Friday, April 20, 2012

Desert Road Trip: Joshua Tree/Mojave April 5-8 (Part 1)

JTNP 01 It was the best of timing, it was the worst of timing.

I've long been wanting to see Joshua Tree and Mojave NP, and this spring I finally decided to do it. The plan was to drive down Wednesday night, spend Thursday and Friday in Joshua Tree, spend most of Saturday in Mojave National Preserve, and head back Sunday. I lit out around 8 pm Wednesday evening; after some traffic in the City and on the bridge, it was clear sailing. I stopped for a nap at the Buttonwillow rest area, got maybe a half hour of sleep--not as much as I had hoped, but enough to keep me going for a while.

Around Mojave I was starting to get drowsy, and I probably should have stopped for another nap at the Boron rest area, but I was so close to Barstow I kept on. I pulled into Barstow around 5:35 am, and stopped briefly for a few night motel shots. Then on to Denny's for breakfast and coffee, which revived me for the rest of the day. More... Motel 66 01 There was no traffic at all on 247, and not much on 62. I got to the Joshua Tree visitor center around 8:30.

This is where the bad timing comes in. Sign on the visitor center door said all campgrounds were full. Turns out lots of people take off the week before Easter (who knew?), and all of them go to Joshua Tree. Inside they told me the sign wasn't quite right: there were sites at Cottonwood, the least scenic and most distant from the main attractions.

Heading into the park, I thought about trying Jumbo Rocks in case anyone was leaving, but when I got there I saw a couple other cars ahead of me with (apparently) the same idea. So I hightailed it down to Cottonwood where I had my pick of a bunch of empty sites. Globe Mallow 01 Here's where the good timing comes in. Just from what was blooming in the campground, it was clear Cottonwood was wildflower central that week. Desert Globemallow, Purplemat, Brown-Eyed Evening Primrose, Desert Pincushion, and one lone spectacularly blooming Mojave Yucca, among others. After paying, and leaving enough gear out to let people know the site was taken, I headed down to Cottonwood Basin Wash (1.7 miles south of the Cottonwood visitor center), where the JTNP wildflower update had said the bloom was at its peak. Sand Blazing Star 01 They were not wrong. I hiked up the wash a half mile or so and saw a dozen or more species that were new to me. Highlights included Desert Bluebells, Sand Blazing Star, Bigelow's Monkeyflower, Notch-Leaf Phacelia, Desert Star, and (best of all) a lone Beavertail Cactus in full amazing bloom. Beavertail 03 After returning to the campsite and having some lunch, I headed down to Cottonwood Springs trailhead for a hike to Lost Palms Oasis. Wildflowers along the trail were abundant and gorgeous. Lots of Desert Bluebell and Sand Blazing Star, plus Pygmy Poppy, Mojave Aster, Scarlet Locoweed, and Calico Cactus. Calico Cactus 03 This is a 3 mile or so hike through low hills and desert washes, ending with a steep descent into a rocky canyon. Early-to-mid-afternoon is a sub-optimal time for this hike, which has virtually no shade; I was hard-pressed to drink enough water fast enough to keep from dehydrating. Still, the destination was worth it and then some: a classic oasis, the largest grove of fan palms in the park. Lost Palms 04 I got back to the campsite around 5:00 for a quiet evening of pasta for dinner, a bottle of Fin du Monde, and Ragtime for reading material. Then a well-earned night's sleep, after being awake for nearly all of the last 36 hours. The wind picked up during the night, but miraculously (considering it was staked in loose granite sand) my tent held up.