Well, it’s a really hot day, with no wind. Hope Joshua Tree is good and we can find a camping spot.
We just have fruit for breakfast so by the time we get to Mecca at the north end of the Salton Sea, I am crashing and getting “hangry.” We need to find some food, fast.
Mecca is a strange little town. It’s very barren with not much of anything. We go into their main Mexican restaurant across from a Mexican market. In the complex with the restaurant is a Mexican barber (men’s haircuts $8! And hairstyles for Mexican men that you don’t see on anyone but!) A Mexican cellphone shop.
The restaurant caters to Mexicans and the tourists passing through. As if they knew how hungry I was, they make me wait forever. The waitress/cashier tends to every other person before she takes my order – twice, and still screws it up – and then is busy doing something else when our food is finally ready. I am so hangry by then that I make Big Dog go to the counter and get my breakfast burrito. Even after wolfing down the strange tasting burrito, I am so upset I forget to leave a tip.
From Mecca, we go east, then northeast, first along farmland, then into a long, winding canyon road through the Orocopia Mountains. I had never heard of them but it’s all dry with little vegetation — looks like Death Valley. Giant canyon walls with diagonal strata of rock. It made me imagine we were on the ocean floor!
This terrain was shaped by the movements of the San Andreas Fault and the Orocopia Mountains is especially known for its geologic variety. It was used by astronauts training for the Apollo moon landing missions.
There are campers here and there, and hikers, biker and cyclists, too. Cool place – we’ll have to return and spend some time here.
The road rises out of the canyon to a plateau from where you can see I-10 in the distance. We cross over and enter the southern part of Joshua Tree. It’s the Colorado Desert here, a part of the Sonora Desert, with ocotillo, etc.
We stop at the visitor center at Cottonwood. On the suggestion board, someone has put up “Fire Zinke.” Yes. And Pruitt, too.
Although it’s not as hot here, it’s sunny and at this elevation, you need even more sun protection. We’re about 1000 meters above sea level now. Quite a jump from below sea level! My stomach and abdomen feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the breakfast burrito. Maybe it’s the elevation shift.
Near the visitor center, is the trailhead for the “Mastadon Peak Loop,” beginning at an oasis with the biggest, fattest palms ever! The sequoia of palms! It then climbs up up up to Mastadon Peak, a pile of rocks, from where you get a big view of the area.
After our strenuous walk, we drive north, through the Smoke Tree Wash. Smoke trees look like puffs of smoke on branches from afar. The landscape is still Colorado Desert when we turn northwest, going into the Pinto Basin. The Pinto People lived here. “And gave us the Pinto bean,” jokes Big Dog. “And Pinto ponies and cars,” I add.
The road goes by the Cholla Cactus Garden. Garden? It’s a giant field of teddybear cholla, spines glowing neon in the backlight. We’ve never seen so many in such density. In other places, they are there with other flora but here, it’s as if they alone have taken over. Of course, in reality there is other vegetation but it’s all dwarfed by the cholla.
We go through a pass into a higher basin. This is where the Mojave Desert takes over and we finally see the Joshua trees. We drive towards the Jumbo Rocks campground. Skull Rock, a rock that looks like a skull is a big attraction — there are tons of people and parked cars. We are both astonished at the number of people. When we were last here, there weren’t nearly as many and it was more “peak” season (for wildflowers) than now. I think it’s the result of population growth and it’s disturbing. But it’s a nice diverse crowd of families, retirees and young adults.
Jumbo Rocks is quite busy but it’s the largest campground and near the end of the day, there are still a few open sites. The sun is low and it’s starting to get cold but the afternoon light is beautiful on these distinct round boulders. They all look like soft, round, yummy things. The curves of a fat body. I’d love to shoot some nudes here.
COLDEST MORNING EVER! 1 degree and overcast. It’s also 4400 feet elevation. After coffee and grits (yes, I’ve developed a real taste for grits – something warm and savory and filling is a good thing this morning) and cleanup, we put on a bunch of clothes and take a walk to Skull Rock. Everything is different and beautiful in this diffused light. We walk through gravelly washes, through pencil cholla, mesquite, desert oak and yuccas to the Big Rocks. I scramble over them with the other visitors. I love scrambling over rocks like I love tree climbing!! The cloudiness actually makes it easier for hiking.
We head to Keys View, a high point where you can see all the way to Banning Pass, Salton Sea, Imperial Valley. The peaks of San Jacinto and San Gregorio are covered in snow. We’re supposed to be able to see the San Andreas fault but we’re not sure where it is. The exhibits only talk about air pollution hampering visibility though it’s not too bad today.
From there, we go to Hidden Valley, another popular rock climbing area, and then out the West Entrance. You have to go out of the park once to get to Indian Cove, our campground for tonight.
Indian Cove is hidden between 2 walls of rocks and has plenty of rock climbing opportunities everywhere. It’s a great campground with dramatic views in every direction. Once we find our spot, we take a little walk to where we can look down on the Morongo Valley, then down through washes. We chat with a group of older men from the midwest who ask us about where to get recreational pot. Very few places in California so far, my friends.