Place: Joshua Tree National Park, California
Coordinates: 33.73692, -115.81019
Length: 7 miles in and out
Our desert tour was nearing its end. The weather, which was very cold and even stormy when we started, has gradually warmed up. After our tour of Hidden Valley, my friend announced that it had warmed up enough for us to go camping. So we spent the night at the Cottonwood Campground, at the south part of the park. We were lucky - it was a moonless (and cloudless) night and we had a great time trying to make out all the constellations we could see. A full starry night is a rare treat for me. I hardly get to see stars in the light-polluted and murky-aired Bay Area.
After a blissfully quiet night we packed our gear and headed to the Lost Palms Oasis trailhead.
|Palms and poplars at the Cottonwood Oasis: the Lost Palms trailhead.|
|Mojave Yucca, budding. (Yucca schidigera)|
The trail begins up a shallow wash and, passing on the second chance to go up Mastodon Peak, it continues on a high plateau.
There are no Joshua trees in this part of the park. There are, however, plenty of large ocotillo bushes all over the place. Perfectly adapted to the heat and aridity with their tiny, seasonal leaves and their large, ominous thorns, they send their spiraling, non-branching branches upward, reaching for the cloudless big blue.
We were there a month too early to see the ocotillo in bloom. We did, however, fond one ephemeral ocotillo in a different locale in the park that was blooming. Bright red blossoms, like hand-held torches. Here's a photo of that early-blooming ocotillo:
|Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). Photo taken at the Ocotillo Patch, Joshua Tree NP|
Some of these rocks really enticed our imagination:
|Blazing Star (Mentzelia albicaulis)|
|A ground photo from a standing person's height. Can you see the plowers?|
|Mojave Desert Star (Monoptilon belloides)|
|Wallace's Wooly Daisy (Eriophyllum wallacei)|
|A sample of the Mojave plant community and its humble beauty.|
At that point the temperature got high enough and we were worked out enough to have welcomed the shade of the junipers that grew along the wash.
|California Juniper (Juniperus californica)|
|A view of Salton Sea and the Santa Rosa Mountains|
We started down, slowly and carefully. Almost immediately my friend kept with delight: right before us were flowers so conspicuous and so pretty that we stopped for a good long while and photographed them from every possible direction. My friend, who was somewhat disappointed of the weak bloom we have encountered in the past week was finally satisfied: she has found her 'wow!' flower.
|Scarlet Milkvetch (Astragalus coccineus)|
It was all downhill from there: straight to the Lost Palms Oasis.
I suppose there are hikers who settle for gazing at the saught-after palms from the height of the cliff. The descend into the oasis is steep and narrow and, although short, is the most difficult part of the hike.
What awaits below, though, is worth every drop of sweat. The Lost Palms Oasis is home to the largest grove of California fan palms within Joshua Tree National Park.
|California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera)|
Wherever there's water, there's life. My friend and I, hot from the hike, sat down in the shade and appreciated the birds.
The day turned really hot by then. We made our way slowly up to the trail and headed west back to Cottonwood.
|Perfect camouflage: a Western Zebra-tailed lizard on the gravel|
We finished our hike and drove quickly to Cottonwood ranger station to report that ill-prepared group. I guess they eventually did turn back since we didn't hear of any disasters in the news later that night.
I bring this story here as a warning and an example. The leading cause of fatality in desert hikes is heat stroke. Anyone going on a desert hike should be wearing sun protection, carrying plenty of water and pacing the hike according to the time and ability. With adequate planning, this trail is a true treasure for hikers and desert lovers.
Many thanks to my friend עננת for identifying the plants and lizard. And an extra-special huge Huge thanks to her for this big desert trip and for that special time of us together! Can't wait till we get to do that again :-)