How Did We Misjudge This Much?

It’s very early Thanksgiving morning, and I’m on the sofa trying to write a post about this beautiful national park I’m in (Joshua Tree), without having gone on a single hike in it.

My photos are from one drive we took through the southern part of the park, like a couple of n00bs.

What happened?

It’s Cold and Windy!

After our day of travel and our day of errands, we set out into the park for a day of hiking. First though, Tracy cleaned the dust off the solar panels on top of the Airstream and I walked Banjo. Our conclusion: it’ll be a warm day! Let’s leave our outer fleeces and jackets behind! Yeah, that’s the way to hike like pros.

Um, no. We drove into the south entrance of the park and stopped at the Cottonwood visitor center to refill our water tanks, and we realized we’d risen in elevation, the wind had picked up, and it’s freaking cold outside.

52 degrees F isn’t cold to you winter people, but we had so wisely left our layers back at the trailer so we’re wearing not nearly enough. Add to that that Tracy got entirely wet while filling the tanks, and we decided to drive through the park instead.

It’s Crowded

But can we stop at the vantage points and trailheads to read signs and see sights? Um, no on that one as well, because the whole rest of the world has decided to visit this park over Thanksgiving break.

It had been since the Tetons that we’d had to wake up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds to trailhead parking lots just so we could park and hike, and I’d forgotten what that was like. People, people, everywhere. Waiting in their cars for the few parking spaces. Parking on the side of the narrow road. Walking along the narrow road. Scrambling over rocks and walking their dogs (very illegally) on paths.

So we just drove past all the information points and looked out the windows.

I haven’t mentioned the cool-as-can-be couple we met at Anza-Borrego (or the fact that we both found we’d parked our Airstreams in the infield of an ATV rally, but that’s a different story). This story’s about the fact that this couple had spent all of last month here at Joshua Tree, so they gave us good advice about where to camp and told us how much they’d enjoyed backcountry hiking here.

What they didn’t mention (until after we texted each other on the pitiful drive through the park) is that November is the crowded season at Joshua Tree (second only to spring in bloom). Also, they loved it here because they’re hard-core hikers, excited to go off trail and spend all day climbing mountains and such.

There’s nothing like fitter, more enthusiastic Airstreamers to make a person feel inadequate! Especially when that person is holed up in her trailer with the wind rocking it back and forth and no hope for a hike until maybe the weekend, when who knows how bad the crowds will be.

What We Did Learn

That the Mojave Desert meets the Sonoran Desert here at Joshua Tree, and their two ecosystems overlap for an area. The Mojave is at a higher elevation, with bare rocks like we’ve seen at Alabama Hills and lots of yukka, including the namesake tree. The Colorado Desert, which is this part of the Sonoran, is lower, with the creosote bushes and ocotillo trees and cholla cactus we’ve seen at Anza-Borrego.

We’ll get out there sometime, when the wind dies down and we outwit the tourists. In the meantime, we have a Thanksgiving meal to cook and enjoy in our cozy kitchen, plus a few special beers with which we’ll celebrate what we’re thankful for. Which includes quite a lot.