While we continue to mask, socially distance from others, wash our hands, work from home, and go months on end without gathering with friends or family, I cannot entirely live in a sterile hole. Working for a health care organization and helping to communicate all things COVID-19 to our doctors, nursing staff, pharmacists, admin teams, patients, and more, I take this pandemic seriously and try to do my part in reducing our risk and the risk we pose to others.
That said, there are some risks we’ve been willing to take – our roadtrip to hike in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, our anniversary trip to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, our weekend hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park. We’ve come into ‘unnecessary’ contact with people on the trail during all of these adventures, but we’ve also been outdoors, masked, and trying to keep our distance. It remains an imperfect balancing act.
To that end, while we didn’t gather with anyone during the holidays, we decided to stick with our pre-existing plans to start off 2021 outdoors and as removed from other people as possible, hiking in some new-to-us national parks.
Our January adventure included spending three days in Joshua Tree National Park, hiking during the day and staying in a private camper in the evenings. We packed food and water, eating lunch in the car during the day and dinner in the camper at night, so we could minimize interacting with others and maximize our time in the park. It was great seeing the sunshine, and it was even better NOT seeing any poisonous snakes, spiders, or scorpions.
Here’s a quick look at our first day in the park, which we primarily spent on the road with a few brief stops to do some shorter hikes.
Day 1 Itinerary: Cottonwood to 29 Palms
We entered the park from the south entrance at Cottonwood, using the opportunity to activate the Annual National Park Pass I received from my mother-in-law for Christmas (thank you, Ann!) and fill our water bottles before heading in.
As we were getting organized in the visitor center parking lot, a series of antique cars pulled in and parked across from us. It was very cool to see them in such good condition — Brian was particularly enamored by the fellow in the open-top car — and what a fun way to explore the park!
The advantage of driving through the park from the southeast to the northeast is that you get to experience the intersection of two deserts – the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. It was interesting to see the transition from one to the other.
We made a brief stop at the Cholla Cactus Garden, which literally sits in the ‘transition zone’ of the two deserts, to walk a short and easy trail through the cactus field.
Brian was having flashbacks to when he was pushed into a cactus during a garden tour we did in Marrakesh, Morocco — we learned our lesson from that experience, which left us plucking cactus needles from his arm for days — and stayed in the middle of the trail and far away from the plants we were admiring.
We spent a little more time hiking to Arch Rock than intended because — despite stopping to take a photo of the sign! — I led us down the Back Country Trail instead of the Arch Rock trail. We soon discovered we were heading the wrong way and turned around — the silver lining was that our mishap led us to our first Joshua trees!
Back on the Arch Rock trail, which was a little busier, we quickly came to the loop around the rocks, including the aptly named Arch Rock. We stayed for a few photos but there were quite a few people climbing around on the rocks so we headed back to our car to continue on our drive.
Our last stop was our longest hike — the Split Rock loop trail, which is 2.5 miles roundtrip with a very modest 150 feet of gain. The sun was starting to head for the horizon so we moved through pretty quickly, realizing the hike should be called split ‘rocks’ given most of the rocks in this area fit the description.
We learned two new things: first, Brian accurately identifying juniper berries, which we don’t believe we’ve ever seen in the wild. They were light blue and all along the trail — apparently coyotes and birds will eat them as a water source but they are bitter/not a preferred food.
Second: many of the rock formations had relatively straight, raised ‘lines’ running through them that we learned are called dikes. These are sheets of rock that form in a fracture of existing rock, either from magma flowing into that fracture or sediment filling that pre-existing crack. We spotted them all over once we knew what they were!
Although we spent much of it in the car and camper, it was a great first day exploring this new-to-us park that’s long been on my list.