Where: on vacation until our summer job begins. Current stop: Southern California
I had made a pact with myself to stop checking on the state of the government shutdown; it was too stressful, and nothing was changing. I resigned myself to a route that would avoid the places that were open/not open, but a glimmer of hope and a lack of ability to follow my own directives found me checking *one more time*, just before we took off from Borrego Springs. Huzzah! The standoff was over, and National Parks would be opening–time to enact our plan to see the big California favorites!
Even though we went right past these parks in May and October a couple years in a row (while going back and forth to a summer job in the Sierras) it was always the wrong season to visit. Joshua Tree, Mojave Preserve and Death Valley are (to use a technical term) freaking hot except for winter. January, however, usually means cold nights, warm days, and nice sunshine in the desert Southwest. (Note the use of foreshadowing here!)
Joshua Tree National Park is just to the east of L.A. and can be a crazy busy place. It seemed like the only people in the park were on the same plan as us; folks who decided to go on a whim due to the reopening. The reservation-only campgrounds were practically empty, but Belle, a small first-come, first-served campground was filled every day by late afternoon. We scored a spot tucked away on its own, surrounded with rocks where Soupy could get out for “soupervised” romps on the natural playground.
Front yard, back yard:
The weather was only mildly cooperative. It rained the two days with “0% chance of rain” and only sprinkled on the day when precipitation was actually predicted. I realized that the iconic photos you see with rocks, trees and sky just aren’t the same with heavy clouds above. The upside was that we hardly had any company on the trails, even the most popular one in the middle of the park.
Warren Peak Trail seemed like a real dud as we trudged through the deep sand wash. When we popped out with views of the whole park and down into Palm Springs, it was amazing!
8am vs. 11am:
Ryan Mountain Trail gives a birds eye view of the major formations “downtown”:
Hidden Valley is a short nature walk through an area with lots of sport climbing routes:
The main house of the former Ryan Ranch is barely hanging on:
We also loved poking around the trails that led from one campground to another:
It was a great week, with no hiccups from the recently reopened infrastructure. But, we did have an extremely strange experience, one that’s really best told while drinking around a campfire. To summarize, we stopped our car for what seemed to be a stranded motorist. The guy was so abnormally bizarre that we reported our experience at the next ranger station down the road. We continued on to our next stop, a visitor center about 20 miles away, and there, surrounded by park rangers, was our recent acquaintance, getting arrested.
North and west, our next stop was the railroad town of Barstow, which promised a combo of inside and outside activities to occupy us during a multiple day storm. We camped at a free BLM campground just south of town, Sawtooth Canyon.
The playground was adorable:
Barstow is a utopia for museum nerds, and the best part is that they are all free! We spent the better part of a day checking out tributes to American quirkiness, including the Route 66 Museum, the Harvey House Museum, NASA exhibit, and the Mojave River Valley History Museum. There were more, but that was enough for one day!
The Route 66 Museum:
The old train depot now houses this museum:
Incongruently, the second story of the depot houses several rooms dedicated to a nearby NASA facility, the Goldstone Deep Space Communication Network. Who knew? Goldstone is one of three communication facilities, each 120 degrees apart, used to talk to spacecraft circling Earth. I didn’t understand half of the sciency-techy stuff on display, but JJ did become an astronaut:
We tried an outing in between rainstorms, to the apparently otherworldly-hued Rainbow Basin. In the drab light and soaked sand, it just felt like a trudge, so we gave up and went for ice cream.
Sawtooth Canyon was a real find, but it was not the right place to be during high winds. The valleys on either side funneled the gales up through a pass near us, and by extension, through the campground. We spent a sleepless night as we rocked violently in the on-again, off-again winds, and I got a touch of seasickness from all the movement. While it might the right time of year to avoid the scorching temperatures, this might be a difficult time to be in the desert southwest, with nothing but a series of wacky weather coming through!
Hoping for more days like this: