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Old 03-30-2009, 08:41 PM   #21
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Five
Hiking Borrego Palm Canyon

We are up before dawn to get on the trail to the palm grove in Borrego palm Canyon. We were lucky to grab a campsite last night since the campground filled completely (on a Tuesday no less) an hour after we arrived to find that our reservation disappeared. But it was a quiet night except for the yowling coyotes nearby.

As Sportsmobile owners know it still takes a chunk of time to get up, stow the sleeping gear, make coffee, clean and stow the cooking gear and take the top down before driving to the trailhead. Itís simply hard to cut back on the morning routine and this morning we go as fast as possible, but get to the trailhead at 8AM just as the heat starts to rise. I make sure to pop the top on the Sporty before shouldering my daypack.

Several parties have already started up the trail, and two photographers are wandering about with their tripods over their shoulders.




There are dozens of species of wildflowers everywhere around this alluvial fan, like these Desert Poppies and Globe Mallows.





In the wash are more flowers like Brittlebrush and these large Fan Palm logs. In early September 2004, a large flash flood roared down Borrego Palm Canyon destroying two thirds of the Fan Palms, which may have been several hundred years old. The palm logs were swept two miles downstream to the trailhead and beyond into the campground. In August of 2004, a similar large flood swept down Furnace Creek Wash in Death Valley National Park, causing millions of dollars in damage and killing several people. 2004 must have been a bad year for violent thundershowers in Californiaís desert parks.



A mile or more up the rocky trail, water begins flowing in the dry wash.



Fan Palms need surface water or a wetland to grow and thrive. Whatís interesting is how few hikers on this trail seem to need water. Probably no more than half of the day hikers are carrying any water at all for this four mile round trip hike and the temp is already up to the high 80s. Several carry just a pint of bottled water in one hand, a difficult task for a long rocky hike. There is a reason to have a day pack! I wonder just how many dehydrated people need to be dragged out of the canyons in Anza Borrego each season.

As we approach the Fan Palm grove, the expedition photographerís Canon SLR resets itself into early Ansel Adams Mode, taking only black and white pictures.



It takes some fussing with the complex menus in the Canon 50D to persuade it to take color images again.



The remaining Fan Palms are quite dramatic when filmed from within the grove.



On the trail back down, we run across a Beavertail Cactus in bloom that we somehow missed on the trip in.




We return to the Sportsmobile just after noon in the now oppressive midday heat. Several hiking parties, with and without water, are just starting up the trail.

Rather than returning to the campground and the sparse shade of the ramada, we opt to retreating to a local Mexican restaurant, Pabilitos, for lunch in the deeper shade of an open courtyard. Here we are confronted with the first major crisis of the trip: they have no cold Mexican beer.

The waitress offers a cold Bud Lite instead, an appalling compromise. The owner, sensing our despair, walks over to our table and offers a michelada instead, a warm Pacifico poured over ice with lime and salt. Sort of a beer drinkerís margarita. Fortified with two micheladas and a delicious chicken enchilada, we stagger back into the heat of the day and drive over to the visitor center. Anza Borrego State Parkís visitor center is a cool one story earth-bermed structure, the perfect place to get out of the sun and learn more about the park.

Too soon we are back in camp by late afternoon, and I take advantage of washing a few clothes and quick drying them in the scorching sun. I prepare a chilled citrus salad with grilled chicken, cooked the night before, for dinner and we retire early in the warm evening. Sportsmobile camping is grand!
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Old 03-31-2009, 06:13 AM   #22
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Six
Hiking Surprise Canyon - Driving north to Joshua Tree

Last evening a white Sportsmobile drove through the campground but didnít stop. There were lots of sites available, unlike the packed situation on Tuesday night, and it was mostly peaceful. At least until the boyscouts piled in across from us at 11PM. Lots of shouting orders from some person, the thud of unloading a cord of fire wood, piece by piece, and the blaze of 50,000 watt propane lanterns. Donít mind us trying to sleep over here. All of a sudden, blessed silence, as the coyotes begin to howl very close to their campsite. I secretly hope that the wild dogs have carried off the person shouting orders on how to set up the tents.

We are up before dawn, and take down the Sporty without breakfast, in our attempt to get some more flower pics before the desert winds start up. We drive a short distance to the south and hike up Surprise Canyon at the foot of Montezuma Grade on S22.



The wild flowers start right at the entrance and the expedition photographer sets up her tripod next to an Octotillo.



I have heard from posts on DesertUSA that Ghost flowers are found here, and sure enough, several of bunches of them appear up on a rocky slope, a couple of hundred yards up canyon from the parking lot. The complete lack of wind makes flower photography much easier.





Surprise Canyon is so named because of its surprising diversity of wildflowers, like these Desert Chicory surrounded by smaller blooms.



