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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Joshua Tree Epilogue

The Family Truckster...complete with emergency wheel.

 I awoke with half of my face at 150 degrees as the sun beat on my side of the tent and slowly heated the right side of my face to about the identical temperature I eat my Pop Tarts at. I threw on my jacket and went outside to taste the desert morning air for the last time; at least for this trip anyhow.

I made some instant coffee and sat in my blue camping chair to take it in for as long as possible before the kids awoke and put me into "forced starting of the day" mode. The good news was that today I got to make my traditional camping breakfast. I took a package of Farmer John sausage  that I had purchased at Stater Bros for 59cents a couple of months previous, fired up the propane stove and away I went.

Back in the day I would have tried to pull something elaborate but Ive gotten older and wiser over the last week or so and now use 1 pack of sausage, 1 pack of precooked hashbrowns(bought mine at Fresh and Easy for a buck or so) and a dozen eggs.  Typically we would have made chicken fajitas the night before and used of all the leftovers in the skillet but that wasnt an option this morning. Anyhow, cook the sausage, draining grease if me there is nothing quite like the smell of sausage or bacon grease poured directly into the ashes of the previous nights fire. Sometimes if you are lucky there will still be some embers so you can get the spittle pop and hiss sound of grease hitting ember. It really is the little things! Once the bacon/sausage is cooked add the hash browns. They come in a box of 10 or 12 and can be found in most groceries frozen section. I used to use real potatoes but they take way too long to cook...especially when using canned propane.  Once the hash browns are cooked go ahead and start cracking the eggs into the skillet. Once again we typically do Fajitas the night before so you can use any extra tortitillas to make breakfast burritos if so desired.

We finished our breakfast and I took a walk with Alex to use the campsite outhouse. Joshua Tree has no water at all so any trip to the outhouse should be made with a bottle of Purell or any other water/sanitizer. In the mornings the outhouse isnt so bad but as the weather heats so does the you know what at the bottom of the outhouse pit. There was a large rock placed near the door to keep ventilation once the outhouse starts to heat. Trust me- the last thing I would wish on anyone would be the guy unfortunate enough to get a stomach virus and have to make repeated trips to a 100plus degree Joshua Tree Outhouse in the summer. Note to the wise- if Pork Sushi was a dinner idea for your next trip; better hold off until early spring or late fall.

We cleaned up and began taking the site down which is always a bit melancholy as it means you are returning back to civilization and the worries and responsibilities that come with it. In my case it meant getting back in time to watch the NHL playoffs and the great coaching debate between LA Kings fans. Kind of weird Im cooking campfire breakfast in the middle of the mojave and later in the evening would be broadcasting my NHL talk show. Only in California? Probably.

We packed up the van...much lighter then when we came. A lot of the time camping means bringing things that are strictly on one way trips. Basically items you stuff in the van figuring they will be put to some good use and the thrown away before the return trip. This trip it was mainly flammable items we threw in the fire pit for warmth but previous trips pre-family it meant sofas, tvs, futons, refrigerators....

We looked around the site and found the biggest pile of rock in the vicinity and made one last family hike to the top. It was a wonderful hike as nearing the top were pockets and crevices in the rock that had fresh blooms of yellow desert flowers and every once in a while some type of purple variety. Alex took the lead which I was OK with the exception of the possibility of snake bite. Only visitor we encountered though was a couple of the cutest chipmunks I have ever seen. We all got a chuckle out of the way they run up and down the hills with their little chipmunk fannies bobbing up and down.

Anyhow, once packed we set out to make a final visit to the Ranger Station for fresh water and a final check out of the site. Alex came in with me and had his Junior Ranger activity sheet with him to show the Ranger on Duty whose sole job is to feign interest when 8 year old kids bring in their Junior Ranger activity sheets.

We drove to the other side of the park.....which for some parks means 5 minutes but the expanse of Joshua Tree meant considerably more then that. We passed Cap Rock which I covered a couple of years ago and what was rumored to the final resting spot of Legendary Psychedelic Cowboy Gram Parsons. I tried to talk th wife into visiting the memorial again but no dice.....seems mothers dont take kindly to the idea of exposing their children to desert memorials honoring acid taking psychedelic cowboys. Some more info on that can be found here.....

