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Thursday, February 09, 2012

ANOTHER WONDERFUL NATIONAL PARK: JOSHUA TREE IN CALIFORNIA



Key's View
Keys View overlooking the Coachella Valley

Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of California, not far from Palm Springs, is truly a desert paradise of over 550,000 acres, offering something for anyone of any age and from any climate.  You know we’re fans of the National Park Service and the way it protects our places of environmental, historical, and cultural interest and how it finds a way to make them accessible to a wide range of people.  Joshua Tree National Park is one more example where we pass hikers, cyclists, campers, day trippers, guided tour groups, climbers, and yes, on this day, hula hoopers.

We enter Joshua Tree National Park at Mara Oasis, a short distance from 29 Palms, California, home of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and a very unusual little community which I’ll write about in another post. 

As always, the Visitor Center at the Park is our first stop, a place to speak to knowledgeable Park Rangers who help us pick the route we will follow.  On a previous visit, we entered at this point but took a different route from the one we will follow today.  We pick up maps, our route marked by the Ranger, as well as buy a few “necessary” postcards and some wonderful stuffed animals for a few terrific kids we know.

Joshua Tree derives its name from the plethora of Joshua trees that dot the landscape.  Legend has it that the tree earned its name from Mormon pioneers who saw them representing Joshua reaching his arms to the heavens.  Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, and believe me, there is an analogy here. 

Joshua Tree
Frankly, if I were a pioneer heading through this obviously inhospitable country, I would have been scared witless and would have prayed for a way out.  I can’t be the only one feeling like this as one of the first “exhibit” markers on our route asks the visitor to evaluate the landscape: is it “barren,” “an evolved ecosystem,” “useless” or “useful”?  It takes a few moments to jolt oneself from the “barren” to “evolved ecosystem” designation.  (only kidding; it's a loaded question)  But we are visitors in a car, not pioneers with wagons looking for some way to sustain life.  Almost all of the pioneers passed on through this “evolved ecosystem” to greener destinations.


Skull Rock
See the skull?  Hoola Hoopers were twirling away
in front of this incredible formation.
 We are free, as visitors, to learn about the geological changes, the volcanic upheavals and the tumbling that produced the incredibly massive and beautiful rock formations which refuse to let our imaginations rest.  Instead we see dinosaurs, snakes, skulls and other easily identifiable shapes as we drive, stopping to climb or briefly follow some of the many hiking trails or to photograph memories we want to keep but which will disappear if we are not careful.

Joshua Trees

If you leave your imagination behind when you travel, you will miss so much of what the world has to offer.  In Joshua Tree this day, our journey is a 45 mile partial loop beginning in 29 Palms and ending in the city of Joshua Tree.


cactua
Mojave Yucca

picnic in Joshua TreeAs we move through the park we pass bicyclists, hikers and campers.  We have our picnic lunch in one of the many available sites, and we stop time and again to simply stand in wonder.

As we drive, the jumbo rocks are replaced by lesser formations almost as if a giant came by with a sledgehammer and destroyed the figures Nature created.  Here is the home of bighorn sheep and other species.  The bighorn easily make their way up and down these broken rock mountains. 

Joshua Tree National Park

Rock formation in Joshua Tree

Actually the change is a result of granite cooling and crystallizing underground and developing horizontal and vertical cracks.  Eventually, when the surface soil eroded, heaps were scattered across the landscape. 

We stop at Keys View, an overlook at an elevation of 5,185 feet in the Little San Bernadino Mountains revealing the beautiful Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault area.  The clouds in my photos are not morning mist; the valley is covered by layers of thick, white pillows of smoky fog drifting through a pass and settling to rest over the valley.  The smog emanates from the Los Angeles area.  It may look beautiful, but it is pollution.  In another direction and 35 miles away, we are able to see, at 227 feet below sea level, one of the lowest spots on earth, the Salton Sea, and it becomes a future destination for us.  Did you know of this spot?

Key's View

Key's View

From this high point we begin our descent, and the big rock mountains of the bighorn sheep seem to crumble; in a way we are following Nature's path.  She crumbled this landscape over time.  The descent is steep and twisted, and again our minds go back to the area's pioneers and the wagons that had to traverse this rocky, mountainous, bleak terrain.

It is a bit sad returning to “civilization.”  It's not nearly as intriguing.

Make sure, if you are visiting the Palm Springs or any of the other Desert Cities, that Joshua Tree is on your must see list.  Get one of the National Park passes, and you will never be sorry for viewing another one of America’s most interesting treasures.
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