Monday, November 15, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park aka "Epic Beauty, Foolish Girl"


If you're one of the three or four people who read this blog, you may recall that my brand new love affair with the desert sprouted last January during a magical camping trip to the Mojave.

Unfortunately, I've been a bad lover.

Blame it on summer heat and this year's vaguely obsessive (yet successful!) quest to summit Mt. Whitney, but I haven't been back out to the land of cacti and tumbleweed since the Mojave trip. So when summoned out to the patchouli-and-marijuana-scented environs of Pioneertown, just north of Joshua Tree, for a friend's dude ranch birthday bash, I decided to take a dip back in the sand.

After some yummy ma 'n pa cookin' at Crossroads Cafe and Tavern, I stopped at the ranger station, bought a somewhat mediocre map, loaded up my buddy Casey's informative write-up of the general area I wanted to hike, and set forth on my adventure.

I chose the relatively newly created North View / Maze / Windows loop for both the solitude (it's not in guidebooks) and the scenery (epic ridges, canyons, and rocks for days), and not a minute away from my car, I stared slack-jawed at giant stone temples and gnarly old Joshua Trees, babbling to myself about how fucking awesome nature is (true) and how fucking great it is to be alive (true).


Entranced by the desert and her siren ways, double-fisting my iPhone and Canon to catch every little windswept boulder and cottonball cloud, I didn't know that I was off trail until I nearly stepped off a ledge into a small slot canyon below. I studied it. I studied my map. I studied it. Hmm. Hmpf. This was not the trail.

I backtracked and then I saw it, a thin dirt path leading up through some rather chunky rock formations. Apparently, I was so mesmerized that I wandered right past it, over a rather obvious "waterbar," and nearly right into some trouble. Clearly, the desert requested a bit more focus, so I slugged some water, adjusted my sunglasses, and focused my way up, up, up until I reached the really incredible valley pictured at the top of this entry, and then I cackled out loud at the sheer magnificence of it all, and the sheer insignificance of myself in its midst.




I danced around here, completely alone, in giddy, wondrous euphoria for a long time. A long, long time. So long, in fact, that when I checked the time on my phone, I realized that I'd gone maybe just under two miles in an hour's time, due to my off-trail exploits and rock worshipping, and was due at the ranch in an hour for dinner.

Not wanting to backtrack, I stowed the camera gear and picked up the pace, running downhill into a wash, then back uphill along some switchbacks, passing one trail junction for a viewpoint, then another. Suddenly, I found myself at the top of a ridge, gazing down at the wide desert valley, once again cackling with glee, until I realized that the trail just ended. Stopped. Went. Nowhere.

Crap. Crapcrapcrap. I peered back into the valley and saw my car, checked my compass, and picked my way along the ridgeline, figuring the trail must ride along the top for a bit until dipping back down below.

It didn't.

Instead, in my haste to bust booty back to the barbecue, I mistakenly took the second viewpoint turnoff, leaving the main trail. From my erroneous perch, I saw the trail ribbon through a valley behind me, and was able to reason my way back to it, suddenly not enjoying my desert adventure as much anymore.

This is the part of hiking that I usually name the "Get Me Off This Mountain" phase of the adventure, except now it was "Get Me Off Of This Godforsaken Sunburned Swath Of Sandy Misery." I was walking so quickly that it almost qualified as running. I cursed my sense of adventure. I cursed the Stabby Little Asshole Plants along the trail. I found myself fixating on thoughts of rattlesnakes. And tarantulas*. And mountain lions**.

Then I wandered into the wrong wash twice, backtracked twice, followed some footprints to a dead end, backtracked, and almost cried. Then my phone rang, and it was my friend David, asking me to stop and pick up some assorted meat products for the barbecue, and then I laughed at what a freakin' idiot I was being in the most beautiful place I've ever been.


* Two weekends ago, I finally saw a tarantula. My friend screamed as though she was being skinned alive and pointed at this hulking furry beast crawling up a rock on the side of the single track leading up to Bear Flat. I'M SO GLAD I DIDN'T SEE ONE OF THESE ON THE TRAIL IN JOSHUA TREE. I would have cried then, for sure. Serious tears. WHY ARE THEY SO LARGE??? Come on, evolution - throw a girl a bone here.

** The following day, I took off on a 6-mile hike from the Black Rock Campground, in the Northwestern corner of the park (not realizing until afterwards that this was exactly where that dude got lost for a week), shitty National Geographic map in hand, and had to step over a fresh, steaming pile of mountain lion crap about four miles in. I threw my hands above my head, acted big, and sang Aretha Franklin very loudly and very off-tune for about a half mile, until my heart attack subsided and I was able to enter the "Get Me Off Of This Godforsaken Sunburned Swath Of Sandy Misery" portion of my three-hour tour.

What Would Ed Do?
Ed would probably study trail write-ups a bit more closely, and would certainly not use the shitty, poorly detailed National Geographic map of the area. He would probably also tell someone where he was going, lest he become part of said fresh, steaming pile of mountain lion crap***. He would also have no use for the trail, and thus would not become lost, because he would just shimmy up and over the rocks like a very tanned Spiderman.

*** I'm kind of glad I didn't see 127 Hours until after this series of hikes



  1. Ah, you did the Maze?!? So great, right? Even if the trail's a little tough to follow sometimes. I did my fair share of backtracking, too. No shame :)

  2. Reader #5!

    Love it love it love it!!! Can we please do a JT camping trip? Oh also a Big Sur camping trip.

  3. Even if its a short hike...take water with you, maybe some gels, maybe a meal supplement bar. That way if you do get lost, or sidetracked, you can have hydration and nutrition with you on the trail or off the beaten path. If there's one thing I've learned about other people's hiking misfortunes, it is to bring water (even if you think you don't need it) and a compass and a hat. Joshua Tree isn't a park for lone hikers, bring someone with you.

  4. I hiked out of Black Canyon to Warren Peak a couple of days before you were in the area. I also bought the National Geographic map from the VC. It's better than anything else I have for the area, but I did figured out after my one hike that the trails did not match the map!

    Still, I'll be heading back there for Eureka Peak, once this stupid rain stops.

  5. I actually grew up in this area (well Twentynine Palms) and can tell you that Crossroads is considered a hidden gem among the locals. You mentioned your 'sunglasses' and I was just wondering what kind you wore? Perhaps they are Oakley's?

    Amanda L.
    Online Community Engagement