Picks and Pans – In and Around Joshua Tree N.P.

Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree N.P.

Joshua Tree is the kind of place where it would be downright difficult to live an ordinary life. Even the rocks and strangely animated plants seem as though they must have interesting back stories simply because an uneventful existence couldn’t possibly result in such strangely shaped creatures. Hidden Valley is evidence that Joshua Tree’s human history is at least as captivating as its natural history. After walking through a small opening in the wall of rounded rock formation, you come out into a large valley surrounded on all sides by more rock. Apparently, in the days of the wild wild West, this valley was famous among cattle rustlers because they could herd their stolen cattle into the secluded and easily guarded spot for rebranding before they were taken to market. These days the main activity in Hidden Valley is rock climbing, but, luckily, the climbers are busy enough in their own endeavors that they didn’t intrude too much in my endeavors to imagine myself standing guard at the opening, watching for the sheriff, while the cattle deeply lowed their indignance at the illegality of it all.

Keys View in Joshua Tree N.P.

Although its name doesn’t suggest anything of grandeur, Keys View is a spectacular vantage point from which to see the sunset behind the mountainous edge of valley below. While there, we shared the view with only a few other people, one of which was a New Zealander whose interests involved computer programming and travel. After several minutes of discussion, we discovered that he was also a DIY electronics person, who was a subscriber to Make magazine and had heard of Sean’s Truth Wristband. What are the odds?

Ryan campground in Joshua Tree N.P.

The silhouettes of Joshua Trees and the full moon rising in the distance inspired Sean and I to venture out for a moonlight walk away from our campsite at Ryan campground. As we walked, the palette of grays and watery whites of the desert at night was broken up by the occasional glint of moonlight off the sharp spine of a cactus and the menagerie of shadow monkeys hanging off the feet of the Joshua Trees.

 Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree N.P.

Somewhere after the Mojave turns into the Sonora Desert, there are cactus that jump out and bite. Well, not quite, but if you get anywhere close to cholla cacti their spines will penetrate even the slightest of surfaces touching them. Unfortunately, cholla cacti are also enchantingly fascinating, but temptation fulfilled can be exquisitely painful.

Salvation Mountain

Sean Says: So the story goes, Leonard Knight was flying a hot air balloon over Southern California, when he broke down in the desert just outside the middle of nowhere. Mr. Knight took this as a sign from God that he should take a couple of weeks to make an 8 foot totem proselytizing the Lord’s word. Some 24 years later, Mr. Knight is still out in the middle of nowhere and his 8 foot totem has grown into a mountain and adjoining cathedral of donated hay bails and hand mixed desert adobe with painted on flowers, trees, streams, a yellow brick road, and many bible verses, all in the most fantastically bright colors.

Slab City

Sean says: I first saw Slab City in the movie “Into the Wild” and somewhat dismissed this RV park full of society’s rejects as a Hollywood fantasy. But when we met up with Ryan & Gerit in Red Lodge, Gerit spoke of Slab City as the magical wonderland she had never visited and convinced us that we must go. Turns out that Slab City is indeed a real place, though you might forget that as you drive in past the dream-like colorful display of Salvation Mountain into the RV, hippie bus, trailer and general squatter-rights shanty-town built on the concrete slab of a WWII marine barracks that is Slab City. Unfortunately on our new road trip pace to make back to New York for Christmas we didn’t have time to stay for the nightly music jam at “The Range”, shop at the local garage sale, or visit the local Christian center, but it does look like they have most of the amenities of a small city (except for maybe running water, treated sewer or electricity).

4 comments to Picks and Pans – In and Around Joshua Tree N.P.

  • Lyle P. Edwards

    Erica, Where are you now? We understand you were in GF, MT , so how is the new baby? I rust Sean is getting ready for his next presentation. We certainly l,but I miss your medical advice. I love you dearly Grandpa

  • I had the opportunity to visit Joshua Tree while tagging along for a conference that my girlfriend had in Palm Springs. I drove up every morning for a few days and explored the park. It’s just the right size for day trips whereas parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone aren’t.

    I liked the park a lot and despite it being dry, I saw wildlife. The most common being some ground squirrels that liked to scurry among the rocks. I also saw a hawk feasting on a meal by the side of the road. Very cool place!

  • Abigail St. Lawrence

    You sound like you became familiar with the dangers of cholla cactus first hand. Beware the tempting plants.

    • It was almost impossible not to have a run in with the jumping chollas! If your shoe brushes up against a piece strewn on the ground, you have an instant and permanent decoration. I think I have thorns in the bottom of my shoes that will never come out. It was really something!

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