Thereís also the Little Gold Poppy, a cousin of the more famous California Poppy.



Along with Ghost Flower we have never seen Wishbone Bush before until this hike.



We wander up and down the small canyon, marveling at the number of wildflowers. This is obviously the peak of the bloom for most of the wild flowers, except these Barrel Cacti, which are still a week away from flowering.



Reluctantly, but needing coffee, we return to the Sporty as the sun rises fully over the low hills. A woman from New Hampshire is staring at the SMB, and says ďIt looks like your van can conquer anything!Ē Iím puzzled for a moment, not having thought of the Sporty as sort of an automotive Genghis Khan before. ďWell, it conquered our budget,Ē I reply.

Driving back into Borrego Springs, we are disappointed to find that Pablitoís is not open for breakfast. Luckily across the street Carmelitaís is. Tortilla con huevos for the photographer and macachito con huevo (shredded beef) for me. A great Southwestern breakfast, worth all the driving to get here.

We stop at the Anza Borrego Natural History Association on the way out of town for postcards (a great book selection on the area) and its back on the road north toward Joshua Tree National Park to attempt to get a campsite for the next couple of nights before the upcoming weekend rush.

The road north alongside the Salton Sea is thankfully free of heavy trucks this morning, but soon I notice a Land Cruiser hugging Sportyís rear bumper. The well outfitted rig passes us as the driver waves, and we notice his license plate is ROVER, similar to ours.

We reach Cottonwood Campground in Joshua Tree National Park around noon and spend the warm (not hot) afternoon doing chores and planning the next few days of the trip.
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Old 03-31-2009, 08:00 PM   #23
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

More to come. Photo processing is slow this evening. That and if it snows anymore I am loading up the Sporty and headed back down south!
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Old 04-01-2009, 06:40 AM   #24
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Seven
Exploring Joshua Tree

Back in the early 1990s, I had driven past Joshua Tree National Park through Yucca Valley, but never had the chance to explore the place. Today is the day reserved for an auto tour of the park and short hike, before it gets pretty crowded on the weekend. But we are in the far southeastern part of the park, so we will have to drive east and uphill to see the rest.

Driving through the broad Pinto Basin there are a few more wildflowers and also busloads of U.S. Marines. The Marines are wandering around the landscape with large garbage bags and bending down to pick something up to place in the bags. Itís obviously not roadside trash, unless park visitors have been especially slobbish this year, and we later find out at the visitor center that they are hand picking a noxious weed, an invasive mustard, before it blooms and reseeds. The mustard is out-competing native plants and uses up much of the sparse moisture in the Pinto Basin. There are busloads and busloads of people, maybe as many as 200 involved in the effort. Kudos to the U.S. Marines for helping repel another foreign invader! Many thanks.

Headed uphill toward Pinto Wye Junction we briefly stop at the Cholla patch. This large patch of Silver Cholla is just getting ready to bloom, but I must admit that seeing so many of these spiny buggers crowded together in one place reminds me of something out of a bad Steven King novel. Night of the Living Cholla perhaps?







Staying next to the Sportsmobile in the Cholla Patch parking lot, I get into a discussion with an SMB admirer about the pluses and minuses of 6 liter diesel engines. This guy obviously knows a lot and assures me that you can upgrade a Ford diesel with a Banks system to get better mileage without voiding the Ford warranty. Something to look into I guess. Only with a Sportsmobile have I ever got into technical discussions of engine systems while looking at wildflowers.

Turning southwest at the Pinto Wye Junction we drive to the Jumbo Rocks Campground to take a short hike on the Skull Rock Nature Trail. There are a few wildflowers blooming here at over 4,000 feet in elevation, and plenty of the giant boulders for which Joshua Tree is famous.



Itís already too windy for wildflower photos, but we try to hunt some down in sheltered places.



Near the end of the trail is this clump of brilliant Desert Indian Paintbrush.



Just beyond this solitary clump is a larger more photogenic clump surrounded by a photographer and his gear, right in the middle of the path. He doesnít even look up as we detour around him.

Jumbo Rocks Campground is already filled by late Friday morning, so we head westward to find a place to have lunch. Turning into the Hidden Valley picnic area, we find out where all of the Marines are headed after their morning weed picking. Right here for lunch. Thereís dozens of tables and chairs and grills set up, so we beat a quick exit and head further west to Quail Springs. There are much fewer people here, so we break out the sandwiches while watching several climbers top rope the 100 foot friction pitch that rises next to the parking lot.





It looks like fun climbing but my rock climbing days are long over. I would have loved to try these granitic outcrops 25 years ago rather than the butt busting vertical limestone of Seneca Rocks, West Virginia where we went to climb in those days.

