Ain’t no heaven, say there ain’t no burnin’ hell Where I’m goin’ when I die can’t nobody tell. —Son House, “My Black Mama, Part One,” 1930
Everyone has had a good night’s sleep and we are not jet-lagged. We head out to have a look at the Joshua Tree township. We knew that it did not have a lot of attractions when we booked our stay, but it is a great launching place for today’s tour and for starting tomorrow’s long road trip. We found a happening coffee shop and made the order. Hoff’s order confused the young girl as he asked her for an extra shot, she said sir the coffee you ordered already has four shots! It is a little chilly this morning, but the sky is a bright blue. We did not realize that there was a Saturday fresh food market rocking the town every weekend. I got a punnet of the biggest strawberries I have ever seen. Joshua Tree Town has a bit of a hippy feel to it. Fantastic bookshop and Visitor’s Center (American spelling I am going to stick with that spelling to keep you in the mood). I had a nice email from my N’awlins buddy Jeff who has offered to pick us up from the airport, so I had to let him know we were driving over from Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
There is a guy selling all types of minerals, rocks, gems, and meteorites. He proudly showed us his most expensive item for sale – a Lightning Ridge Opal for $ 4000 USD.
We hit the road again going back to Palm Desert which is about an hour’s drive. From here we will hitch up with the Tour Company that is taking us on a four-wheel drive through the Joshua Tree National Park. Palm Desert is the home of many retirees and has a number of large, gated communities.
Bernie is driving like a local now and has even started overtaking vehicles. We sure miss our local radio RRR and PBS as the commercial radio that is available is terrible.
The countryside is sensational, desert, yuccas, and mountains still snow-capped.
On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can’t remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La la la la la la…
Oops, we just worked out we are going the wrong way! The speed limit is 55 miles P/H and is aircraft enforced whatever that means. The Joshua Trees are blooming this time of year (early Spring) and so are the wildflowers. Bernie has located a USB stick he prepared, and we are blasting Steely Dan, the Doors, the Eagles, and Neil Young.
It is 11:50 and we have just hit the turn-off to Palm Desert. Other road turn-offs are Frank Sinatra Drive, Gene Autry Trail, and Bob Hope Drive. We need a quick lunch before the tour starts at 12:45. Pulled into JT’s Diner. My choice was pork chops and eggs with a side of potatoes, and I somehow (unbeknown) had a side of Pancakes.
We scoffed the food down and made the pickup point only 2 minutes late.
We are introduced to Will who will be our Tour Guide. The first thing we do is use their QR code to accept the Terms and Conditions and take a selfie of ourselves to upload to complete the sign-in. I think the photo is needed to confirm any fatalities as this is going to be a hairy ride.
Will asked if we preferred the enclosed off-road vehicle he was in or if we would prefer an open type of safari off-road 4-wheel drive. We all agreed on the open back. It was just a short trip back to the company’s depot to swap vehicles over. Will is a very friendly guy, big and strong looking. He told us a fair bit about himself. He is married to a French lady; he also has a Native American background. Had a few different jobs over the years. A prison corrections officer and a parole officer are just two. He is now semi-retired and drives for the tour company on weekends.
Will explains that the tour is going to take us through two different desert ecosystems. First, we will go through the Sonora Desert and then through to the Mojave Desert. To get to the four-wheel drive entrance we drove on a sealed road for about 20 minutes. Will is already pointing out unique desert flora. He also directs our attention to what is known as the San Andreas fault (824 miles long) which runs all the way to San Francisco, in truth it is two plates that are moving against each other, the Pacific Plate and the Atlantic Plate. Another big earthquake will occur and is in fact more than 100 years overdue! Way off in the distance, we can see a bluish tinge named the Salton Sea, the largest free-standing area of water in California. As can be gathered by its name it is a Salt Lake. Also visible are patches of greenery in some of the desert areas we will be travelling through. The whole valley was covered in water some time back and now the sunken water bubbles through splits in the rocks creating a little oasis that supports the Californian Palm.
We enter the off-road track from the sealed Berdoo Canyon Road which is suitable for 4-wheel drives with high clearance. Will tells us that we are going to get pretty shaken up. I am riding up front and Wendy, Bernie, and Hoff are strapped in the open back. Not long after going off-road, Will tells us not to be alarmed if we see a lot of people brandishing firearms (guns and rifles). Families and friends come out and set up some shade and targets and fire away at their will. Will said to make sure we wave to everyone to be on the safe side!
We are hoping to see some of the local critters. Mountain Lions are still around the area. We have already spotted (well Will did) a Red Tail Hawk being buzzed by a Raven. Ravens, we are told are among the smartest birds in the world.
We are now entering the Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Trees are in reality not a tree but belong to the Yucca family. They can live up to 300 years and grow as tall as a medium-sized tree, there is a fascinating history of how they were named. To save me typing the full story here is a link to read at your leisure Joshua Trees – Joshua Tree National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
Will was not kidding when he said it was going to be a bumpy ride. The guys in the back are hanging on for dear life. The road in some areas is more rock than the road. In some parts, the road is enclosed with huge rock formations on either side. We are doing the tour at the right time as many of the various wildflowers and cacti are blooming, we stop off at an old mountain lion den and are told to look out for Nelson Big Horn sheep which make a nice meal for the lion,
Will stops regularly to point out different cacti and yuccas and surprisingly moss growing on the side of some of the formations. We stop off at Jumbo Rocks (that is their name) and Split Rocks for some photo opportunities. Will took a photo of all of us in front of one of the biggest and oldest Joshua Trees in the park.
We now start descending down into the valley and you can feel the temperature drop where. There are two large extinct volcanic cinder cones off in the distance. One of the rock formations has a small hollowed-out hole that was used to crush seeds etc much like a mortar and pestle
One of the canyons we drive past is called the Hall of Horrors. Worth a read here to get an idea of the area How to Hike the Hall of Horrors | Joshua Tree National Park – Earth Trekkers
We made a stop at cap rock where Will told us this is the place where Gram Parsons’s body was bought to be burnt’. There is no signage of this failed cremation (for obvious reasons). Will is also a Gram Parsons fan and rattled off his favorite songs. As we get back onto a sealed road the traffic is back. There are a lot of rock climbers doing their thing. We head towards the park exit having done a full loop. Our tour was supposed to be three hours but as Will said at the start, he loves doing the tours, and if he gets the feeling his tour party is having a good time he will stay out longer. We were out in the park for at least five plus hours. Wow, how good is that?
We exited near the old part of Joshua Tree Town where Will explained that when he was a parole officer back in the 90’s this was the meth capital of California, his job was an early version of Breaking Bad. Not sure how the subject came about but Will has told us that if a skunk spays your dog and you can’t get rid of the smell then bathe the dog in Tomato Juice.
We were back home just after 7. Another long day but what a ripper.
5 thoughts on “Day Two – The Last Hurrah”
Great travel log Rob,loving it
Thanks Puddles. Sure is a new experience
The Joshua Tree looks amazing.
I would be worrying about the families with their guns and targets.
Yeah, our tour guy was a great guy but he was very much in favor of their Second Amendment. We have learned not to talk politics, religion and gun control.
So much for Joshua Tree having “a lot of attractions”. I’m guessing that the only thing this town has going for it is its proximity to the interstate.