Monday, October 28, 2013

The Desert In Fall: Joshua Tree National Park

Josh and I attended a wedding in Palm Springs giving us one more excuse to scout the PCT. After the ceremony we took Hwy 111 out of town and found where the PCT decends San Jacinto via Fuller Ridge into Snow Creek Village. We also stalked Ziggy and The Bear, a trail angel's house on the North Side of I-10. Doing this recon gets us all wound up and excited for next year.

After our recon mission we headed up HWY 62 toward Joshua Tree.
Upon arrival we saw the ranger kiosk had posted all campgrounds were full. We decided to park at the visitor's center and sleep in the back of the truck.
The next morning we woke early and had a big breakfast in town before heading into the park. First hike on our list: Ryan Mountain. I have done this hike a couple times before, very early in my hiking career and it almost killed me. It is steep and there are rock stairs most of the way up the mountain. This time however, the hike was no problem. It's nice to feel yourself getting in shape.

Ryan Mountain can be hiked from several locations including at Ryan Campground. We started at the official trailhead around 8am. It was already warm and dry.


We learned a lot about geology on this trip and how the desert effects the erosion of rock. The brown rock is called Pinto Gneiss rock and erodes faster than the granite underneath due to a variety of environmental factors, making Joshua Tree a haven for rock climbers.

Climbing and climbing the views were spectacular.


Finally on top we took our photos and mapped out the park from our 5,000 foot vantage point.

Ryan Mountain gains about 1,000 feet in 1.5 miles one way. It was a good hike to start our day.

Back at the trailhead we ate and confirmed our next destination: Split Rock.

We were attempting to turn a short two mile loop into an epic adventure by hiking the backcountry to Pine City. We started out on the Split Rock Loop around 10am.
Rock climbers have weird names for their trails.

After a recent Anza Borrego trip, we know these caterpillars will turn into Sphinx Moth's.


Somewhere along the way we decided to blaze our own trail. This idea resulted in quite the bushwack.

While trying to avoid a steep ascent on the trail, we ended up doing twice the work. Sometimes you just have to eat it and hike the trail. It will serve you better in the long run.
While cross country we found a shady boulder to rest on. There was some interesting geology there. It looked like the boulder was eroding leaving this brick like rock formation behind. 

This hike should be named The Monkey Loop as all of the boulders looked like different types of primates!

The day was heating up considerably and we decided it would be best to head back to the trail. We scurried down the mountain side back to a large wash which met with the trail.

Back at the trail we made a decision to tough out the heat and finish the Split Rock Loop. At 2.2 miles it should be no biggie, right? It turns out that Google Earth shows there are several variations of The Loop and we did far more than 2 miles. Good for us!

I found a cozy place to rest in the shade for a while.

Still in the shadow of a monkey face. This is the Loop of the Apes!!

This formation had much to say. Too bad his neighbors were stone deaf! Amirite!
Ha! aha haha ha, ha, ha...ok, I'll show myself out.

All jokes aside, Joshua Tree is God's country and should not be missed when visiting So Cal.
As we rounded a bend we noticed a shadow on a boulder that our minds could not comprehend. The loop rock formation here cannot be making that shadow from the angle it was at. How is this possible?

We scratched our head until we hiked further and discovered the rock was at a completely different angle than we perceived. What a labyrinth!

I need a geology degree to understand this place for sure.

I see a Lotus flower, Josh sees a Tulip. What do you see?
Finally at the end of the loop, Josh picked up a weird vibe in the air. We walked a bit faster but only encountered some friendly rock climbers. Sometimes just the energy of an area can give you weird vibes.

The signage was accurate. That is a rock climber on the side of that giant monolith.

I named him Asia Man Rock. I'm sure that's not P.C. but I don't care. He looks Asian.

Back at the trailhead we made plans to go get some lunch and ride out the hot part of the day. We drove out of the park and into Yucca Valley where we ate at John's Place which was amazingly delicious. I do recommend.

This is approximately what our hike looked like, including the bushwack. Not too bad!

We returned to the Park after a long lunch and toured via truck. We visited Key's View and took the Geology Tour Road until it recommended 4x4. 
The sunset was amazing.

Even during the crepuscular period we didn't see any animals! Not even a Jack Rabbit. Strange.

We scouted out our hike for the next day. The trail to Pine City.

Once it became too dark to tour, we stopped at Jumbo Rocks Campground to hunker down for the night. Being it was a Sunday the spots were plentiful. Jumbo Rocks is one of the most popular campgrounds in the park.
After some dinner and a few games of UNO we conked out in the back of the truck. The wind had started to pick up big time and I felt sorry for those in tents that night.

Josh woke up to a happy truck tie down bracket. That's a nice way to wake up! Something about this area gives all things, organic or not, a personality.

There was a definite change in the weather over night. The wind was strong and cold and we could see winter clouds floating into the valley.

It seemed the last campers here could have used a brush up course on Leave No Trace principals. This is trash left in the camp and a man made fire pit no more than ten steps from the established fire pit. Why?

I wanted to get a better vantage point for the weather and had my coffee on top of the boulders around our camp.

It was cooollddd. There would be no hot desert weather today.

After artsy-fartsy photography we ate breakfast. This was the first try of those new dehydrated re-fried beans and they were legit! Do recommend.

We headed out of Jumbo Rocks around 9am and took a dirt road to the trailhead for Pine City.

The trail was wide and easy as it went along.

Finally, we spotted a boulder field in the distance and start to encounter pine trees mixed among the cactus.

The wind never let up. This paired with the foliage and wispy clouds going by made it feel like fall.

Pine City isn't really a city. Maybe it was back in the day, but now it just looks like a place for epic backpacking. We cruised around and tried to locate the spring that is indicated on the map, but abandoned the hunt when we saw a more interesting route.

We wound our way out of Pine City and back on the trail.

In the distance we could see a sign on a mountain saddle. We hiked towards it only to find this. Well, unmaintained = lets go, in Josh and Mandie hiking terms.

Taking in the views of 29 Palms from a small summit only egged us on to continue hiking around the side of the mountain.

As we followed cairns, which are rock pile markers, guiding us around a use trail, I spotted something weird in the gravel.

Sea shells!? What?! They were everywhere!

Josh braved the wind and headed to the edge of a cliff to survey the canyon below. 

The winds were at least 50 MPH gusting with such intensity it threatened to blow you off your feet.

The wind became too much to bear and we headed back to the trail.

The clouds were incredible and dark over San Gorgonio. There was snow imminent.

Back at the trailhead we took shelter from the wind in the truck. Feeling a little over exposed to the elements we decided to call it a day and do some more PCT recon. We bid Joshua Tree good by and braved the winds going down HWY 62.

All in all, not a bad hiking weekend!

I drove Josh through Whitewater Canyon to the old fish hatchery to check out the trail to Whitewater Jump off and see the storm clouds over San Gorgonio. As we were driving out of the canyon, I spotted a Bighorn Sheep running up the mountain.

Once my eyes adjusted to their camouflage I realized there was a whole herd on the rocks! I counted seven ewes, three juvenile rams, four lambs and one mature ram.

 I was over the moon to see such a big, healthy herd. What a treat!

We bid the Big Horn goodbye and went to Cheesecake Factory in Rancho Mirage to eat some much craved low carb cheesecake and coffee before driving over the mountain toward home. 
It was another awesome weekend in the wild with my best friend and sweetie.
This was to be the last big trip until PCT. We are going to try to stay local in order to save money, but we'll see how my wanderlust spirit can handle that.

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