First point of order was making it to the top of Keys View. It offer stunning views of the surrounding area as its the highest elevation in the park. The drive up is semi-reminiscent of the drive to Mt Haleakala in Hawaii just not as long or as cold. I make a point to visit this site every trip to joshua tree for whatever reason dating back to the nineties when we made the trip in the back of a pickup truck with a cooler full of beer and a couple of bags of doritos that we used to lure the coyotes closer so some members in our party could take pictures. As we neared the top there were several motorcycles parked around the area and instead of the Mongrels motorcycle gang and I later discovered a group of portuguese/brazilian tourists had driven the area. Wondeful idea if I do say myself.   As we took in the view the cool wind whipped up and I realized that one day this would make the best spot in the park to witness sunset or sunrise.

Off to Skull Rock we went and as we parked and followed the signs it was a bit of a letdown that Skull Rock was only about 50 feet from the parking area and as we made it closer to the rock the less skullish it appeared. We snapped a couple of pictures and decided to follow the Skull Rock trail making our way back off the area into the deep recesses of the park. As we walked through washes and over rocks we came to a huge cliff structure that looked to be about 5 stories I would imagine. We meandered back and forth to find the best spot to climb it and as we made our way up got a chuckle as the large insurmountable cliff was actually the easiest trail and climb of any we had done I kid you not it was almost wheelchair accessible with a large flat gentle upward slope that was 100 yards by 100 yards in area. Even though you were standing on a rocky cliff a couple of hundred feet high standing on the middle of this rocky platform was about as challenging as the Escalator at Macys.  As we made our way to the precipice I viewed down and lost my stomach a bit as did Tomoko. I held Alexs hand and let him peer over the side to which he let out a resounding "Whoa."  This had to be the cliff that the Looney Tunes creators visited when coming up with some of the more creative ways that Wile E  Coyote met his fate. It wasnt quite a Keys View type plunge but certainly rockier and more sheer of drop. Literally as if god created an epically flat expanse of rock and decided to lift one end up a bit for fun.

As we made our way back to the car we lost our bearings a little bit so walked in the general vicinity of the parking area using our ears as our guide picking up the sounds of car engines. As we were 1/2 way back we came across a woman and her 2 children to which I said "were saved!" which was met by slight if not curious smile on her face. She asked about the trails to which we point out the ease of the huge cliff we just walked. Not sure if she was up for that however.

We made our way back to the Van and continued our way through that parks opposite end seeing a couple of bonafide road runners that had ran across the street in front of us. Driving through the middle of the park one really appreciates the expanse of land and the area of coverage that Joshua Tree encompasses. Sharing a Coconut Drink we finally crossed the finish line as it were making one last stop at a Visitor Center and mini museum which also had a trail to the 19 palms oasis. Whats one more trail? Other then being the one area in the middle of the desert that had water coming from earth is was basically a mud puddle surrounded by Palms a littany of june bugs that dive bombed the heads of passers by.

A semi fitting end to our journey it was. We made one last stop at a Big O tire center to get a new rear tire which also gave time to buy the kids a couple of ice creams at the Rite Aid next door. I made small talk with the Big O employees who were talking about a huge rattlesnake that one of the employees had found in his back yard. The manager then asked if he kept the snake as the manager who lived in the area knew how to A)remove the meat from the snake for consumption, B)cutting off the rattle as a souvenier/key chain, and C) how to cut off the head and stuff a tooth pick in the snakes mouth thus forever preserving the snakes head in the open mouthed/striking position.  I thought about asking which red wine and mediterranean style cheese is best served with rattle snake but opted not to test the humor of the yucca valley ex marine auto mechanic.

Our last stop was the Hadleys Produce stand and the Giant Dinosaurs in Palm Springs. We bought some snacks and drinks and made our way back home.

Alex adjusts his show while Dustin monitors the terrain

You've been here....admit it.