The Joshua Tree forest in the western part of the park is impressive, but we make no further stops and exit the park into Yucca Valley. Driving back east to Twenty Nine Palms to return to camp by the northern route, we stop at the grocery store to resupply. The choices are limited for a small steak to grill , and I pick up a thick 3lb London Broil for fajitas. The expedition photographer disagrees with the choice, but I convince her that it is indeed the smallest chunk of beef that they have out in the meat coolers.

After the long drive back south to camp through the park, we return to a campground crowded with weekend campers. I slice the London Broil in half and freeze part of it while marinating the rest for an hour in the juice of our remaining oranges, red wine and garlic. Stoking up the Cobb Grill with 12 briquettes, I roast a couple of green chilis, and then grill the marinated London Broil at dusk. Slicing up the meat for fajitas, everything comes together perfectly for dinner.

As pleasant as dinner is, the campground is too crowded for our tastes, and we decide to head north to Mojave National Preserve tomorrow in search of more solitude.
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Old 04-01-2009, 09:42 AM   #25
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Eight
Drive from Joshua Tree National Park to Amboy Crater and Mojave National Preserve

We are up early and off traveling northward to Twenty Nine Palms and beyond. Although the campground was crowded, I did have interesting conversations with Greta from Toronto. Her and her husband were taking a ďshortĒ vacation of just two months visiting parks and relatives in the Southwest. I am not only impressed at the amount of time off people have in more civilized countries such as Canada, but Iím also amazed that she has relatives in every state in the Southwest as well. Greta describes the extra border security at such parks as Big Bend National Park in Texas and Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona. The drug war has definitely heated up.

On the way north we stop to photograph the fields of flowers in the Pinto Basin in the morning light, which are mostly Desert Dandelions.






In the town of Twenty Nine Palms, the dandelions are everywhere, just like well, common dandelions. The Desert Dandelion will be second only to Brittlebrush as the most common wild flower seen on the entire trip.

The Park visitor center at Twenty Nine Palms has interesting art work, such as this sculpture at the entrance.



Then there is the mural of Minerva Hoyt, one of the driving forces behind protecting Joshua Tree as a national monument designated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Ms. Hoyt was a member of the Garden Clubs of America, an organization that has done much to protect native flowers in the United States, among other things.



We take the short walk around the Fan Palms at the Oasis of Mara behind the visitor center. According to the information at the visitor center, there hasnít been standing pools of water at the oasis since the early 1940s. Earthquakes along the local fault lines and groundwater pumping have dried up much of the surface water, and the Park Service keeps the historic oasis alive with irrigation. The oasis is till important for many species of wildlife and we see a covey of Gambelís Quail scurrying in the underbrush.

Stopping at Stater Brothers again we load up on charcoal, chicken, allergy medicine and wine before heading north. Here we make the crucial mistake of not buying more fresh vegetables, hoping to acquire some closer to Death Valley.

Twenty Nine Palms may be the Town of Many Murals as their slogan says, but it is also the Town of Few Diesel Pumps. We get in line at a busy ARCO station, behind an older gentleman fueling up a vintage convertible. He finishes fueling and slowly, painfully walks into the building. Fifteen minutes later he still hasnít returned, and the place is crazy busy. Waiting here Iím convinced the Sporty is going to get side-swiped by somebody racing around to find an open pump. I carefully back out of line and we go searching for another gas station.

Half an hour later we are back. None of the other four or five gas stations in this town have diesel, and the ARCO station is a busy as ever on this Saturday morning. I try a different strategy, parking slightly away from the two refueling islands and waiting for one of the four diesel pumps to clear. After several minutes, one at the southern end clears and I quickly drive over to claim it. As I am about to get out of the Sporty, a woman starts shouting from next to a car parked away from the pumps. ďSir SIR! THAT IS MY PUMP! MY HUSBAND HAS BEEN STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO THAT PUMP!

There was a guy standing quietly next to the pump on the island as I pulled up, but I paid no attention to him and he said nothing to me. I didnít realize that you could reserve a pump remotely. Maybe this is a new feature I have missed on ReserveAmerica.com?

Avoiding a further shouting match from this obviously distraught woman, I pull away and she drives in quickly. The expedition photographer rolls her eyes in dismay. Fifteen minutes later, the same woman waves to us wildly and saves the space next to the pump as we drive up. Total time to take on 22 gallons of Number 2 Low Sulphur Diesel: 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Completely frazzled at this point we head northeast into the open desert on Amboy Road. North of the barrenly scenic Sheep Hole Mountains, the desert greens up. Driving downhill toward Bristol Dry Lake, we begin to see large white flowers (Desert Lilies? Datura?) a type we havenít seen yet on this trip. Unfortunately the shoulders of the road have been recently graded and look like deep, dry sand. The Amboy Road is just busy enough with speeding cars that I canít stop and park partly on the pavement, and Iím not in the mood to air down for deep sand. Besides those flowers have probably been reserved for someone already.

