Adventure 2019: Joshua Tree 1 (March 8)

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As backpacks go, today was a rough day. Usually rough days in the backcountry are caused by bad weather or trail conditions. This time, however, it was entirely self-inflicted.

My work conference ended the day before, and I celebrated with margaritas and dinner at my favorite Palm Springs restaurant, the Blue Coyote. This by itself would not have been too bad, but afterwards I met up with Ben, an old friend from Australia who I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Things started off fine, but at some point we found ourselves in a karaoke bar with a group of Swiss and a drag queen. Drinking adventures are not a usual topic for this blog (or for me), so we’re just going to leave the story there.

In the morning, my head was pounding and my stomach was doing loop-de-loops. I did a lot of inappropriate sweating as I got my pack ready and suitcase packed. My hiking companion Doug was patient with me, and we pushed our meeting time back while I picked up my rental car.

Our original plan was to do a loop from the end of Geology Tour Road in Joshua Tree National Park, but spring rains had damaged the road and it was still closed. Since we had two cars, we decided to do a traverse of the park. Even better, the traverse crossed a paved road with a trailhead. We left a car at our end point, and a cache of extra water at the crossing before heading down to our starting point at Indian Cove.

The beginning of the hike was a gradual climb through open country- a bajada. A bajada is a broad slope formed from alluvial deposits that have eroded off of the peaks, forming a gradual but steady ramp towards the highlands of the park. This particular bajada was filled with the scurrying of jack rabbits.

After the bajada we dropped down into a significant wash. This would be a large stream or small river in another area of the world. In Joshua Tree it was just a channel of sand. We had our first steep climb out of the wash, then dropped back in and entered a delightful high-walled canyon. The views were good, but it was steep, steep, steep. The hike was rough, made worse by my nauseated and empty stomach.

I tried to focus on the views around me, and not on the climb, my hangover, or my heavy, maladjusted backpack.

Wet areas of sand in the gulch.

Green feathery latticework of green, sprayed with white flowers, clustered and huddled within the razor-sharp yucca blades.

Blue harebells, rustling in the breeze.

A hollowed out carcass of a barrel cactus.

Shadow of a soaring raven overhead on the trail below.

Needles of a cholla cactus glowing in the late afternoon sun.

Our goal was to climb out of the canyon and up to the plateau. We made it to the top, although in the maze of rock domes and spires we didn’t realize it until morning. We found a nice campsite that wasn’t too windy. Bending over to set up the tent made me nauseated again, but Doug gave me some chamomile tea. That and dinner helped settle down my stomach.

As we ate, we watched golden orange pinnacles catching the last rays of sunlight.

As the dusk deepened, the lights of the Morongo Valley flickered far below, and a nice sliver of moon rose above a granite edifice.

I went to bed looking forward to feeling hungry, healthy, and strong. Tomorrow was going to be a better day.


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