I spent last night and the full day today in Joshua Tree National Park, which is a place where I usually manage at least one odd experience per visit. The first time I came here was while driving cross-country back in 1997, and at an out-of-the-way trail deep in the park I ran into one of my teammates from the school track team who just happened to be on his way to the Rose Bowl. On a more recent visit I was drifting off to sleep but looked up just in time to see a bobcat perfectly outlined in the moonlight. The strangest experience I’ve had here was on yet another visit while out for a run — during the run two coyotes decided to trot along with me, and kept pace with me about twenty feet to my left for a short time.
Today I roamed all over the park, and on one remote trail noticed what looked like an abandoned mine up on a hill. While scrambling up the rocks towards the entrance I heard a rattling noise that few people will ever hear, but most people would immediately recognize; the snake was only about four feet long, but he was stretched across the trail perhaps six feet ahead of me. Being the genius that I am I took a step closer, at which point his rattle went into overdrive while he slowly slithered off into some nearby rocks. Yet another memorable moment to add to the list.
For no particular reason I woke up at 5:00 this morning, but that turned out to be a very good thing as the moon had set and the stars were blazing across the desert sky. I had the park all to myself as I roamed around snapping photos of the Joshua trees against the stars, then took a few more pictures as the sun was rising. Later, while hiking through one of the washes in the park I heard a pack of coyotes howling nearby, but couldn’t find them when I went to investigate and had to instead settle for sitting on a rock outcropping and enjoying the stillness. After a bit more hiking through a canyon near Cottonwood Oasis it was getting really warm, and with shade being a scarce commodity I decided to head home for a nap, which I shall now take.
Set off this afternoon to get some food at the grocery store, and instead ended up in Joshua Tree National Park after a side trip through the mountains of the Los Angeles National Forest. It’s been waaaaay too long since I took one of these trips.
I needed to get away from the city, and while Death Valley would have been nice the twelve-hour roundtrip wasn’t terribly appealing. The secondary option was Joshua Tree National Park, which is also a nice place and one that requires about half as much driving. After arriving late in the day I was able to enjoy the beginnings of dusk before setting off on my daily run. Six miles along a dirt road turned out to be amazingly tough when I realized that for the first half of the run I’d been on a gradual downhill with a tremendous wind at my back. The return trip was definitely not an enjoyable experience. Despite the difficulty of pushing uphill through wind it was nice not to have to run on a treadmill, and in addition to the scenery I also briefly enjoyed the company of two coyotes.
After I finished running it was fairly dark, and I was immediately reminded why I love to come to the desert to relax — the silhouettes of the joshua trees stood out crisply against the millions of stars that filled the sky. Palm Springs to the south is keeping the night from being perfectly clear, but I can still pick out every constellation that my dad ever taught me during our childhood camping trips in Maine. It’s no wonder that ancient people picked out patterns in the night sky — with stars this vivid it’s impossible not to let your imagination begin drawing lines from point to point. The desert’s other surprise was a bobcat that crossed the road in front of me while I was looking for a camping spot — first time I’ve ever seen one in the wild.