Giving up on the flowers we pull into Amboy Crater, a Natural Landmark managed by the BLM. Last year, the volcanic badlands surrounding the crater had an incredible display of wild flowers, but this year the nearby surrounding lands look pretty burnt.



The expedition photographer takes a few pictures and we have lunch in the shade of the van. A tan regular body 2WD Sportsmobile pulls up next to us with a couple from Springdale, Utah. They are taking the same wild flower tour that we are, but in reverse, and are headed south toward Joshua Tree and the BLM Desert Lily Sanctuary. We compare notes before driving further north.

North of Interstate 40 we enter the Mojave National Preserve on the Kelbaker Road. At 1.6 million acres in size, the Mojave is the third largest Park Service unit in the lower 48 states, behind the 3.4 million acre Death Valley National Park and the 2.2 million acre Yellowstone National Park. I love large, un-crowded national parks!

Coming over Granite Pass, we eyeball the backcountry campsites in the near distance north of the Granite Spires. I can see a couple of vehicles camped back in there against the spires, and I make note of it for a future campsite.

We reach the Kelso Dunes trailhead at 4PM, which has quite a few people parked there taking the hike into the dunes. The heat and the lateness of the day encourage us to move on to find a camp for the night.






In a few miles we reach the restored Kelso Depot, now the Preserve visitor center. This former train station for the Union Pacific in the middle of nowhere served as a workstation for train crews up into the 1950s. I realize that it served the same purpose as the station at Essex, Montana, on the Great Northern rail line, on the south boundary of Glacier National Park. The Essex Station is now the popular Izaak Walton Inn, a private hotel.







Just like The Izaak Walton, the Kelso Depot has a great collection of rail fan books and maps, and I purchase a few before getting back in the Sporty and heading up the Cima Grade to camp.

Around 5PM we roll into the backcountry camp at 5,000 feet on top of Cima Dome, in the midst of the largest Joshua Tree forest in the world. The weather is certainly going to change and a cloud bank is rolling in from the northwest as the wind picks up.



We find a nice spot up against the rocks at set up camp.



I try grilling chicken for dinner outside up against the rocks, but have Complete Cobb Grill Failure, a rare occurrence for me, being an accomplished grillmaster. It takes nearly an hour and half to get the charcoal ignited in the gusty winds, which blow it out every time it starts to heat up.



After another hour in which the chicken gets slightly warm on the grill, I give up and bring it in to cook on the propane stove, dumping it in a pan with white wine and garlic. After twenty minutes we call it good and have dinner at sunset in the van as the temperature drops in the heavy wind.
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Old 04-01-2009, 11:05 AM   #26
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Ed,

Many thanks to you and your "Expedition Photographer" for your terrific write-up and gorgeous photos! It makes me feel like I'm experiencing all of it right along with you. What a great trip!

Thanks!

Edie
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Old 04-02-2009, 08:20 AM   #27
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Thank you for the kind words Edie.

I'm still sorting through photos for the last several days. Thee's some good shots of slot canyons in Grotto and Fall Canyons, a few four wheeling pics, and of course more wild flower pictures coming up. It will probably take until the weekend to get them all finished, so check back soon.

Cripes, I need a vacation to recover from my vacation...
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Old 04-02-2009, 08:58 AM   #28
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Ed ,
Thank you again for the the great photographs and travel log . As I mentioned earlier these have been some of my favorite places to visit especially Surprise Canyon with it's sensitive balance of symbiosis . The Ghost Flowers are some of the most difficult to find in bloom and you were very fortunate to have them available on your visit . Your wife's photograph's are superior to most found in Southwestern Botanist Journals as the most ideal conditions must prevail for them to even begin to sprout , let alone produce bloom's . I have always enjoyed the Ocotillo for their ability to grow in some of the most photogenic of places . And it is hard not to wonder how the Joshua tree is actually a member of the Lilly family , especially when you accidently brush up against one . Keep the story coming and be sure to thank thank your wife .
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Old 04-02-2009, 11:50 AM   #29
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Agreed - this is a great report with fantastic photos! Thanks for taking the time to share it. My parents just came back from a trip around the same area, and I enjoyed seeing their snapshots, but I didn't get a true sense of the natural beauty until I saw your wife's photographs. I'm looking forward to traveling through these places next year!

I see that your daytime temperatures were up in the 90s - how was it at night?

Cheers,
Mike.
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Old 04-04-2009, 08:13 AM   #30
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Mjeffrey, the temps depended on how high we camped. Down near sea level in Anza Borrego, it was in the 90s during the day and in the low 60s at night. It was much cooler at 3,000-5,000 feet in Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve, with temps reaching 80 degrees F during the day and down to the 40s during the night. Death Valley was in between those two examples of temperatures.
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