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.