Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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Sunrise just south of the Joshua Tree National Park border I got up at 6am this morning, after waking up at what seemed like thirty-minute intervals for the past few hours. The sun wasn't up yet, obviously, but the the eastern sun was already taking on a red glow. It wouldn't be one of those sunrises that bathes everything in a golden light - there were hazy clouds low in the sky - but at least I'd try to get a few shots of the pre-dawn sky, as well as the sunrise itself.

After the sun rose and confirmed my suspicions, I got in the car and headed north. I didn't stop at the flower beds, owing to the lack of aforementioned golden light - any picture I'd take would be just another version of the ones I got the previous evening, except with more boring light. So I pressed on, driving between 35mph and 45mph (the speed limit varies) on Pinto Basin Road until reaching Cholla Cactus Garden. I'd already walked through this patch of Cholla cacti at least twice before, but it's still a nice distraction from the road. The sun cooperated, too; so it was a worthwhile stop.

When reaching the first intersection of paved roads, I was left with a choice - further explore Joshua Tree, or exit the park? I chose the former, and headed towards Hidden Valley. I hit unpaved roads, and stopped briefly at the trailhead at the back of Barker Dam Loop. I completed yesterday's trip report, and hiked out for a short while but didn't see much that stroke my fancy. As such, it was back to the car. At the end of Queen Valley, there was a trailhead. Intrigued (since I hadn't heard anything about it in the park brochures) I got out, and quickly decided on doing the Pine City trail. It would be a 1.1 mile (one-way) hike apparently, so I thought I'd better take some water and other gear. (You never know.)

A canyon descending to North Entrance Station I'm not sure where I hiked - it might have been the aforementioned trail, but after 1.1 miles I didn't see anything. After about 1.5 miles, I saw some stones and pines, and that may have been the intended destination. The trail still continued, so I decided to follow it for another half-mile to the top of of a ridge. From here, according to the trailhead panel, a trail (very much unmaintained, I suppose) would descend into a canyon that led to North Entrance Station. Maybe a bit too backcountry for me. So I turned around after two miles, and was back at the car after a mere 1 hour 20 minutes. The elevation change had only been 300 feet on this hike.

I didn't know what else to do in the park - most other easily accessible spots I'd already been to - so I decided to exit but still visit 49 Palms that can be reached from Highway 62 outside the park. There were quite a few cars parked at the trailhead - quite normal considering it was a public holiday. The hike to Fortynine Palms Oasis would be 1.5 miles one-way, so once more I took some drinks and stuff. (Ever since my small fall last year, I'm taking a full first-aid kit.) While it was only in the high Sixties, the sun was still out, or only masked by a thin layer of clouds, so it still seemed quite warm. I was in t-shirt and shorts. The hike was pretty leisurely, even if other hikers had more trouble. Once I arrived at the oasis, I still scrambled around some boulders to get a better view of the palms, and then returned the way I'd come, covering 3 miles and 700 vertical feet in an hour and 15 minutes.

After the hike, it was about time for lunch, so I stopped at the Burger King in Twentynine Palms for a Bacon and Cheese Whopper meal. I also fueled up - while my tank was still more than half full, I wouldn't be seeing too many gas stations on the next part of my trip, and those that I did see would without a doubt be more expensive.

I drove North, to Amboy (where I didn't stop) and then into Mojave National Preserve. Here, the first marked road was the one to Kelso Dunes, so that's where I went. After driving the unpaved access road for three miles I stopped at the trailhead. The panel informed me that the dunes were 500 feet high, but didn't mention how many miles it was to reach the highest one. It looked very much doable, and the many footprints attested to the fact that many had at least tried.

On the foot trail to Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve So I set off, feeling pretty warm in the afternoon sun. Oddly enough, I was pretty thirsty at first, but then didn't crave any fluids after that (ultimately returning to the car with half a bottle of water left). But first, my task was to follow the foot steps of previous hikers, one step after another; trying not to slide back too much on the uphill parts. While I was hiking up, a group of five people slid down the ridge close to the top of the dunes. The dunes are supposed to make a booming sound when someone slides down, and I can attest to that now; although all things considered it's not all that spectacular.

I reached the top in slightly less than 45 minutes. I didn't spend too much time there - the sun was still beating down, but not from an angle that would have been conductive for good photos. I turned around, opting not to slide down but rather to take the same way down than I'd gone up on (via the ridge on the right side) and arrived back at the car after one hour 20. The elevation change had indeed been 500 feet, and the round-trip distance was almost 3 miles.

Once at the car, I still had what I estimated at 30-45 minutes of sunlight left - too much to do nothing, too little to do much. I drove to the end of the Kelso Dunes road, where I found what looked like a suitable camp site, and then took some pictures with a few flowers in the foreground and the main dune in the background. Then, I thought I'd still try and drive on, but after just a mile or two, I decided that it wasn't worth the hassle; and that I should rather stay somewhere where I knew there was a decent place to spend the night. Just before turning around, I saw a coyote cross the road. I rolled along next to it for a bit, then it crossed the road again and I let it go.

My primitive camp site in sight of Kelso Sand Dunes, just after sunset Once back at the camp site, I took some more pictures of the dunes; but once more I wouldn't get the optimal sunset colors because there was a band of low clouds hanging over the mountains in the direction of the sunset. The colors fifteen minutes before the sunset weren't that bad however, so I'm not complaining. I then spent the next 30 to 45 minutes writing this day's trip report, and downloading the pictures to my portable hard drive and laptop. Since that still only puts me at around 6pm, I expect to go to sleep within the next hour; since I have not much else to do.

Miles driven: 175mi (282km)

Accommodation: Primitive camping near Kelso Sand Dunes (Mojave National Preserve): $0.00

Written Monday, February 18th 2008 at my primitive camp site near Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve; while listening to Pink Floyd&amp;#39;s The Wall on the laptop