Thursday, November 11, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park Halloween

As I sit here writing the Blog, it occurs to me as we travel towards Mexico, that internet access may become more difficult once we are there. So our blog updates may be fewer and further between. It has been hard work keeping it going over the last 6 months, as any journal is, but the rewards when we cast our eyes over our writings so far make it all worthwhile. And it is always a real joy to receive your comments, and emails, even if we cannot get to reply to all of them as soon as we would like. It is really great to know that folk are looking in on our adventures, and hopefully being entertained. And we just want to say thanks for your encouragement, and to let you know that we have enjoyed hearing from you.

The campground here at Joshua Tree is very quiet; we arrived on Sunday afternoon 31st October: Halloween, which is a big event here in the USA. Many houses are bedecked with ghouls, spiders webs and pumpkins. We reckoned there were only two or three other campers. So it is very peaceful, with views towards the Mojave Desert

Our pitch is surrounded by Yucca plants and Joshua Trees

Joshua Trees only grow above 3000 feet elevation and are native to the Mojave. Below this other desert plants can be found such as various cacti and the desert oak and junipers. Joshua trees can grow quite large.

They look quite magnificent in the dessert setting. On our first day we hiked a short nature trail from the camp ground leading up into the hills and armed with a leaflet provided by the Ranger, got lots of information about this dessert environment. Sadly the leaflet was written in 1994 and some of the vegetation referred to no longer thrived. The day was warm with a cooling breeze, and although many hikes are advertised as short, i.e., an hour or two, by the time you have paused, taken photos and just marvelled at the environment, it is often double if not triple that time. We have more than once been caught out by that, being inappropriately dressed, not taking (enough) water or snacks, and finding ourselves a bit dehydrated and or sunburned by the time we get back to camp. It can be very hard to judge the information given so we need to learn to always go prepared for at the very least a half a days hike, wearing walking boots not sandals, taking the rucksack, sun hat, sunblock, about 2-3 litres of water, snacks, sunglasses, and most importantly loo roll! The desert is still one of the places to find some sun in November and after the coolness of San Francisco it is most welcome. I guess the temperatures here range between 75-80°F. Folk tend to assume desert equals heat but whilst it can, apparently it just means low rainfall, and the Mojave gets between 2-5 inches a year.

Evidence of such low rainfall becomes apparent when we looked at people's houses. Often set in a large plot of land, they are surrounded by raked sand which is actually grit. Consequently they have a half finished look about them, like the contractors didn't stay around to landscape the garden.

Anyway at the top of the hill, is a bench where we took in the view and utter peace and tranquillity, save the gentle breeze and where was located a registration book where hikers are invited to scribe. This is my addition

a short ditty adapted from one by Patience Strong

Found a nice place to rest on the way down too

As David mentioned previously, I have splashed out on a camera. Initially we agreed to bring with us just one camera and David set about researching one that was small, easy to use, but versatile, and able to take short video clips. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

The camera had won the EISA best camera award 2009-10 and got the job. It has in fact stood the test of time and excessive use. The only problem is sharing it! When I met David some 13yrs ago, he didn't own a camera and had no desire to. Then I bought one to record our holidays and well he hasn't looked back. Hitched on to his trouser belt, he is never without it. He scoots off leaving me trailing behind as he goes in search of a good shot. Anything I take is just more of the same. So I finally decided to buy my own. Also I wanted to take different types of shots to David. I quite like close up shots of wildlife and vegetation. The Sony in limited in this respect.

So in San Francisco having done some research and with the help of Nacho an avid photographer, I purchased the Nikon CoolPix P100 I have never owned a fancy camera, just a point and shoot, so I was somewhat trepidatious about my new acquisition, wondering whether it risked staying wrapped in its box in all its complexity. But I forced myself to read about how to switch it on, use the auto function, and gradually I am experimenting. I think though it will take me the rest of the trip to fully understand F numbers and apertures.

