My daughter Elisabeth and I spent a total of four wonderful and tiring days in Joshua Tree National Park. The weather remained clear and sunny but chilly, with highs in the low 60s and lows in the 30s. We completed several more hikes, with beautiful scenery around every rock, and there were a lot of rocks. There weren’t many leaves on the few trees here, no doubt because of the low annual rainfall, only about 5 inches per year.
This was not a common cactus, at least according to our observations. We wondered whether there would be enough water inside this species to save stranded hikers in case of an emergency, but fortunately, we didn’t have to find out. I had brought along five 2 liter plastic Platypus water bottles, very lightweight, and we were able to refill them at the few water stations provided by the Park Service in the desert.
There were several funny incidents, such as when it was so windy we couldn’t light our stove. The scene reminded me of The Keystone Cops or The Three Stooges as we tried again and again to achieve ignition… finally the stove came to life and we got our hot meal. (I was secretly hoping that we couldn’t get the stove fired up so that we could drive to Domino’s instead…) Liz laughed at me and called me a whiner. I confess; I was whining. And I never did get my pizza. Sigh…
Then there was the night that Elisabeth decided to stay up late by the fire reading while Her Tired Dad turned in early. I was almost asleep when I heard Elisabeth’s shriek; a mouse had almost walked across her foot. Obviously he was enjoying the warmth of the fire as well. Poor little fellow; she must have scared him half to death….
Every day seemed to start and end with a hike, which was terrific. That’s what we had come here for. But my toes were starting to rebel, even though my mind could only marvel at the beauty of our surroundings. You have to admit, you can’t find views like this in DC or The Villages.
Our last California hike was to Barker Dam, which had been much larger in the 1800s when cattlemen used it for watering herds of steers. Today it is only a foot or so deep, but you can still see the high water marks of a six or seven foot deep reservoir from its glory days.
After four days, we had exhausted ourselves on Joshua Tree’s relatively barren trails and needed a break. Liz asked if we could go find some trees, so we set off for a high desert campground east of Phoenix. The four hour drive on Christmas Day would give us a break from long hikes and reposition us closer to our departure airport. We had a big breakfast in Blythe, California (Bob, I looked for a Blythe tee-shirt, but it apparently isn’t a big tourist town), and then set up camp in Usery Mountain State Park near Mesa, AZ. We did a late afternoon hike up to Wind Cave at the top of this beautiful mountain behind our campground. You may notice the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantean) on the hillside. The saguaro flower is the state flower of Arizona. This cactus can grow to 70 feet tall, and often has four or five arms. It often hosts finches, flickers, owls and wrens in holes dug mostly by woodpeckers in its trunks. They are only found in southern Arizona and southern California.
Here is Liz in her headlight, putting together Christmas dinner: meatball and pork BBQ bagels with a side of freeze-dried lasagna. Hey, when you’re cold and hungry, “It don’t get much better than that!” Unfortunately, Christmas night proved to be the toughest of the trip. For six hours, we endured 30-35 mph winds that threatened to lift our tents off the ground (with us in them). Finally, at dawn we surrendered, struck our tents and packed up. We had a real gourmet breakfast in Mesa and then drove into the Superstition Mountains where the wind was not expected to be so severe.
Our long hike that day was near the town of Apache Junction (yes, that’s its real name), and took us on a steep, rocky trail into Peralta Canyon. One of the area’s premier hikes, it was a six mile roundtrip with incredible views. You are looking into the backcountry here, with nothing but wilderness for miles and miles.
These rock formations are called hoodoos, similar to those in Bryce Canyon National Park, although their geologic characteristics are not identical. We didn’t see any rock climbers here, probably because the rocks appeared less stable than those in Joshua Tree.
Our new campground, at Lost Dutchman State Park, was a treat, with the hottest showers we had had all week. (When you’re sleeping on the cold ground and making forced marches over boulders and through a treeless desert, a hot shower at the end of the day helps keep you sane.) Our final hike of the trip was on the Treasure Loop Trail through the Tonto National Forest, with the Flatiron (4,861 ft.) towering above the desert floor. By this time, we were both developing blisters, and we were ready for a taste of civilization.
