We recently spent a wonderful week exploring the desert of Southern California. First, we headed up to Joshua Tree National Park, a park that I've wanted to visit for a long time. There is no running water in the northern part of the park, where we planned to spend the first 3 nights, so we filled the van's reservoir and extra water tanks and headed into this amazing desert landscape.
There is something very special about this desert. I felt a pull to live there, at least for a while, amid these trees that are so full of personality.
And these rocks just beckon me to explore their secrets . . .
Our first night in Joshua Tree, we slept outside under the starry light of the new moon. We camped beside this beautiful collection of boulders,
and Adalaya slept at the base of the concave rock-face, which had been charged by the day's warmth and, to Adalaya's delight, radiated heat all night long.
Here's another cozy camper.
After an invigorating night's sleep under the (often shooting) stars, we were ready to explore the park. Adalaya and I biked to White Tank Campground, which is the most interior campground in the park and only has a dozen or so campsites.
We wanted to find the perfect campsite to share with our friends, Susan and Jonah and their boys, for the weekend. They had warned us that campgrounds fill up quickly on the weekends, and indeed they did. By 5pm that afternoon (Friday) all of the northern campgrounds were full. Luckily, we had found a huge campsite that wrapped around some boulders, so there was plenty of space and shade for everyone.
Then we were off on foot to explore this geologic playground while we waited for our friends to arrive. We found arches,
peaks and valleys (Hello, George!),
and more of these beautiful trees . . . Joshua trees, the namesake of this park and the key species of the Mojave Desert. They're not considered to be real "trees" biologically, but these yucca relatives are very important to their ecosystem. They share a symbiotic relationship with the yucca moths, who are their sole pollinators. In return, the yucca moth lays it's eggs in the ovaries of the flowers, where it's larvae develop and eat some of the developing seeds. There is also a bird, the loggerhead shrike, who kills its prey (lizards and such) by impaling them on the needle-sharp leaves of the Joshua Tree. Ouch! It's prickly business around here!
I love desert ecology. You've got to be either tough or clever to live here!
Susan, Jonah, and their boys joined us for the weekend, and we all had a great time exploring the rocks together!
By the end of the weekend, we had found both elusive "tanks", after which this campground was named. There are 2 old dams located amongst the rocks, which used to serve as watering troughs for cattle. How anyone could raise cattle in this dry, desolate, rocky place is beyond me! In this photo, you can see the dam and the high-water mark where the cattle ranchers used to flood this narrow valley.
Susan and I found both of these hard-to-find "tanks" in our explorations together. One tank we found with the whole family (as seen above) and the other we found during our fun "mommy's only hike". There were no "trails" to these tanks, just vague directions on the campground map noting their locations to be south and southeast (respectively) of the campground. We were very proud of ourselves for finding them!
I want to take a moment to thank Susan and Jonah for helping us organize this trip to the desert and bringing their telescope! Adalaya is still talking about seeing 4 of Jupiter's moons all lined up. Most of all, we send you an IMMENSE THANK YOU for letting us crash in your driveway for so long and for van-sitting while we're in Costa Rica!
Most folks left Joshua Tree on Sunday, and once again we seemed to have the place to ourselves. We headed into the southern part of the park, which is lower in elevation and generally warmer. The ecosystem shifted from Mojave Desert to Colorado Desert, which is part of the greater Sonoran Desert. No longer did we see Joshua trees; as the ground descended into an open valley surrounded with jagged, arid mountains, we came upon the "Cholla Cactus Garden" area of the park. Here at the transition zone between the 2 desert ecosystems, there is a large patch of these "teddy-bear" cacti. But don't go hugging these bristly bears!
This is what happens when you misbehave on this trip!
And look at this well protected home of a cactus wren!
We spent our last night in Joshua Tree in the Cottonwood Campground, not too far away from a natural palm oasis, which undoubtedly leads to the existence of other human oases (aka bathrooms with flush toilets).
We enjoyed a beautiful desert sunset accented by a sliver of the moon that evening.
Then we got cozy in our little home and did a little reading before bed.