnificent landscape that is harsh and beautiful at the same time. I will definitely be a return visitor!
For more information on Joshua Tree National Park visit their website here.