The Flinstones must have been from Joshua Tree. You know, before the roads were paved. Now, the roads are perfect. Smooth, with beautiful corners that anyone who loves the freedom of a motorcycle would go crazy over! As you cruise down that perfectly paved road, there are giant boulders stacked upon each other, some of them with ropes and lines attached for rock climbing, bouldering or slack lining. You see the free climbers walking around looking like Sponge Bob with their square crash pads strapped to their back. Meanwhile, 50ft overhead, slack liners are praying the evening wind eases up so they can attempt the 40ft crossing they set up with anchors wedged into crevasses.
We were making our way to Ryan Mountain, “the most popular hike at Joshua Tree” (according to the pamphlet) with the highest elevation at 5,457ft. After burning daylight searching for water in the desert (total amateurs!) we got lucky to arrive in the golden hour. While most were barreling down the hillside, we were bombing up the sandy pathway and bouncing up the stone steps. As the sun set, the surrounding mountains cast towering shadows into the valley, while the sky became layers of blue, purple and pink. Fluffy clouds moved across the sky while we attempted some yoga poses and took a moment to meditate before we barreled down ourselves.
Back at the van in just over an hour, it was time to find camp before the last bit of daylight was gone. It was a busy Friday night in J-Tree with all the campsites booked, so we took to a little-known dirt road that would lead us to the very edge of the park. Here, we would wild camp. Ten to fifteen kilometers ahead of us on a tracked out sandy road, we decided we should definitely air down the tires to avoid any aggressive bobble-head behaviour. We drove for ages, staring off into the distance, wondering if we would be able to tell when we crossed the park boundaries where it was acceptable to park off-road. Two lights appeared in the distance and we watched them for nearly thirty minutes, trying to decipher what they were. Perhaps the park’s edge? At last, we had our answer: an old Ford and a cowboy. There was an exchange of friendly waves and then a cloud of dust. Eventually the road narrowed, the fencing diminished and we settled in under the blanket of stars (just) outside of J-Tree.
We couldn’t get enough of J-Tree, so we were back again the next day, bright and early. Okay, we also didn’t want to get caught wild camping just outside of the park. So, why not drive into the park for breakfast? Also, it was Penny’s birthday, so we wanted to make the most of the day.
The sunrise in shades of orange and blue slowly faded as we drove back towards the pavement where we aired the tires up to their usual pressure. We parked at Hidden Valley and found a picnic table next to the bouldering area we spotted yesterday and wanted to check out. Penny, when she was a tiny, curly-haired, island girl, used to love climbing the rock faces at the beach while waiting for the ferry to arrive. A few years out of practice, we took to the boulders after breakfast. Fingers and toes wedged into crevasses, searching for our route to the top. We climbed one after another until our hands were rough from the granite rocks and we’d earned enough scrapes to call it quits.
From here, we drove the beautiful windy road through the forest of Joshua trees to the most Southern hike of the park, Lost Palms Oasis. Here there would be no major elevation changes but it would take around 3-4 hours and eventual lead to (you guessed it!) an oasis of palm trees! Pretty rad. Adorned with our small day-hike back packs filled with snacks and h2o, we took to the trail. After many days in the desert, we had become quite familiar with the different types of cacti. Each area seemed to have its own varieties and several that we had seen in the Mojave we hadn’t found again in J-Tree (and vice versa). But, as we followed the path towards the palms which was only distinct but dusty footprints, we were amazed by the assortment and diversity of the ecosystem and delighted to find all of our favorite prickly plants. At some point, we wandered off the path and down a desert wash. Unable to see any footprints while clambering over boulders, we were beginning to believe we had lost the path. In that exact moment we heard the call of a bird just ahead of us, as if beckoning us to continue. (For real!) With fresh confidence, we scaled the next slab of stone and looked through a small opening between stacked boulders. There it was – the oasis! Indeed, we had lost the path but, undoubtedly, it was most incredible to come upon the wellspring this way, full of tall, vibrant California fan palms. We explored the lower oasis, teeming with birds, grasses, and small puddles of water. After savouring the shade we took the trail back, again passing through slot canyons and rocky gullies, across wash outs, past boulders and cacti such as chollas, ocotillos, yuccas, nopales, barrel cactus, mesquite and more. The only ones we missed seeing here were the Joshua Trees (these you can find further North in the park).
The sun was slipping away behind the mountains as we returned to the trailhead, setting behind us as we drove towards Palm Springs.