We had accomplished everything we set out to do in Palm Springs. And yet, we had one more full day. What to do?
I asked Larry in the hotel office. He’s done well suggesting two restaurants over the weekend. He did it again today, recommending Joshua Tree National Park.
We headed east on I-10. Once we passed Indio, the palm trees stopped and the desert became more scrubby and ugly. Joshua Tree was another 25 miles away.
I got off the freeway in Cottonwood, turned north and headed into the park.
Most national parks have a gate you go through… in essence a toll booth where the daily fee is collected ($15 per car). Not here. A friendly sign at the ranger station asked you to turn in and register.
The ranger asked me a few questions and then she proceeded to mark a map with sites appropriate for Helaine and me. Light hiking – OK. Scary heights – nope. Photo ops – please!
First stop was a stand of chollo cactus. These are particularly nasty plants, if you get near them. They pierce the skin easily and hurt like crazy. They’re called teddy bear cactus by some, “But don’t hug them,” the ranger had warned.
The chollo grow in a very compact stand. Where they grow, there are hundreds, but the area they inhabit ends sharply.
The rangers have created a path through the chollo. Lots of photo opportunities for me and an excellent chance to see this species up close for everyone. This was the prettiest part of the park.
Joshua Tree is nowhere near the prettiest park I’ve been in. I still wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity. It features broad valleys and meadows marked with the scrubby vegetation most of America’s deserts feature. The valleys are surrounded by mountains and often rocky outcroppings.
Of course there are also stands of Joshua Trees. From a distance, they resemble tree we might have in the northeast, but up close it’s instantly obvious they’re built for the desert. They grow 30-40 feet tall and can live a few hundred years.
Originally, I was going to drive in the southern park entrance, explore, then turn around and head home. The ranger suggested otherwise. We drove all the way through the park from south to north.
A few miles from the exit, I stopped to photograph some interesting rocks. It wasn’t until I really looked closely that I realized a man and woman were rappelling the rock face!
I moved close enough to hear him shout instructions down to her. Maybe she was his student? This was an interesting place for a classroom and scary enough for Helaine to look away.
We exited the park in the town of Joshua Tree, CA. Without the National Park Service to protect it, the land was speckled with buildings and other artifacts of 21st Century life. It was not pretty at all.
We turned west, headed into Yucca Valley and then down a long steeply descending road into the Morongo Valley. Before long we were back here in Palm Springs.
As a kid, national parks were totally foreign to me. Even if given the chance, I probably would have said no. It takes a certain personal seasoning (in other words, age) to go somewhere and just enjoy those things that make it different and distinct.
That’s what we did today.
Joshua Tree isn’t my favorite national park, but it was well worth our time this beautiful early fall afternoon.