Nevertheless on our short hike I managed to take a large number of photos, which made David groan as he saw about 25 takes of just one plant, bird or lizard!
Here's my take of a Yucca

And some local wildlife

After the hike we rested, then went shopping for provisions. On our arrival we had spotted some firewood left behind on one of the pitches complete with some fire-lighter. So we had foraged it and more from other empty pitches, so we could have a fire. By the time we had gathered from around the campground we had enough firewood to build a sizeable fire for bonfire night on Friday. We had initially booked for 3 nights at the campground but we were beginning to feel we wanted to stay a few more nights.

Joshua Tree town is a straggly mix of hippy old west style buildings offering stuff you never need, and the usual 21st century modern American expansive shopping experience, fast super sized food feeding super-sized people. Subway offers a 12” sandwich cheaper than a 6” so guess what people buy it, not to share between two people or to have over two meals, but to eat right there and then with a bucket of juice for just over a dollar and a bag of chips. I mean the stomach is only about 12 inches (30.5 cm) long and is 6 inches. (15.2 cm) wide at its widest point. It's capacity is just under a litre in an adult. I guess it would all fit in!

Anyway less of that. On our first night at the campground, we lit a fire watched the sun set around 18.30hrs, and the stars shyly show their faces, then retired to bed around 8pm to listen to The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell, a ripping yarn of the battle to win Wessex from the Danes around 900 years ago. A great way to end the day!

We decided that Tues would be a day of rest, to catch up on laundry, reading, writing and motorbike care. We also thought we would extend our stay on the campground, so wandered up to see the Ranger. David explained that we were having such a great time doing nothing we would like to stay longer. Wrong explanation! From beneath her wide brimmed Ranger's Stetson, we were told that would be a problem because we shouldn't have been given the pitch we were on, as it was special for emergencies for Law Enforcement, and that anyway this is a reservation only site so we would have to reserve a pitch if we wished to stay. We tried to explain that was why we had come to see the Ranger to reserve the pitch we were currently occupying, for a couple more nights. Wrong again, this could only be done online or by phone. I bristled as one does when a person displays the characteristics of another whom you disliked intensely. I backed away, leaving David to be nice. The upshot of it was that we could book two more nights, but the third could be a problem because of the pitches special status. We would have to check back on the morning of our departure. Aaaaargh!!!!

That evening I decided that since we were going to be lighting a fire each evening, we should bake some potatoes in the embers. I have a small plaque displayed in the kitchen at home "if you can't small burning it must be salad" I think I needed something to burn!

The following day we rose at sunrise, prepared breakfast and saw our first UFO. There were two glimmering objects in the sky. One with a white tail

The other just a ball of fire. We hurriedly got out the binoculars and cameras. Yes for sure the tailed object was piercing the skyline with a vertical trajectory; could it be a rocket from Cape Canaveral? Well whatever it was, was moving very fast, was silent to us, and being observed by the flaming white ball, which suddenly bifurcated into two objects: planes, and disappeared! A closer inspection of the tailed object revealed yes, you've guessed it, another plane. A pretty red one, but a plane

And we thought we had joined the rank of American UFO spotters. I thought that aliens had finally come to take David home

After all the excitement we finally set off on a day time tour of the Joshua Tree National Park (we had seen the shadows it casts on our first evening to Jumbo Rock Campground, to hear a ranger talk for 15 minutes). This included a trip to Hidden Valley


where I experimented some more with my new camera taking photos of dead trees

Cacti-double click and check out the spines!!

And a strange man trying to hold back a rock

And pine cones dripping with resin

Then we moved on to an overlook of the San Andreas Fault


The on to Jumbo Rocks

where we had lunch in some valuable shade

Then the Cactus Garden

I was a bit sunburned from our hike on our first day, being as how I was ill prepared for it. So we avoided doing any more hikes that day, as I did not have any clothing with me (I never seem to) to cover my back and shoulders

I promised David we would go back to the National Park the following day to hike two short trails, this time properly acquitted. So the next morning we headed off bright and early before the searing heat of the sun threatened to turn our skin into something resembling our baked potato. First we hiked to the Wall Street Mill, which looked like it had been left in a hurry about 50 years ago

with aged cars and trucks sand-blasted for decades by the desert


a disused water well

a stone intoning the unlucky fate of a competitor

and rusted and sand-blasted old food cans

We hunted around but couldn't find any gold...

