Friday, May 12, 2017

Joshua Tree, finally!

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A beavertail cactus in Joshua Tree National Park bursting with fluorescent blooms
We've enjoyed tromping around the Southwest in recent years, but somehow Joshua Tree NP has eluded us. It's too far out of the way; we've run out of time; I have a headache; PK's socks don't match, or some such lame excuse. Earlier this spring we vowed to get there. It was mostly good.

Good: awesome jumbled jumbo rocks, blooming Joshua trees, cacti and other desert plants  exploding with color,  two distinct desert zones, excellent hiking. Joshua Tree is small enough to see most of the park in two and a half days. The campgrounds looked great.

Not so good:  too many people due to spring break; had to camp 14 miles from the park. 

A Joshua Tree blooming, which isn't an every-year occurrence. But when they do bloom it is usually, according the Desert Sun newspaper, "universal, synchronized and spectacular." We got lucky! We saw hundreds in bloom. The flowers are major exhibitionists, but what do you expect from something that shows up only once in a while? The trees had fierce competition from eager plants of all shapes and sizes showing off their spring colors.



  The ringed sun behind a dead juniper wasn't evident when I shot
   this photo along the Wonderland of Rocks trail in Joshua Tree NP.        
        

But back to the good/bad stuff. We'd failed to factor in how close the NP is to millions of Southern Californians, who, if they can tear themselves away from six-lane highways and movie-star sightings, just might be on spring break when we planned to visit. And lo, it came to pass. Legions of spring breakers did indeed descend on the park and snapped up all the camp sites.

It was actually grand to see families with giddy young children, college students rock climbing in  short shorts, and probably planning the night's parties at the same time, and even grandmas and grandpas with retractable hiking sticks and big floppy sun hats. Like PK and me.
Flowers, flowers all around. Which are the lovliest on the ground? 

We entered the park at a seriously inopportune time of day to find a campsite - around 3 p.m., even if it was Tuesday, a day when crowds are not usually a given. But spring break in California?! Given!

Cars and campers were lined up 20 deep in mid-afternoon to enter the park, and the visitors' center was jammed. Disappointed camping wannabes were lined up at the counter to inquire about camping outside the park. Eeek.

We ended up at the Joshua Tree Lake (ha ha ) RV park about 14 miles from both of the park's two northern entrances. Staying at the ha-ha lake (yes, a hyped-up pond) didn't ruin our enjoyment, but neither did it enhance. Extra driving is not something you want when attempting to wring maximum enjoyment from a national park. Plus, the RV park costs $35 a night and the national park, if you're old enough, is around $10. 
 
A prickly pear cactus looking good even without spring color.
The sky has the clotted-yet-striated cloud thing going on. 

The agave's bloom looks similar to
the Joshua Tree's.


Despite our camping woes, we were fortunate to enjoy great hiking thanks to recommendations from friends who'd recently visited the park and also one who treasures it as a lifetime favorite, an LA woman. (Let's hear it for Jim Morrison!) Joshua Tree was her playground. She loves the Jumbo Rocks campground, and if we're ever there again, we'll try to score a site. 

We started hiking the day we arrived, but not until after we drove 28 miles out and back to find a commercial RV park. As for boondocking in the park - no. Signs all over the place prohibited overnight parking. Outside the park didn't look that good, either.

Let's go hiking!
The hike up Ryan Mountain came highly recommended. Although it was only 3 miles round trip, it was steep, a 1,050 ft. elevation gain over 1.5 miles. I was glad we didn't start until 4:30 p.m., when the parking lot wasn't jammed, as it was when we drove past earlier.  It was also cooler, and with a slight breeze, panting up to 5,457 ft summit was doable. The summit featured a walk around where we were supposed to be able to see forever and ever, but alas, it was cloudy and hazy. Still we enjoyed. As we did all the shorter hikes we took the next couple of days. 

PK checks out a typical Joshua Tree rock formation a short distance up the Ryan Mountain trail. The trail is made partially from surrounding rocks placed to make steps.
View of the surreal rock formations from Ryan Mountain trail. 
The rock formations look better from ground level. See the elephant?
Prehistoric looking ocotillos
I'm always a sucker for back-lit cholla. These are in the south end of the park.
 Spunky barrel cactus, watermelon size, cozy between a
rock and a hard place.
Next up - A quick break from SW road trip 2017 to bring you
The Day the FBI Came Calling

Previous post about our latest road trip


Friday, May 5, 2017

Start it up! - SW Road Trip Spring 2017



Lenticular clouds shifted and slithered for hours entertaining us in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA, early on our spring 2017 road trip. More photos below.

We're back from five weeks touring the Southwest and Texas, and, as usual, I have way too many photos and stories. I rarely have time to blog while traveling in our small  Roadtrek van, but I attempt to jot down a daily account of trip highlights. I'm looking at it now, and deciding how to start. How about at the beginning?

The real beginning, of course, is a belief that life is short and we need to forget about amassing material treasures and instead gather treasured moments while we're able. Travel is one way to become a collector of experiences, and it is good.

