Day 2 (May 18, 2019 – Joshua Tree National Park, California): “Deteriorating Conditions”
It was about 6:15am when I awoke. It was cold and my back was quite sore.
I guess I just wasn’t that used to camping and sleeping on the ground anymore. So I felt like it wasn’t all that much a restful night considering I was kind of tossing and turning a bit to try to improve my comfort level, but to no avail.
As I had to get up to pee a bunch of times overnight (at least three or four times at around 3 hours apart), the full moon was so bright that I didn’t even need to use a flashlight to walk over to the restroom.
As a result, as expected, there was no shot at seeing the brilliance of the night sky like that magical night back in mid-August.
The whole time, we kept looking over at site 29 to see if those folks would vacate sooner rather than later.
But when 8:30am rolled around, their car disappeared but their campsite was still there! That wasn’t good.
So much for my hopes of checking out Palm Springs on this day, then spending the afternoon back in Joshua Tree.
We eventually headed to the visitor center to pay the $30 vehicle fee even though no one was checking for them it seemed down at the Cottonwood Campground. In fact, there wasn’t even a southern entrance gate just like there wasn’t one back in mid-August of last year.
But we figured to do the right thing and also inquire about whether we could keep our site 28 and give site 29 to whoever was going to replace us at 28. But alas, that wasn’t meant to be as it was all coordinated through recreation.gov.
One frustrating thing that Julie and I noticed back at the Cottonwood Springs camp was that were were lots of no shows. I guess the $20 campsite fee wasn’t expensive enough to deter people from snagging spots then being a no show. The cancellation fee was $10. So that sucked.
We eventually chatted with the two guys at site 29 and told them our situation. They said that they were vacating soon so we could wait it out instead of doing a hike then coming back (though it would have been cutting it quite close to our 12pm checkout time).
So it wouldn’t be until about 9:45pm when we finally cleared out our old camp and moved our stuff over to the new camp at 29. At least that site seemed to be a lot more spacious, but it sucked that we had to wait for so long and to go through the time-consuming task of getting set up again.
With such a late start to the day, it wouldn’t be until well after 10am when we finally decided to head down to the Cottonwood Springs oasis just to check out some fan palms. But since it was only a short stroll, I knew it wouldn’t take long, and we could head back up to camp to have lunch.
Then, we’d punt White Tank and Skull Rock and the other sights we were intending to see in Joshua Tree for later this afternoon.
But it really felt like inertia begets inertia, and so far, we really had nothing to show for our time in Joshua Tree thus far.
So we briefly checked out the fan palms, and the kids weren’t too keen on checking them out citing boredom. But we did checkout the wookie-looking trees as well as a mortar stone that the Cahuilla Tribe used to use to ground nuts into flour.
Indeed, by about 11:30am, we had returned to camp. I didn’t bother doing Mastodon Peak, especially since it was getting hot on this day. But I did contemplate doing the 2-mile loop hike and meeting the crew back at the Cottonwood Campground since it all happened to be quite close by.
I really hoped that I wouldn’t be paying the price for that, but only time would tell.
For the next couple of hours, the combination of food coma and desert heat started to set in for all the adults. Meanwhile, the kids were playing Pharoah or something like that where Joshua buried himself in the sand by camp. Clearly he was oblivious to the fact that he wasn’t going to shower for another night.
It turned out to be a lazy afternoon and we figured that we ought to check out Arch Rock and Skull Rock in the north side of the park after 2pm when the temperatures might start to cool down. The temperatures were forecasted to be as high as 88F in Palm Springs so I’d imagine the temperatures wouldn’t be that much cooler out here in Joshua Tree.
In the mean time, we napped through the gusty winds hoping the UCLA Bruins easy-up won’t bend or blow away (it didn’t) though my flimsily set up rain fly on our tend almost blew off my two-person tent as it exposed the sun to Julie who was lying in there.
Dad was sleeping in the car and Mom was sleeping in the huge tend probably able to sleep through all the giggling that the kids were doing.
It was easy to succumb to the mood that was summed up by the B-52s song “Dry County” where the heat of the day’s got us in a haze, so to speak.
Finally when 2pm rolled around, it took us some time to get the kids ready and everyone else up from their mid-afternoon siesta.
