Our second night in Joshua Tree wasn’t as cold as the first. I wonder if we had a super cold pocket of air drop into us in the Wonderland. Even so, the tent fly was covered in frost and there was ice in our water bottles.
We took a little more time to get ready in the morning- enough to meditate. We broke camp and headed up Johnny Lang canyon. This was my third time in the canyon. There isn’t a real trail, just occasional cairns to mark the route. I remembered the trail being mainly on the climber’s right of the canyon, but it also dodged to the left, and even went up the center in a few places. The ascent to the Oak Narrows was a lot less rough than I remembered, with very little scrambling. We must have gone the right way, for once.
The place I call the Oak Narrows is a slender section of the canyon, floored with sand and populated by a handful of oak trees. On hot days it is a cool and shady respite, but on this trip it was never hot enough to need cool and shady. I tend to think of this as the “top” of the canyon, but this isn’t quite true.
Wait a minute… how can there be a top of a canyon? Well… the topography of Joshua Tree is pretty jumbled. The San Andreas fault marks the south end of the park, and smaller faults criss-cross everywhere. The faults have moved mountains up and valleys down, not always following the rules of what is expected from a mountain range. Combined with the lack of any streams to give a visual indication of up and down, it can be hard to figure out how the land all fits together. Johnny Lang canyon goes up between two mountains, and then kind of just peters out in a mishmash of washes and granite piles. You can climb over a small pile of rocks and descend into another valley. Johnny Lang canyon is in some ways a canyon and in other ways a mountain pass.
I think of the Oak Narrows as the top, because it is narrow and at the top of a steep section. In fact, the canyon continues for miles beyond this. As we hiked, we crossed ledges of harder rock, metamorphic veins. These rock layers, scattered around the park, prevent water from sinking down into the sands. Sure enough, there were lots of small water pockets, a boon for the bighorn sheep and deer that inhabit the park.
We came to a split in the canyon. Did we go right during my last thru-trip (which resulted in our getting lost)? As the grade became near-flat and washes broke off in different directions, the route became harder to follow. I knew the right direction to go, and we found our way to Lost Horse Valley.
I had hiked across Lost Horse Valley the year before, so now the route finding was easy. We saw a flock of Western Bluebirds as we walked past a granite monolith and started the long climb up the ridge on the other side of the valley.
After crossing the ridge, we descended down to the California Riding and Hiking Trail. The hike out to Doug’s truck was scenic, but felt like a slog to our tired legs and feet.
After picking up my car, we went our separate ways. Doug drove home, and I took a short trip along a nearby nature trail. I wanted to hike a little longer without a pack to loosen up my muscles- I didn’t want to blow out my back like I did last fall after Mount Elbert.
I checked into my hotel room for the night, and headed for Edchada’s, where I scarfed down a well-earned Señor Burrito. Another successful Joshua Tree trip was complete.