In our first year of full-time living in our motor home we enjoyed a number of deserts in California. Since then we have visited deserts in other areas and always enjoyed the experience. Having taught school all my life, I had never had the privilege of traveling extensively in the cooler months of the year. This, it occurred to me, was the reason I had never spent time in any desert.
Our first real desert experience was Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs. We stayed in Indio, CA, for a week in early March while exploring the southern part of Joshua Tree. We hiked to several oasis and gold mine sites enjoying exploring the unique terrain and identifying various kinds of cactus. Following that week we had a meeting in San Diego and spent a week there. When we left San Diego we decided we had to see the rest of Joshua Tree so we headed north to Twentynine Palms.
Twentynine Palms is the "home town" of the U.S. Marine Corps Desert Warfare School and a more appropriate place couldn't be found. The Marine Corps Base is just north of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park. We stayed at Twentynine Palms RV Resort, which offered a free round of golf per person per day at the adjacent golf course. They even had tennis courts, though they weren't well cared for, they were playable. We took advantage of all those resources as well as the national park. We stayed for two weeks before departing there for our next desert.
While at Twentynine Palms we explored one of the most spectacular oasis I have ever seen. Just west of town is Fortynine Palms Canyon. The hike from the parking lot takes you up and over a ridge and then down into the canyon. Along the way there is a spectacular array of cactus. As you approach the canyon, you see the palm trees around the oasis. They stand as a glaring patch of green against a backdrop of desert brown. There at their base flows a spring that supports a whole living community. In the dead fronds hanging from the palms a world of birds live. There is a constant coming and going and a cacophony of chirping comes from within the dead foliage that most homeowners trim from their palm trees. We rock hopped around the pools of water and enjoyed the view before returning to the car, the setting sun lighting our way.
Our most extensive hiking experience in Joshua Tree was the seven-mile loop at Lost Horse Mine. We followed the trail from one gold mine to another. There is a large stamping mill at Lost Horse Mine while the rest of the mine sites along the way were mostly holes (deep foreboding holes) in the ground. A few had remnants of the equipment used for mining and at one site we enjoyed the sight of the old rusted box springs of a bed in the corner of the remains of an old mining shack. Most of the miners lived in tents so this was likely the mine owner or superintendent's home. The last mile of the hike was the toughest, slogging our way through the sandy bottom of a dry creek back to the parking lot.
We also enjoyed climbing over large granite boulders at Jumbo Rocks Campground. This same granite formation provides some excellent rock climbing experiences in the northwestern part of the park. We saw hundreds of climbers out scaling the sheer faces of rock. There are numerous schools that will take you out here so you can learn the skill of rock climbing. We passed on that!
The Cholla (Teddy Bear) Cactus Garden has a spectacular assemblage of Teddy Bear Cactus. These when viewed at sunset are as beautiful as they are painful! The sun shining through the thousands of slender spines catch sunlight forming a halo around the cactus. From Salton View you can look out on the Salton Sea and the area around Palm Springs, California. You are also looking out at the southern end of the San Andreas Fault. This was one of our last stops before leaving Joshua Tree National Park.