NPS (National Park Services)
National Park Services is a federal organisation with a huge sales and marketing machine. Founded in 1916 it is currently employing over 27.000 people with a 2009 budget of 3 billion dollars. They are doing an outstanding job in preserving and presenting nature for and to the public.
After having spent two nights in the oasis of 29Palms we are ready to visit the next National Park. Joshua Tree (JTNP).
Joshua Tree National Park
As there are several non supported (no water!) campsites, we stock-up on as much water as possible, as we want to stay 1 or maybe 2 nights. After some 3% uphill, we start to see the first JT (Joshua Tree) and around the next corner the plain is suddenly covered with armies of twisted, 2-3-10 armed trees. Totally different from all other parks we have seen so far. We have seen a few isolated JT’s during the past days but not such vast amounts as we see here. At the top of the plateau white boulders protrude from the sandy, granite coloured soil. We are lucky to still find a spot at Belle Camp Ground, perfect set-up around a loop with boulders providing everybody with an undisturbed view of JT’s. These trees can be as old as 500 years, think about the changes they must have seen! Family of yuccas, they have a very large but shallow root system. The Mormons found them to resemble Joshua, beckoning them to the promised land with their outstretched arms.
As it was not too far, we still had time to hike one of the trails and study the desert vegetation more closely before sunset.
It gets dark at 17:00 and although we still see the milky way, it may be the last time we see it so clearly. Since we are getting closser to urbanisation, light pollution and smog will reduce visibility of this vast expanse of sparkling stars. What a quiet place, but with howling coyotes announcing morning glory.
As two different deserts join in JTNP, we use the next day to discover the Mojave part, with brown, dark hills and very sparse vegetation. Hiking the short Cholla Cactus trail in the blazing sun is a strange experience.
How is it possible that they are all clustered and you only see them dense as this in this specific area.
How much fun it was to see Chris from Switzerland again. We met hem briefly at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and what a coincidence to see him here again. Even more fun is that he accepts the invitation to join us at our campsite and that we create a meal with ingredients from our mutual food supplies. Safe travels Christian!
Next day, on our way out, we decide to hike out a few trails and “climb” Ryan mountain.
Here we have the great opportunity to see Bighorn sheep up close!
What a landscape, what a heat, what a treat! At Hidden Valley we meet several people who want to know our story and after hiking another beautiful trail we leave quite late to bike the last stretch. Stocking up on extra water at the exit and checking if we could do wild camping, it appears not to be an option as we do not see a level piece of public land. With some help of the locals we find a campground behind the Mental Physics Retreat Centre.
Silence is golden(?)
An islolated reteat in an area with at least 150 camp sites, bungalows and meeting rooms between old JT’s. Next day we wander between the buildings, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his son and remember we should not say anything to anybody, as the people currently present are on a silent retreat.
Frank does not feel any link with the place or with the concept of a silent retreat, I would not mind to stay here for a week and contemplate on the future. Frank prefers to do this while biking, I am too busy with the surroundings, food and shelter. The vast area of buildings and the whole retreat centre makes us leave only after 11:00. The road we take is a mix between Highway and Country Road.
Very busy fast-moving traffic and remote areas. As it is pitch dark at 17:00 and we don’t want to ride when it is dark we decide to stop at Palm Springs. More by coincidence than planned we end in this rich, cultivated city with it’s design houses and buildings. From the website we read: “Since the 1920’s, visionary modernist architects have designed sleek, modern homes that have embraced the desert environment. The dramatic geographic surroundings of the Coachella Valley inspired a design aesthetic in the middle of the 20th Century now called Desert Modernism.
Notable for its use of glass, clean lines, natural and manufactured resources and indoor/outdoor spaces, it evoked a lifestyle of simple elegance and informality. Influenced by the dictates of desert living and the intense climate, the style grew out of the architects and designer’s adaptive use of inventive materials, modern construction techniques, new (post-war) technologies…and served an enthusiastic and willing clientele”.
As we arrived at the brim of the city by sunset and I biked to the laundry in the dark, I got the feeling that this city was different from all other we visited before, long lanes, lavish green, winding bike paths! Gated communities with soft lights and hidden, shimmering pools. As Jacinto Mountain is looming over the city and you can have access to it with a 360 degree rotating gondola (called Tramway) we decided to stay an other day and at least go to the top of mount Jacinto and stroll through town. What we underestimated was the 6 miles steep uphill to reach the entrance of the Tramway and the fact that as bikers we would have to leave the bikes outside the last parking lot and hike another 1 km. Cars, motorbikes and RV’s could just continue straight up to the gondola, but the guard refused to let us pass. If this mountain would not have called Jacinto we would have turned around! Seems that a lot of work-out bikers would normally bike to the café of the tramway and then race back downhill disturbing visitors….the guard took it literally that he was not allowed to let anybody pass. Still the ride up in the Tramway going from 700m to 2.500 meter in less than 15 minutes with an 360 rotating view was amazing.
Also seeing Palm Spring from above, seeing the city eating away at the desert is difficult to describe. Having been in nature for such a long time and now seeing urbanisation swallow the empty space, that may not even be suitable to support large numbers of people living here is upsetting us. We realise we are part of this consumption mentality as much as anybody else, although we hope our footprint is smaller by biking.Going down we absorb the change from alpine vegitation to dessert and meet a wonderful group of fun friends who soon will also encounter on a long bike ride, trained as they are it will be easy peasy! thanks for the fun! Terry, Lou , Marion, Marcel , Rachelle and Jason.
Biking through Palm Springs we can admire the desert modernism and enjoy the benefits of urbanisation: a perfect Italian Gelato and musea visits!
Next day we leave with a few drops of rain (at 8:15), normally Palm Springs receives 6 inches per year. After a few miles and a chat with two retired professional races we face the worst headwinds and a 30 minutes downpour.
We now understand why they have here all those windmills exactly here. Seems they provide energy for LA. At one moment the sidewinds are so strong we decide to push as we are afraid to be blown from the overpass.
Most of the remaining of the day we follow the old highway which runs parallel with the Interstate (restricted for bicyclists). First highrise after 5 months USA… hotel with casino. And more diners!
We planned an “off Highway” loop to Banning, but as this runs through an Indian reservation (Morongo) we are not allowed to take this route and need to find an other way. We finally find a KOA campsite and again it amazes us that a lot of people can’t light a proper fire but they still want to build campfires, resulting in smoke in and around our tent.
Next day shows a complete weather change. Tailwind and sun! We cover quite some miles and enter an area which is totally urbanised or private land, doing a small detour to bike trough Sant Jacinto.
No hotel/motels/campsites here, so we need to keep on peddling as we don’t feel that we can wild camp any longer. One remarkable thing: the more expensive campsites, the bigger shinier RVS, the less people will say anything or even reply to our greetings. Does Frank look so scary with his beard?
Find out in our next blog about our visit to my cousin & his family. They moved from Belgium to South LA 10 years ago!