Friday, July 31, 2015

Joshua Tree

I originally hadn't planned to stop at Joshua Tree (JT). The park is just east of San Diego but far enough away that the climate is much more desert. I had other deserts on my itinerary and June didn't seem the time to be visiting deserts. Also, it wasn't really on the way anywhere. 

However, when I learned a friend's sister who I knew from high school was living in the area and she and her husband invited me to come down and stay, I easily changed my mind :). I was also ahead of schedule since I didn't spend very long at the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, I failed to get any pictures of Tara, Bret and me. :(

I was there during the week and Tara had to work during the day but Bret was free and was previously an interpretive ranger at JT (Tara was too - they've worked at tons of parks!). So Bret was like my personal guide each day. 

We started at an oasis Tara suggested. You know, like in movies, the pond of water in the middle of the desert? There wasn't standing water but you could tell it was just below the surface. It went from sparse desert plants to big palms and other trees and plants. It was pretty cool. Also, those palms are the native California palms - a little different looking to ones you might see in town (the imports). When travelers saw big trees like this, they had a haven during their trip. It was amazing the drop in temperature when we entered the oasis. 

You could follow a sort of wash or dry creek bed and see where the trees followed. That's where the water was.

On the walk out, we saw a dead (and later a living one buzzed by) tarantula hawk. Remember that from my Big Bend stop? Well this looked more like the picture I'd seen and Bret confirmed it. It doesn't look like a tarantula, so why is it called that? It's the tarantula predator...sort of. The Hawks have huge stingers (so avoid one landing on you) which aren't harmful to humans but apparently hurt like you can't imagine. Super painful. But, it flies down and stings the tarantula, paralyzing (or killing?) it and drags it back into the tarantula's hole. Then it lays its eggs inside the tarantula. The eggs feed on the body of the tarantula until they're ready to come out and start the process again. Pretty crazy Mother Nature.

We also saw one of the biggest lizards I've seen in the U.S. so far. Probably doesn't look that big here, but it was more iguana size than newt size.

The cactus garden of the desert :).

This is one of those cacti close-up. They look harmless but are super painful. Each of those spines has a covering on it. When it sticks into something or someone, the covering comes off and a spine full of barbs sinks into you. It is painful to take them out. And as you can see, if you take a spill onto one, you're going to get a lot more than one spine in you. 

Here is Skull Rock. JT surprised me in that there are lots of rock formations and a fairly big elevation change within the park and desert. These rocks are basically the tops of much larger rocks, still underground, that are showing due to erosion.

A lot of the rocks look smooth and have lots of cracks. It gets cold here and water can freeze and unfreeze. You can see the balanced rock/boulder on top of this rock formation.

The rocks here are great for climbers. I don't climb but both Tara and Bret do. He was telling me that in the winter, when Yosemite is covered in lots of snow (aka the climbing Mecca which I will visit later), climbers come to JT where the sun and heat are a bit milder than during the summer. So there are lots of climbing opportunities. I did not attempt any :).

An overview from one of the high points in the park. Bret told me the mountain ranges you see in the distance, but I forget.

One day we hiked Ryan Mountain and had a nice lunch all to ourselves up there.

They use to ranch cattle here - or at least move them through. Therefore they needed the desert. They would find a valley surrounded by mountains and dam up an entrance. You can see the old water high mark still on the rocks.

Writing in cement outside the dam.

And least but not least, we got to the JT forests. The park is named for the Joshua Tree. Probably more cactus than tree, although it appears more tree like. Similar to the Saguaro, it takes a long, long time for these to grow. And they are sensitive to the climate - they are not seen throughout the park because the park has a pretty big elevation change and therefore climate change. They are worried if the trees will disappear as climate change continues to impact earth.

Usually they stay low, but like humans, every one is unique. This is a super, super tall one.

I stayed with Tara and Bret for 3-4 days and had a great time. It was so nice of them to extend the invite when they saw I was in the area (i.e. northern Arizona, lol). Since they are park geeks too (I think I'm becoming one, if I haven't already), it was also lots of fun to talk about where I'd been, where I'm going, where they'd been and where we all want to go :). 

Next up, my favorite park so far!!

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