Joshua Tree National Park, California
April 20, 2012
J-Tree is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. I mean, aside from the crazy Dr. Seuss trees, it's an amazingly varied landscape covering some extremes in environment – deep desert washes, rugged flatlands, sloping hillsides, and rocky outcrops.
And of course, some of the best bouldering I've seen.
We drove from Arizona into the south end of the park at the perfect time of year. Everything was in bloom... yucca on the ground... enormous white clusters of blooms on the joshua trees...beautiful stacked flowers on the cholla...especially near the Cholla Cactus garden. The desert was teeming with activity, even in the late morning, as lizards, rabbits, birds, and all manner of critters were roaming in the warmth of the morning. We were headed to Hidden Valley Campground, where you could camp in the shadows of the towering crags, with a bouldering playground right at your tent's doorway. We got lucky finding a campsite. It's notorious for being full, and we'd totally spaced on it being not just Coachella weekend, but 4/20. The area was crawling with climbers stoned out of their mind.
For April, it was blazing hot during our 5 days there. We spent a lot of time wandering slowly, not doing much climbing. There's so much to see, and for a relatively small park, the changes in terrain were incredible. Massive boulders at Hidden Valley, bubbly rock clusters at Barker Dam, long sweeping deserts peppered with twisted trees at the north entrance on the way to the tiny town of J-Tree. The geography of Joshua Tree is an amazing convergence; surrounded by mountains, high enough elevation to get snow in the winter. That the territory could change so much in 50 miles from one end to the other is something else. The east and west ends of the park have dramatically different environs.
In the high heat of the day, we'd head into town. Good food at the Crossroads Cafe if you're a vegetarian. The best shake I've ever had two doors down – Vanilla bean and fresh date. Outstanding. As the days drifted toward sunset, we'd make our way back to the park to boulder as the sun dropped, the light sliding from orange to rose to dusty blue.
I mentioned how the first night we were there was 4/20. There was a lot of reveling going on. To get away from the noise, Sean and I packed up our down bags and some water, and headed off into the desert. Carefully picking our way around the cactus, we made our way to an outcropping about a half mile from camp, the moon high and bright in the sky. Even in the darkness, you could see the white rock well enough to climb, and we scrambled up to get off of the desert floor away from the bugs. Perched on a large, bedroom-sized ledge about 30 feet above the ground, we crashed out, and went to sleep watching the shadows slide across the surface of the rock.
All nice and adventury-sounding. It would have been a bit idyllic and spa-vacation-brochure, had it not been for the coyotes. They were chasing rabbits right below us, which made the whole experience really cool, but rather unnerving.
It was nice to spend 5 days sort of just drifting; enjoying being outside, completely disconnected. Something about that park lends itself to the feeling of getting back to the root of things, of understanding what it's like to have a link with the land. It's timeless. Such a rugged and seemingly desolate landscape teems with life and beauty, and it's desolation helps it stay protected and isolated from the world around it.