Monday, January 7, 2019

Joshua Tree for the Holiday

The Shark Fin

Despite the government shut down, we headed to Joshua Tree NP. The weather around Flagstaff was in a high pressure holding pattern, and little forecast for snow.  The holidays around here are pretty busy with Phoenicians, regardless.  I thought it might be a good time to get out of town and into the desert. I got a hankering to visit Joshua Tree National Park for a couple of reasons. First it would be warmer than the mountain, and second it is supposed to be a great place to photograph.  And I had never been there. Joshua Tree is most commonly known for it's rock climbing and dark night skies.  Research started on the NPS website, where I downloaded the park map, as well as any other map I could get my hands on.  I wasn't sure that any maps would be available inside the park. And there was to be no cell phone coverage.   Camping was a concern, but I discovered that there would be free dispersed camping at some BLM land both north of the park, and even more at the south end.   I also bought a National Geographic Topo map, which ended up being really helpful. 

Parker Camp

We started out about noon on the winter solstice, the 21st.  The plan was to hit I-40 and drive down 95 then over on 62.  It was a great plan and very little traffic.  We made great time to Kingman, and found 95. What we didn't know was that there were two 95s.  Arizona 95, and US 95. We took the first one, and ended up having to drive through Lake Havasu City.  We lost some time there, due to the amount of stoplights.  We did get to see the London Bridge, but by the time we got to Parker it was definitely getting dark, and happy hour was upon us.  Fortunately once we left the indian reservation there was some empty BLM land. 

We took some random dirt road and found a level spot  isolated enough for our tastes. We started a campfire with hors d'oeuvres and dinner, then the s'mores came out.   Bad news. I only brought 8 marshmallows.  Kristi was appalled.  8 marshmallows for four nights?   Sounded reasonable to me.  A debate ensued.  How many marshmallows does it take for a four night trip?  8, 20, or 40?  I was informed that the correct answer was 40.  After popping a half dozen in the mouth, and losing a handful in the fire we would be out in no time. Good thing there was a Circle K.

There's a Sign Post up Ahead
 The next morning we spent driving.  Highway 62 was really interesting.  A colony of artists must live around there.  There were quite a few junk displays that people have added to.  An eclectic signpost, a shoe art structure, and endless graffiti from found stones, ties and sticks. 

We arrived at the park, and stopped at the visitor center.  Yep closed.    We continued up the road, wondering what would be on tap for the day.  We decided to make the upper loop at least that day, to get a lay of the land as they say. We came upon a picnic area, and stopped to use the restroom.  It was open but it had a nice long line. Proceeding to the next attraction, Skull Rock.  Again a nice long line of people taking selfies and family photos with the 'skull.' Not to be discouraged we set off on the loop trail that went to other features, then back through the campground.  We took the Split Rock Loop trail and soon the people thinned out.  We scoped out the Jumbo Rocks Campground, but it appeared full, and it was reservation only. We came to find out there was nobody managing the reservation system, later.

Geology Tour Road

We thought the Geology Tour road looked interesting.  We got to the kiosk and read the sign. It was a fourteen mile dirt road that turned into a 4wd road and ended in a loop.  There was an interpretative tour pamphlet, but they were all gone, and not restocked.  We had lunch at a dry man made tank, then put it 4wd for the remainder of the sandy washboard road. We saw a lot of rocks, but didn't get to learn much about them.  

Itching to go for a hike we got out the topo map and I picked out a loop trail to Quail Springs.  We parked at the picnic area, and set out to find the trail head.  Except we couldn't.  There were social trails leading back and forth, and no signage. We eventually began to follow a group of people headed toward the hills.   They stopped at some rocks, to play around.  We shrugged and decided to climb up a drainage to what looked like a saddle. Boulder scrambling and route finding we climbed to the top.  As we neared, we found a large cairn. After consulting the map we figured we had just climbed up Lang Canyon, which continued down the other side of the drainage into the wash, then connected to Quail Springs Trail.   We unknowingly were on the trail we couldn't find.  We passed by a big yellow cottonwood tree still changing for the season, and saw an old relic of a miner's camp.  

Old Pickup I

Back at the van, we made a beeline for the BLM land north of the park in the dry lake bed below Copper Mountain.  The sun went down, and the full moon came up.  We made a fire, and tacos, then hit the sack.   The camping area was pretty dispersed, and felt private enough.  We could hear some music, and shooting at the base of the hills, but otherwise quiet enough to relax. There were no restrooms, which made going interesting once it got light the next morning. 