On the road out, we had our single adventure with wildlife… well, kinda-sorta. This long horn steer was walking down the middle of the dirt road to the highway. I asked him to move off the road and pose for a photo, and he was happy to accommodate me. And yes, I made sure he didn’t make any aggressive moves that might allow him to get between me and the car.
We repaired to our hotel near the airport to await our flights the next morning. “But we have a couple of hours before dinner”, said Liz, “let’s go to the Phoenix Art Museum!” (I thought to myself, “But that requires more walking!”) So off we went, My Lovely Daughter spending most of the time in the modern and abstract art section, while I gravitated to the European and Southwest sections. Her favorite artist was Yayoi Kusama, whose “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies” was a mixed media exhibit in a pitch black room with mirrors on floors, ceiling and walls; hundreds of red and green LED lights strung from the ceiling were reflected into infinity by the mirrors, but it was so dark you couldn’t see your own reflection, much less take a photo. It was an unnerving experience after being in the desert under a bright sun and clear skies for the past week, but a unique counter point to our desert adventure.
We stayed in the museum until it closed, and I think we were the last visitors out the door. We stopped in the lobby to admire this beautiful lighted glass and metal piece; because of the upcoming prohibition on incandescent light bulbs, I wanted to take it home for our living room, but Liz insisted I act my age… it’s difficult being reprimanded by your daughter.
Ah, I almost forgot to mention the hotel experience. As we were headed to our rooms, I noticed that mine was in the middle of a corridor apparently occupied by a group of 100 or so noisy kids from a high school band, who were then roving the corridors in various states of undress, having just finished a pre-dinner swim. I walked down to the front desk where I met the manager, whom I alerted to the fact that I had just spent six nights in a sleeping bag and had a serious sleep deficit to address. He assured me that the 14 band chaperones would soon have the situation under control, and by the time I returned from dinner, the halls would be as quiet as a church on Monday morning. I was not to worry, he said. I was not confident. Liz was on the quiet side of the hotel on another floor, and had little sympathy for my plight when I complained briefly at dinner. I knew better than to complain to Suzanne, two thousand miles away; (1) she couldn’t help; (2) being a former marching band flutist, she would undoubtedly sympathize with the kids rather than me. I was doomed.
We returned from dinner at 7:30 PM, and hit the rack in preparation for an early departure. Giggles from the adjoining room indicated that the four teenaged girls therein were discussing their boyfriends (potential, actual or imaginary). I waited until 9:00 PM, unable to get to sleep, and decided to take drastic action. I dialed room 219, and a young girl’s voice answered, “Hello?” I replied in a soft, but deep bass, “Girls, we can do this one of two ways. You can quiet down, or I can call the police.” I gently put the handset in its cradle (yes, they still have a few of those) and thus ensued instantaneous silence. Nary a peep, giggle or sound was heard until the next morning. Ah, blissful sleep!
The next morning’s airline check-in was almost flawless, except for two minor “issues”. It was the busiest travel day of the year, and my line at the Southwest counter was already occupied by about 450 other travelers; PHX is a major hub for Southwest. After a 35 minute wait to check bags, I got to the gate with 10 minutes to spare before boarding. Liz was flying US Air in another concourse, so I figured she was okay. I was too optimistic. When going through security, she had forgotten about the water in her Camelback, and the TSA agent made her go dump the water and then go back through the line. Fortunately, she made it to the gate a minute or so before the gate closed. We were now both on our way home….
Suzanne and the puppies, Rudy and Gretchen, met me at the airport in Orlando, and we had a nice dinner before heading back to The Villages. At home, I caught up with some email while Suzanne got ready for bed. As I walked into the bedroom, I was shocked to find some dude with his head on my pillow! So that’s what happens while I’m out in the desert… I get displaced!