We dropped back down into cell service after a couple of days in Joshua Tree with plans to head down the east side of the Salton Sea and pay a visit to Slab City and the fabled Salvation Mountain. And found our phones flashing a weather alert suggesting this might not be the best of ideas today.
HIGH WIND WARNING NOW IN EFFECT UNTIL 9 PM PST THIS EVENING... * WHAT...West winds 30 to 40 mph with gusts to 75 mph. * WHERE...Coachella Valley. * WHEN...Until 9 PM PST this evening. Damaging winds will blow down trees and power lines. Power outages are possible. Travel will be difficult, especially for high profile vehicles.
So we hemmed, hawed, and decided that it was time to take a day off. We’d go into town, soak up some internet, take an actual shower, and try again tomorrow. Turned north, and got ourselves a hotel for the night.
But Joshua Tree – holy gazebos, is that a magic kind of place! My travel mojo was in full swing, and we scored an inexplicably empty camping spot in the perfect location at Jumbo Rocks, which seems to be “Yeah, this is where you want to camp when you camp at JT.”
Woke to dawn stillness and a sunrise so red and purple you could be forgiven for worrying that you were alongside some sort of nuclear test facility. Ate a quick breakfast and strolled over to the neighborhood of Skull Rock, the appeal of which isn’t so much that there’s a rock there that looks vaguely like it could be an enormous sculpture of Homer Simpson’s skull, but that there is an unending labyrinth of piles of rocks that look like cyclops, dragons, ghosts, ancient sentries and otherworldly monsters. +1, but bring your scrambling shoes, and knees that are younger than 59 years.
Speaking of 59 year old knees, Devon and I next made an attempt at Ryan Mountain. Not far – something like four miles roundtrip, but set up in the eastern style of trailbreaking: point the trail at the summit of the mountain and go in as straight a line as you can. We got about halfway up before thinking better of spending two miles on a windblown Stairmaster, and retreated to the less threatening “Hall of Horrors.”
Which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Just some formations popping out of level ground where you can watch rock climbers top-rope what look to be seriously inadvisable routes. We poked around a few other sites and sights in the western (Mojave desert) half of the park before cruising downhill to the warmer and less windblown eastern (Colorado desert) half. Roamed the Cholla Cactus Garden. J. Smeaton Chase, early chronicler of these deserts, is widely quoted as offering, “If the plant bears any helpful or even innocent part in the scheme of things on this planet, I should be glad to hear of it.” But they sure are pretty.
Second night in Cottonwood Springs, wide open sky, but a sea of RVs with generators blasting and parties rolling. Who are we to judge what these spaces are used for? But the sky that night – Milky Way rolling overhead, so many stars that the familiar constellations were drowned out and almost unfindable. We were in bed and asleep by 8:00.
Snuck in a quick morning walk trying to find the Mastodon Peak trail and gave up, but managed to trace a wash to the eponymous cottonwoods. And by then? Well, we found ourselves feeling ready to roll on downhill to what awaits us next. I expect we’ll be back to see more of JT, now that we know what to expect, but there’s so much unexpected still lying ahead…