Saturday, July 24, 2010

Joshua Tree & the Back Roads of the Desert (June 18-19)

After spending an additional night in Vegas to break up the long drive, we set off for Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs on our way to San Diego. However that was not before we had breakfast for the second time, at ‘Hash House a Go Go’….scrambled eggs with goats cheese & sundried tomato served with crispy potatoes and a biscuit (which in Oz terms is a scone) AND the biggest blueberry pancake we have ever seen served with fresh cream and maple syrup! WOW! You can read more about this really cool restaurant in our previous Vegas post.

We’re not really sure what possessed us to venture to Joshua Tree, other than the fact that we were continuing on the nature theme and a National Park full of Cacti seemed rather interesting. It was also recommended in various guidebooks and magazines we had read. We figured later this was possibly only because some sneaky people were trying to lure more tourists into the area.

Anyone who has travelled in the US knows that any driving in between Vegas and Los Angeles/San Diego is dead boring and we were another pair to confirm that fact. On the way however, we were very excited to have Tom Tom lead us to the famous ‘Route 66’. Of course we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to ‘get our kicks’ and capture the moment.

No caption necessary

We did question though where Tom Tom was taking us at one point…it was a little unnerving to turn off the major highway and drive for at least 100 miles in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no traffic on the road. We did however have views of many desolate and abandoned houses, some of which were no bigger than 10 square metres surrounded by nothing but salt bush….we kept trying to work out how anyone could have ever lived in them! We also came across a service station and called in to use their services which turned out to be an interesting experience. We were shocked to see a big sign on the door that read: ‘Please do not complain to our employees as we have spent a fortune on this business and it costs us a lot to keep it going in such a remote area’. Hmmmm, we didn’t have anything to complain about, but after seeing that sign it became a classic case of reverse psychology… we began looking for things that were wrong! Good customer relations? I think not! A business that has obviously been burnt several times before.

Arriving in the town of 29 Palms, just outside the National Park, we expected it to be busy with tourists, but it was clear this was not a hugely popular place to visit….in the middle of Summer at least. Maybe because it was about 40 bloody degrees and drier than dry! We didn’t realise that the area was home to a massive military base and there was quite a bit of war propaganda around in addition to signs that read ‘get your military hair cut here’. It did make our belly’s churn slightly.

We were losing light, so we thought we’d better find somewhere to park for the night. The amount of Police activity we saw around made us feel uncomfortable about parking the van just anywhere, so we decided on an RV park. We were a little concerned about where Tom Tom was taking us again, but as it turned out we arrived in the right place. We couldn’t see much at night, but the park did seem to be an open plain in the middle of the desert. This was confirmed when we were woken by the extremely scorching heat. We were one of two couples who had stayed in the whole RV park that night and it catered for about 300!! LOL. Definitely an experience! That morning, we had a visit from the ground squirrels which we thought were a type of meerkat because they looked and behaved extremely similar. Despite moving very quickly, we manage to score a reasonable snapshot. Speaking snapshots and animals moving fast.....ever since planning this USA trip, Tim has wanted to capture a hummingbird on camera and it was here that he achieved that goal! Although he is not completely happy with how the one and only pic turned out, my personal opinion is that it is pretty good, especially with how speedy these birds are! Here it is:

Humming Bird

Our campsite at the RV Park

We had about a 5 hour drive to San Diego ahead of us and we chose to go through the Park. It was a National Park like no other…. it actually felt like we were in another world. We entered the park at 4000ft elevation where the space was completely dominated by thousands of joshua trees (a type of giant yucca) accompanied by hills of bare rock that were made up of loose boulders. These hills are apparently popular amongst rock climbers and we did manage to see some very enthusiastic ones who managed to scale the rocks even in scorching temperatures. As the elevation increased, it was interesting to see the Joshua trees disperse and eventually disappear as they only grow at a very specific elevation range. Instead, we saw other desert plants and cacti including the Cholla cactus garden…..not sure if ‘garden’ is the best word for this display of prickly plants, or maybe it just didn’t match the image of what a garden should be in our minds. Interesting nonetheless and beautiful in its own quirky way. Glad we didn’t go running freely with the wind in our hair in this garden….a little risky!

Joshua Tree

A hill made up of rocks...looks alot smaller than they were

The Cholla Catcus Garden

Although we can’t really say Joshua Tree National Park was a huge highlight, it was certainly something different and we left there feeling like we had truly experienced the wild wild west! At least the modern day version.


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