It wasn’t until about 2:20pm when we all got into our cars and did the surprisingly long drive to the busier north side of the park. The first priority was to check out the Arch Rock by the White Tank Campground.
Indeed, the drive up there was long. I recalled that the ranger at the visitor center told me it was 27 miles from Cottonwood Springs to White Tank, and we were averaging about 45 miles per hours with a few 35 mph zones as well as following a slow driver for a good stretch of the drive.
We ignored all of the stops (including the Cholla Cactus Garden, which seemed to attract a lot of cars (and where the slow driver turned into), as there were numerous opportunities to slow down and check out the “Exhibits” along the way.
My worst fears about my cold also came true. Apparently, I was now getting some bad runny nose and I was starting to cough a bit. I guess helping myself to the fried dumplings as well as all the buns I had earlier on didn’t help my cause at all!
Finally at 3:10pm, we arrived at the turnoff for the White Tank Campground exit where we saw a lot of cars parked on the road shoulder. We managed to find a couple of tilted spots and decided to park right there instead of some day use parking area further north along the road.
So after taking some time to gear up for this short excursion (the kids were pretty reluctant thinking this would be another boring excursion like the Cottonwood Springs campground), we finally started walking into the campground area.
We then followed the exit road backwards between some other campsites right beneath some of the giant rocks that tents were pitched next to before reaching campsite 9. That was where there was a signed pathway leading further to the Arch Rock along with some additional interpretive signs along the way.
While walking amongst the campsites, we wondered what it would take to do a walk-in and spend a couple of nights here during a New Moon so we could try to get that shot of the Milky Way through the Arch Rock.
I’m sure we wouldn’t be the only people attempting to do that should we attempt it, and I’m also quite sure that scoring these walk-in campsites would be very competitive around the New Moon. So I just took this as food for thought. Besides, we noticed there were no wells and the restrooms were pit toilet, so we’d have to bring our own water.
Anyways, once we were on the short Arch Rock Trail, we eventually followed a path towards a ridge providing views of more jumbles of rocks that kind of reminded me of the Garden of the Gods experience in Colorado Springs.
As we descended from the ridge, we then rounded a bend as the path entered a narrow section squeezed in between some giant rocks, and that was when we finally saw an angled view of the familiar Arch Rock.
Not surprisingly, there were lots of people around the arch and there was a large group of folks seemingly of Indian descent hijacking the front of the arch as they sought to get their group photos with some climbing above the arch.
Eventually, we got some shots of the kids sitting before the arch before they headed back down. So during that time, I was able to try to photograph the arch without anyone else around for a few moments before a pair of ladies seized the opportunity to get their shots with one of the girls doing glamor poses at the opening.
As I rejoined the crew, we took our time walking a lower pathway on the loop walk back to the White Tank Campground. It turned out that this lower path actually was part of the Arch Rock Trail that came from the suggested day use parking area further to the north of where we were parked.
There also happened to be a separate entrance road into the White Tank Campground nearby that day use parking area. So now it made sense why there were exit signs on the road that we had walked, because it was all supposed to be one-way.
Anyways, we stopped at a couple of spots where we took photos of a few namesake Joshua Trees fronting large White Granite rocks, while we also spotted another pac-man-looking rock that was perfect for the kids to pose in front of.
Along the way, we noticed some people managed to park in or right next to the handicap spots to reduce the amount of walking. I guess they just managed to miss the park ranger that we saw earlier who was doing the rounds.
It was getting late in the afternoon and the clouds appeared to be rolling in (the very clouds that produced snow and rain in the Sierras, which made us come to Joshua Tree from Bass Lake in the first place).
Thus, when we got to the nearby Skull Rock at 4:35pm, we pulled over and promptly scrambled up to the namesake rock, which looked a bit more like the Indiana Jones Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than it did a typical human skull, which I think was what was intended in the first place.
Like with the Arch Rock, this Skull Rock was also quite popular as lots of people tried to get their shots in fromt of the face. Some of the more skilled older kids and adults managed to climb up to the eyes of the skull, which was something the kids in our group weren’t going to do.
I could totally see how this place would be quite the rock climbers paradise for those so inclined.
