We had a wonderful day today exploring Joshua Tree. We have learned quite a bit about this park. The Joshua Tree was named by Mormon settlers. The multitude of spreading branches recalled stories of the outstretched arms of the prophet Joshua beconing them onward to the Promised Land.
We stopped first in the Visitor Center (appropriately enough) and bought a few things, including a book of hiking trails. This was somewhat of a waste of money since it was so darned cold and windy that hiking was quite unpleasant. We did hike the Scull Rock trail and spied the scull rock, but it did not lend itself well to picture taking. This was a self-guided nature trail and we learned about some of the plants native to the area, including the Pinon Pine, Desert Oak, Creosote Bushes (the most successful plant in this particular desert), and some others. We also have learned that Joshua Tree is a meeting of two deserts--the Mojave Desert (where the Joshua Trees grow) and the Colorado High Desert, which is much more desolate; however, we saw many more Cholla cactus and Ocotillo cactus in the Colorado portion.
There are many interesting rock formations made up of monzogranite, which is very susceptible to erosion, and the Pinto Gneiss, which is harder and not as easily eroded. You will see examples of both in my web album. The rocks are eroded in many different ways--rain, wind, cavernous weathering (which is responsible for the depressions in the rock that formed scull rock), and use by man. Use by man consisted of the Native Americans who used the cavernous depressions as mortars to grind seeds and grains. There were also some pictographs which we were unable to see because the sign post marking them was missing.
After our short hike through the scull rock area, we headed on toward Keys View. I had several articles about Joshua Tree and each of them mentioned having to travel back to the view multiple times to see it without the haze that sometimes masks the scenery. When we arrived there it was frigidly cold with sustained winds of 30+ miles per hour and gusts up to 60 mph. It was difficult to stand up in such winds and I found myself staying well clear of the edge of the canyon to avoid being blown off the cliff. Just the same I was able to get some good shots of the valley, which included shots of the San Andreas Fault. Cool! (Literally!)
After that, we took a drive on an 18-mile loop road called the Geology Tour Road, a dirt road, where we saw many of the interesting rock formations and got some of the best images of the Joshua Trees. The moon was our companion throughout the day and I managed to get some good shots of the moon behind the Joshua Trees.
After that, we headed toward the Cholla Cactus Garden. We were running low on fuel, and so we didn't drive quite all the way to the "garden," but we found a nice stand of Cholla Cactus and I got out and traipsed around through the desert taking pictures of them. The light was perfect by this time, and I was just about ready to pack it in for the day when I noticed that some of them were blooming! Some of the Creosote Bushes were also blooming and this was quite a find. This is not the time of year when they should be in bloom, and we can only believe that the rain storm we drove through in December is responsible for this.
As I'm writing this, I can hear the shelling going on in the bombing range north of 29 Palms. Marine Air Ground Combat Center is the largest Marine Corps training camp in the world, according to the literature I read. We can both feel and hear the shelling even though it is after dark. I suppose this is our payback for not camping near a railroad track for quite some time. It isn't all that disturbing, and it didn't keep us awake last night. We assume they stopped and went to bed at some point. My dad was a Marine and I can remember him talking about 29 Palms on occasion.
I will stop here since I will have some commentary on my web album about the images I post. The parks never disappoint us and Joshua Tree has been no exception. We were able to see most of the park, and certainly all that we wanted to see in this one visit. It would have been nice to stay at Keys Viewpoint a little longer, but it was way too cold for that. We're told by people who live here that the temperatures this time of year are generally in the 60-70 degree range. We were in the 30's all day today. Someone told us that a dry cold front was coming through with cold air from Canada--perhaps the same cold weather responsible for the snow we heard about in Portland.
Take care and stay warm. We are on to Tucson tomorrow. We liked the nice RV "resort" where we stayed in Hemet, and so we've decided to pay for a week at a "resort" in Tucson. We're up for some really warm weather and hanging by the pool for a while. We'll take time to see Saguaro National Park while we are there as well.
Here is the link to my web album for Joshua Tree: