More Thoughts, Sights, And Sounds From Joshua Tree
I woke up late yesterday and decided that I wanted to head for the desert. It’d been months since my last visit, and days spent in Joshua Tree National Forest have never disappointed me. I left the gloom of Los Angeles shortly after noon and arrived at the entrance of the park in just under three hours. Traffic leaving the city was a bit frustrating, and my lack of any passengers meant I could not use any of the carpool lanes on the Interstate. As I headed East the clouds departed and the sun began to shine. Before entering the park I decided to drive into 29 Palms. I had never seen the town before, just worn a path between Highway 62 and the Western gate of the park. Finally I made the familiar turn onto Park Blvd. and drove to the gate. I spoke briefly about pretty, secluded areas of Joshua Tree with a woman named Sharon, who eventually offered to let me in for free. I told her thank you, but I’d rather pay the fifteen dollars and think of it as a donation. She thanked me and permitted me to enter.
I first headed to Jumbo Rocks, the area I most frequently visit when brining new friends to Joshua Tree. There were many people in the area today, all hiking around and eating at the picnic areas. They watched as I began to climb familiar rocks, slowly making my way towards the apex. I sat for a few minutes and enjoyed the warmth. Several small lizards scooted past me as I sat. After fifteen minutes or so, I descended the rock. I made my way over to a neighboring formation much taller than the one I had just climbed. As I was half-way up the rock, I began to realize that the vegetation I was using as support for my hands and feet was also being used by numerous bees. I guess they did not take kindly to an intruder interrupting their pollination, and a small number of bees began to swarm around me. I dropped my belongings and backtracked down the side of the rock. Feeling safe a few yards away, I stood trying to capture the sounds of numerous birds in the area. The bees quickly pursued me and I had to leave the area of Jumbo Rocks. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem like any of the picnickers or hikers were being disturbed.
As I made my way back towards them a large snake stopped me in my path. It was coiled beneath a small shrub, and as I approached it uncoiled itself and began to make its way down one of the many holes that mark the desert landscape. The closest I got to the snake — which I later found out was a Desert Glossy Snake, maybe 4-5 feet in length — was a distance of a few feet. I first checked its tail to make sure I wasn’t encroaching on the territory of a Diamondback or Sidewinder, but I quickly saw that it was not anything I should be too afraid of. It’s small, tannish head was poking out of the hole along with the tip of its tail. It looked at me for a few seconds, and as I reached for my camera it quickly ducked out of view into the hole.
From there I drove North, stopping at Skull Rock and turning a few hundred yards down the road onto an unmarked, unpaved trail. I crept along for several miles, until I reached a small patch of land where the trail widened enough for a car to turn around. I stopped here and collected more sounds. At my feet, an army of fire ants paraded around their hill. Other insects would scuttle by and the fire ants would work themselves into a frenzy, at times it looked like there were hundreds of them racing in and out of the hill. I was so far removed from the main road that there were no signs of life. In fact I’m pretty sure all I recorded were the sounds of winds and more bees dive-bombing towards me.
Listen to swirling winds [MP3]
I drove back towards the West gate, to Bighorn Pass Road, and drove half-way to Barker Dam before stopping in a secluded area to enjoy the openness and solitude. Running low on gas, I actually left the park and filled up my tank before venturing into the Keys View area, which was recommended to me back in 2007 by then-reader Allyson. I don’t know if she still reads this website, but if she does I want to thank her for that e-mail. It inspired me to scope out Jumbo Rocks for the first time back in ’07, and inspired me yesterday to take the drive towards Keys View yesterday.
I was hoping to visit the Lost Horse Mine, but found the road to be closed for the day. I walked a few yards past the barrier and sat for 15 minutes in near-dead silence. The sun beginning to set, I thought about driving all the way to Keys View, but worried I would get locked in if I didn’t return to Park Blvd. by the time the sun fully set. There are too many weird roads in the park that are gated-shut at sunset, and I wasn’t looking to sleep in my car all night. So, I decided to start the long drive home.
I’ve got a few more nooks left to explore next time…I just need fellow travelers to come along for the ride.