When I turned on the head beams to see my first Joshua Tree, it made the 12 hour drive worth it. They were amazing with their spikes, something out of a Dr. Seuss book. The leaves on the Joshua Tree are succulent and not part of the cactus family but agave. The ride should have taken 9 hours with stops but there was heavy traffic on I-5, it seemed everyone was driving to LA the day after Christmas.
The landscape in the desert is surreal and cold. When we arrived at Black Rock campground, 4000 ft. the temperature was below 30 degrees. Water outside turned to ice instantly and frost covered our tents by morning. I was very cozy in my zero degree sleeping bag and around camp, I was happy wearing my winter running tights, puff pants and furry boots. It is not so much the cold, but the lack of sunlight that is difficult.
Tuesday morning, we drove to our next campground, Belle, surrounded by strong winds and giant boulders. There is no water in the interior of the park, which means no flushing toilets, sinks or potable water. I am pretty sure the two containers of (7) gallons will be enough for us for two days.
First stop was Cholla Cactus Garden, where the cactus is called cholla teddy bear because it resembles a bear, but do not be deceived it is sharp and prickly. Lunch was at Skull Rock, which was a large playground of good quality scrambling. The afternoon we hiked past many Joshua Trees to the Desert Queen Mine, where in days past they mined quartz.
The desert makes me a little sad. I think of the Japanese internment camps. I think of the people that were forced to live in these cold conditions and extreme heat. I’m sure other people can think about the desert differently but these are not even my memories and yet this landscape makes me feel profoundly sad in a way I was not expecting.