Joshua Tree Dawn

We got up early and made coffee and breakfast at the Boy Scout trail head.  We hiked the sandy trail to an oasis, about a 7 mile out and back.  The oasis was dry, but the hiking easy, compared to rock scrambling the previous day.  After the hike we thought it would be worth a shot looking for a campsite.  It was about 11:45 and in our experience about the time people pulled up stakes and left the campground.  First we tried the Hidden Valley campground. It was a zoo.  Campers, and campervans everywhere. Even the parking lot was full with campers.   Down the road we pulled into Ryan campground. We drove the loop, and it looked full.  Kristi spotted a guy that was in the drivers seat and the was van running with the lights on. We paused at the kiosk for a moment, and sure enough he pulled away.  Cool.  We staked our claim with our outdoor carpet and chairs. 
Ryan Campground
Barker Dam
Elated we didn't have to spend the night in a lake bed, we went and hiked the Barker Dam trail.  That was pretty cool, although crowded again. The trail winds its way through a huge boulder field, then loops around to a dam, this time with water.  Here we found people relaxing, and people taking photos, and people flying a drone. Meh. Continuing we discovered some petroglyphs adjacent to a natural rock window.  We watched some rock climbers for a bit then made our way back to the van.  It was about time for a beer, and the sun was hanging low in the sky.  We saw some hi-liners tight rope walking between two peaks at the Hemmingway picnic area.   Beers in hand we entertained ourselves looking through binoculars.
Shark Fin Milky Way

The campground was pretty chill. We had the very end spot, so had a nice view of the hills and sunset. A campfire, and dinner paired well with our beer and happy hour extended until past twilight.  This evening was what I was waiting for. I got my full frame camera out and headed to a large rock out cropping, and made some night star images.  I wrapped up and returned back to the van.  It was only 8:30.  One of the longest nights of the year.  I didn't have to loose any sleep. Cool. Soon the wind picked up, and I was cozy in the van reading until sleepy. 

Joshua Tree Milky Way

It rained that night and we awoke to wet camp chairs.  There were puffy clouds, and nice a warm light was glowing.  We took a short trail to some ruins just as the sun was rising, I made some images and returned to a hot pot of coffee. 

The only place that looked appropriate to bike and run our dog was the Queen Valley road.  This road makes a loop of about 5 miles. We parked at the Barker Dam parking lot and leisurely rode the loop. We were pleased we only saw a couple of cars. Afterword we changed again and took the hike to Wall Street Mill.  This place was really cool.  Some really old relics were left. Vehicles and equipment were scattered around an old gold mill. Lots of photographic opportunities.  

Old Truck II
Climbers on Shark Fin
Having decided that we might take our chances at finding a campsite elsewhere, we pulled up stakes and headed down the long road toward the south end of the park. The plan was to try to get a site at the campground near Arch Rock called White Tank.  We pulled in about noon to find cars and people everywhere. It was hard to tell what was going on, because cars were every which way, and people were roaming around in droves. I couldn't tell where the campground was from all the cars. I found myself kind of dead locked, with cars now pulling in behind me.  Kristi was able to spot a gap where the road continued. I squeezed the van through and discovered the rest of the campground.  And as luck were to have it, two empty campsites.  We chose the more level of the two, and parked it. The icing on the cake, a fire ring filled with free firewood!  We had lunch and mozied to the arch, and watched the cellphone selfies for a while.  The wind had picked up and we started the fire a little early, seeing we had a ton of it.  The sun began it's decent, and we had happy hour at our spot with what we called our white granite porch. Dinner, campfire, and s'mores ensued. 

Kristi retired, and I got out my camera again.  I headed over to the arch for some light painting, and milky way photography.  I had set up a fill light behind the arch, and was reflecting a lamp off the back wall to light paint the arch, when another photographer showed up.  I was there for about another half hour, and bid the other chap good evening, happy with my results. The fire was barely going when I returned, so I threw on another log and stood by until there were just coals. What a pleasant Christmas. 

White Granite Arch Milky Way

Cholla Forest

Cottonwood Oasis

On the way out the south entrance we stopped at the remainder of the attractions. A cholla forest and a palm tree and cottonwood oasis. Our last hike for the trip found us on top of Mastodon Peak. After lunch we set the cruise control and made it home just in time... For happy hour.  

Merry Christmas from JTNP!

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