We spent a leisurely morning at Joshua Tree. We awoke in the blue pre-dawn light, packed up the camp, made coffee and ate a few granola bars. We were treated to another long and writhing desert sunrise, and once the sun topped the eastern horizon the temperature started to rise. With the ranger station empty for the summer, we drove the car down and refilled our water jugs, and siphoned off as much Park Service electricity as we could from the external outlets. We huddled in the remaining coolness lingering in the shadows, but it was clear that it would be another hot day.
We had a close encounter with a black-tailed jackrabbit. He was so long and spare, with his bones so well defined beneath his hide that he looked more like a tiny deer than a rodent. His alien eyes seemed to bulge from his head. We got within a couple of yards from him, and he froze, probably hoping that we wouldn’t be able to see him if he held still. This is my second time seeing a jackrabbit. They’re different creatures entirely from the woodland rabbits we have here; they’re strong, angular creatures, with huge thumpers and enormous ears. They are hardy and canny, as I imagine any herbivore must be in a desert.
We left the Black Rock Canyon campground, and had to go back briefly through town to get to the main road through the park. The section of town we had to go through was a rather ritzy neighborhood full of large houses, careful landscaping, and huge RVs. When you looked down the hill from where we were, you could see the bulk of the town of Joshua Tree; trailers glinting in the distance.
Joshua Tree National Park is an amazing place. It is home to the country’s two largest joshua tree forests, and it is littered with heaps of rocks… these formations are pieces of cooled magma from an ancient volcano; as the less stubborn patches of earth eroded away, these islands of stone were left standing. Over the years, the freezing and thawing of the desert has cracked the stone, sending some of it tumbling to the desert floor and creating vast boulder fields. You can’t look at one of those automobile-sized stones and not think, what it must have been like to see that crack away and fall to the ground?
Up close, the surfaces of these stones are a mosaic of different types of minerals, the large crystal formation typical of the slow cooling of magma underground after the extinction of a volcano. With all of the stone and the joshua trees, the place feels very ancient. It’s not difficult to imagine dinosaurs roaming through the park.
Unfortunately we had to turn back about halfway through the park… the road was closed due to flooding.
I had anticipated enough time on the next leg of our trip to do some good sight-seeing, but the detour around Joshua Tree National Park would cost us at least a couple of hours. We headed west, to Palm Springs, and then south and east through Indio and Coachella. We saw a massive wind farm on the way south, and got out to take a look.
I love these wind farms. The blades of the windmills are so huge, but with the windmills themselves being so big and usually so far away, it’s difficult to understand the scale. They look graceful, spinning slowly, all painted white. This farm had the windmills at two different heights, which seemed very practical to me.
We stopped in Coachella at a place called Andy’s No 5 for burgers. The place appeared to be an independently owned fast food joint, and they had a chilli burger on the menu. I asked if it was a green chili burger, and the woman behind the counter shook her head regretfully and said, “no, just regular chili.”
I got the bacon cheeseburger instead, and I have to say that although my quest for a good green chili burger, a burger like I had had in Seligman, AZ, was going to go unfulfilled, it was probably one of the best fast food burgers I’d ever had. The fries were crisp and delicious, and most importantly, it was air conditioned.
In Coachella, it was a hundred and five degrees. In case you’ve never experienced this kind of heat, this is hot enough that it’s kind of fun to go outside just to have the opportunity to go back to the air conditioned refuge of the restaurant. It’s so hot that it hurt my eyes. Not the internal kind of hurting that can be caused by strain or very bright light, but it caused pain on the surface of the eye itself. It’s the same feeling you get when you feel the blast of heat from opening the oven, except all the time, all over.
It’s so hot, in fact, that we were having some trouble keeping the cameras working correctly. This was a source of some concern, since the photography was the primary reason that we’d made the trip. Phil made a call to a hotel located in Salton City, CA, and found a place that would provide air conditioned rooms for the night. Fifty dollars each. They hadn’t planned to open until fall, the summer heat being too intense for most of the tourism, but he said he would open early for us.
We continued south on 86, looking out the window at date farms without end. Then, to the left, a band of blue appeared… I consulted a map and discovered that it was the Salton Sea itself, the goal of our little adventure. I felt a mix of wonder and trepidation just looking at it. All of the preparation, the research, the daydreaming… it had all culminated in this, and it still seemed like so much a mystery to me.