Then on to Barker Dam


After lunch back at base we headed to Starbucks for the afternoon of writing up the Blog and checking emails. That evening we telephoned the reservation line advertised at the campground office to try and reserve our camping pitch for another night. After much to-ing and fro-ing, we were told again it is a special site as it has a cross marked against, it so we would have to speak with a Ranger in the morning. I think this has been the most difficult site to reserve a pitch on so far.
The following day was Guy Fawkes. After much umming and aahing, David went back at 8am to see the dreaded Ranger and this time a different one, who said no problem and it was done-magic!

It might not seem a big deal booking a pitch, but at the weekend there is a mass exodus of many Americans to campgrounds where they arrive like children out of school, with all the gushing excitement of kids finally released from the constraints of the real world. Fires get lit first with the fervour of new arrivals putting down roots. Then the tent goes up, or if you prefer sleeping under the stars; then the generator kicks in if they are in an RV, the beer is cracked open and lots of raucous noise erupts.

We spent the morning pottering about, I read some more about how to use my camera, David read John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. Then we headed into town to finish off emails in Starbucks where you can get around 2 hours free access (good ole Starbucks). After shopping we headed back to our tent and lit a fire to celebrate Guy Fawkes.

I had bought some corn on the cob, and two potatoes for baking. Determined we were to improve on the method. As the sun set and the sky darkened the corn was done to perfection. The potatoes a little less charred than our first attempt, but accompanied our veggie burgers, washed down with a cheap bottle of fizzy, very well. Oh! happy childhood memories of chilly bonfire nights in the back garden; fireworks and sparklers, and baked potatoes cooked in the embers of the fire, as way past bed time, tired little eyes looked on; potatoes never ready to eat until the fire had died down, always blackened, with an uncooked bit somewhere in the middle, and eaten with lashings of salt and butter, and charcoal covered fingers, and accompanied by any remaining sausages, treacle toffee or toffee apples, left over from the bonfire buffet

Our final day at Joshua emerged under a spectacular sunrise at around 6am. Natures paintbrush had danced across the night sky daubing crimson coloured capoc. Gradually the sun cast its warm glow then searing heat. I sat in the tent writing up the Blog of our time here. David read. We planned to go into town to buy a small bundle of firewood as ours was all burned. Just as I sit here, our neighbours call over asking if we want their wood. They had turned up to the site on speck and could only stay one night as it is fully booked over the weekend. So they were reluctantly staying in a hotel tonight and they donated us their firewood. We were delighted....another baked potato anybody???


  1. Hi Jilly and David, sad to hear that your blog may not be so frequent. I usually get a cup of tea on when I see you have done another blog. The most difficult thing to do is actually post a comment. You spend ages trying and in the ned give up, its hit and miss.

  2. loving the new style photos!!! very arty. nice light hearted interesting blog too!

  3. Glad to see the new camera is on top form,have really enjoyed looking at the stunning pictures they are what has made us feel we are on this journey with you (except of course we are in the comfort of our own bed!!)Hope the spanish is still fresh in yor mind for Mexico Jill.Stay safe looking forward to the next installment!!xx

  4. Hi Julie, Good to hear from you. Hope all is well with you. Yes frantically trying to dust off the Spanish. Hope to be in Baja by next weekend for the next phase of the journey, por favor!

  5. finally came here to check in on you guys. i guess i have lots of catching up to do. been thinking about you two from time to time down in mexico. actually worried that it might prove to be challenging or dangerous. i guess i need to go read the posts. happy travels to you both! (this is from your joshua tree camp neighbors, chris and jojo) cheers!

  6. Hi Chris and Jojo, Good to hear from you. We had a fantastic fire with all the wood you left us!! Mexico is wonderful, rich, vibrant, colourful, noisy and believe it or not safe as far as we are concerned. We have received nothing but kindness here, even though our Spanish is limited. If you haven't been here make it one of your trips. Stay in touch!