Woke up Tuesday at White Tank campground in Joshua Tree National Park and knew I had to make a plan. I wanted to see as much of the accessible park as possible and leave by Friday to avoid the weekend crowd. Also needed a few supplies from town and wanted to stop at the Oasis Visitor Center where headquarters are located and try to locate some ex-Grand Canyon Rangers. Plus I could take advantage of an internet signal in town. So headed to 29 Palms with the intention of returning to the park to stay at Jumbo Rocks campground for three nights as it is centrally located.
I first stopped at Belle camp just down the road. It does have a few more larger sites but is still a small campground with only 18 sites. National Park campgrounds were built when RVs weren’t as popular or large so with tent camping in mind the sites are typically not very accommodating for big units. However, if creative and during mid-week it looks possible to get a pretty good sized unit squeezed between the rocks.
Where the boulder piles are not the landscape is dense and diverse. Creosote bushes seem to be everywhere with cholla cactus mixed in. But it’s the Joshua Trees, icon of the Mojave Desert, that stand the tallest with arms outstretched, thus the name given by early Mormon settlers.
29 Palms is a military town I’m not overly impressed with. But I was able to get groceries, fuel up and be entertained by this begging roadrunner at the propane stop. The owner, also very entertaining, actually stopped in the middle of hooking up the propane tank to feed it and told me he’d watched many generations of this family. I didn’t bother with the “do not feed wildlife” lecture and took advantage of the photo opp.
Returned to the park via a stop at the Oasis Visitor Center which is currently closed for renovations. That could be happening at many parks in preparation for the Park Service Centennial in 2016. A small trailer is being used for sales and information plus a covered tent outside where a Ranger and volunteer were helping people plan their visit. Also wanted to reserve for the Keys Ranch tour but they are booked for two weeks. Have done it before but would have happily done it again. Keep this in mind if visiting.
Once back in the park I appreciated the many paved pull offs and picnic areas to just park and hike, wander into the desert, or clamber on the boulders. I only stopped at a few this day but tried to hit as many as possible over my visit.
Plus I was headed to Jumbo Rocks campground and would have a couple more days to explore. Already at 2:30 the 125 site campground was getting full. There are very few sites that are large and the some of the bigger RVs are literally parked rock to rock. $10/night or less with Park Pass, pit toilets, no water and an amphitheater for weekend campfire programs.
Everywhere I looked there were incredible shapes to be seen. On the above Darth Vader rock, when looked at from a different angle, what in the above image would be on the left, an elephant appeared. Now you know I love elephants, but I was in California. I must be a pareidolia. Are you?
It’s difficult to capture the sculptural vastness of the boulders put together like an awkward puzzle. Stacked precariously and ready to roll. But who can say when. I’m reminded of trying to capture the essence of Grand Canyon in a single view but my mind was truly on overload.
These rock piles began underground eons ago as molten magma called monzogranite. As it cooled and crystallized, cracks formed horizontally and vertically. Chemical weathering caused by groundwater eroded the granite blocks widening cracks and rounding edges eventually eroding the surface soil and leaving these piles exposed.
Pretty easy to get around without strenuous climbing, unless that’s what you desire. The erosion created low angled steps in some places with a natural gritty texture.
I frequently took the easier way winding around boulders through washes where I saw more plants growing in the broken granitic soil. Wandered in a circle keeping the campground to my right so no fear of getting lost. But I could see how easily one could get lost out in these boulders, by choice or not.
Of course I took hundreds of photos but there’s more to come as I continued to explore Joshua Tree National Park.
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