In mid-March we drove from our southern Oregon home to Beatty, NV stopping a couple nights in Reno to admire the grandchildren. We need a grandkid fix every couple months so their adorable selves don't disappear, in our absence, into children we hardly know, and who don't know us. Most of our road trips involve a night or two with them, coming or going. Ok. Just one photo. 

 Noah and Hadley sharing a secret. She may be asking him if he has bacon to share. 


The Actual Trip

Beatty, NV on Hwy 95 is a gateway to Death Valley, and as such, has developed a quirky character. It's good to spend a night there, or nearby, if only to get an early start into the park, the entrance to which is just 32 miles west. Early morning light in Death Valley is not to be missed. Get up early!

During a road trip to the Southwest in 2007, we stopped at Rhyolite, a ghost town just a few miles outside Beatty en route to Death Valley.  It's well worth your time. We stopped again this year, for old time's sake, to discover that it's even better now. Something important we've learned after thousands of road miles; it isn't just the national parks and famous attractions that make traveling edifying....it's also Rhyolite and other roadside oddities, small surprises that you often enjoy in blissful solitude, as we did in Rhyolite, or a sparse crowd, as in the Alabama Hills. (Coming right up!)

These ghostly Last Supper sculptures in Rhyolite are eerie and evocative. 
Rhyolite sculptures appear to gang up on our van. Also at Rhyolite: a house made from glass bottles, a colorful stone mosaic sofa, and a huge labyrinth. 
The sofa had been brightened up since we last saw it.
We've explored Death Valley several times, including during the 2016 Super Bloom (many photos) so  we put on blinders and drove through. Without the blinders, the park's beauty may have sucked us in again. But we had other plans.

Climbing out of Death Valley over the Panamint Mountains into California, however, we stopped for a quick hike at a place we'd missed on earlier trips, Father Crowley Point Overlook. Surprise!
These photographers, plus a few more, were clearly waiting, but for what?  They seemed pleased at our interest, even offering us a cold beer, and told breathless tales about having seen fighter jets fly through the canyon below them several times, including earlier this same day. Once was not enough; these guys were hoping for a rare appearance by the Blue Angels. We hung around for an hour or so before our need to find a camp near Lone Pine, CA, became greater than our desire to see screaming fast jets make impossibly tight turns through the narrow canyon.
Imagine fighter jets flying below this canyon's rim. According to the photographers, they do so almost daily. Check it out, should you find yourself at Father Crowley Point.


Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA

Just outside Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills rest in the glory of their movie days —at least 150 films or TV productions since the 1920s—while most travelers scoot by on the ultra scenic Hwy. 395, not knowing what they're missing. Alabama Hills, managed by the BLM, is a jumble of impressive  puffy-looking rocks and formations with the Sierra Nevadas, including Mt. Whitney, as a backdrop. 

Sunrise as seen from our dispersed campsite in the Alabama Hills. The Sierra Nevada Mountains glow in the early light, including Mt. Whitney, with the Hills in the foreground. We didn't arrive until after 3 p.m. the previous day, and had to hunt for a camp. Not bad, since it was spring break. There an official campground, where we stayed on an earlier road trip, before we learned that we could just drive around and camp any place that wasn't blocked to preserve vegetation. I don't think there's a boring view in the Hills. A person could spend a few days exploring on foot, including a loop trail to a famous arch. This place is a gem. 

Photography bonanza

Since our trip to Africa in 2013,  during which my best travel day ever occurred, I've come to see the world through a camera lens. I don't think of photography as missing out on the moment, but an opportunity to see more closely, more clearly, to be more aware of how landscapes and people intersect, and how light, color and form create magic. The light on the mountains in the panoramic photo above lasted a minute or two, max. I caught this view shortly after I awakened in the van and peeked out of my mountainside window. The sky was pink! The mountains were golden!

I threw on pants and a jacket, leapt from the van, snapped the photo above and a couple more, then RAN to the nearby Mobious Arch, maybe a quarter mile away, the object of which was to frame the sunrise on the mountains through the window of the arch. I was carrying my Lumix Panasonic camera, which I purchased for that fabulous trip to Africa, but I mostly used an iPhone7Plus. Except for telephoto shots, I now prefer the phone to the Lumix.
I documented our location on the Earth before charging toward the Mobius Arch. The light had already changed. Still good, but lacked the glow present just a minute earlier.
By the time I got to the arch, the pink sky and golden light on the mountains had disappeared, but the sun now shone gold on the arch. How fleeting the moments of beauty, and how relative. Had I not seen the pink and intense gold a short time earlier, I would have thought this photo was great. Next time I'll set an alarm.
That's a relatively small photography vantage point that I asked permission to share with a pro photographer who beat me to the arch by a half hour! He was most gracious. When I started to leave after light faded on the mountains, he urged me to wait for the sun to light up the arch. The sun obliged in a minute or two. 
The Alabama Hills have set the scene for numerous film and TV
productions, many of them Westerns.The couple above are modeling
for an outdoor gear catalog. 

Sunset the previous night saw the lenticular clouds settling into the Sierra Nevadas.

We sipped wine in our camp chairs, grateful for the present moment and those still ahead of us on road, where many surprises awaited. 
Next up: Joshua Tree National Park