After having our fill of the Skull Rock at 5pm, we then decided to drive up to Twenty-nine Palms because we were running out of gas. So we thought we could go up to that town and fill up on gas before returning to the Cottonwood Springs Campground for dinner.
As we drove up and out of the north entrance of the park, we saw that there was actually an entrance station there! So they checked for our paid pass, then they waved us on as we left.
This pretty much confirmed that the north entrance was the main entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, and that most of the scenic parts of the park were indeed on the north side. No wonder why the Cottonwood Springs area seemed so much quieter by comparison.
Anyways, we eventually found a Mobil gas station in the town of Twenty-nine Palms, which seemed like a typical desert town. Actually, I had this flashback of deja vu as we were descending into the basin.
That was because this drive reminded me of driving into the town of Borrego Springs after descending into the basin when we were driving there from Julian.
Everything from the long straight descent to the speed signs to the odd homes flanking the straight shot descending road before getting into the town itself just seemed so familiar.
Regardless, as we filled up on the much-needed gas, Julie then had this idea to eat dinner in town instead of driving another hour all the way back to camp before finally having a dinner. That meant no pasta dinner this time around, which disappointed the kids.
However, with my condition worsening as I was now getting some pretty bad sinus congestion and starting to get the chills, perhaps eating more carbs from pasta wouldn’t be the best thing. At least with the restaurant, I should be able to get more hot water, and go pretty protein heavy.
So immediately after this last-minute change of plans (brought about only because we decided to fill up on gas in town and not chance it by trying to make it to Indio tomorrow to fill up), did this occur.
I guess it just goes to show you how quickly things can change based on a simple event or decision. And it seemed to be the theme of this particular trip – from the Bass Lake cancellation to the inability to do White Tank yesterday to the inability to go to Palm Springs today to now.
It all seemed to have a ripple effect.
At 5:40pm, we arrived at the 29 Palms Inn, which was said to have the best food in town. Not surprisingly, the place was pretty busy and we had to wait some 40 minutes before we’d be seated. That gave the kids the excuse to sit around by the pool though since we weren’t guests at the Inn, they couldn’t go right in and swim.
It turned out that we didn’t have to wait the full 40 minutes to get seated, so we got in earlier than expected and enjoyed a family dinner together (as much as the kids wanted the iPhones, which we ensured they didn’t have access to back at camp).
The kids got their kid foods though we made sure Tahia ate grilled chicken tenders instead of the breaded variety.
Just as we were leaving the inn, there was a live performance of some classic jazz-type music where an elderly couple performed some classics as the vocalist behind the keyboard sang in the 1950s style while her partner had a horn with something covering the output to give it that classical jazz sound.
It provided some nice ambiance. But we were glad to have had our dinner when we did because more people were rolling in, and the restaurant was getting even busier.
We got back into the car at 7:05pm. The clouds were definitely rolling in by now and darkness was starting to come upon the area.
The drive back was mostly uneventful though I had to avoid at least three jackrabbits that had a tendence to run onto the road then get confused about which was to go when I approached.
At least it wasn’t as scary as avoiding deer or kangaroos at this time of the evening.
Eventually, we made it back to camp at 8:05pm. On this night, the Cottonwood Campground seemed to be buzzing with a lot more activity than last night.
The campgrounds seemed to be more full (though Julie and I still noticed a handful of no shows), there was a bit more chatter from neighboring campsites (including one guy strumming a guitar well past the quieter hours of 9pm and beyond), and lots more of the smell of bonfires emanating in the air from each of the fire pits (one in each campsite).
We enjoyed our last night at camp with the remaining firewood while both Joshua and Sophia got another round of s’mores while Tahia was relegated to just roasting marshmallows without being able to eat them.
Meanwhile, I was getting the chills and some bad sniffles so I drank a lot of hot ginger tea and just tried to sit it out and enjoy the night while trying not to let symptoms get to me.
Eventually at about 10pm, I finally retreated into the tent and tried to sleep.
It turned out to not be a terribly restful night as I had gotten up to pee almost once per hour. The moonlight remained bright, the guitar and chatter were still doing their thing well past midnight, and the winds definitely conspired to add more worries while I was trying to fall asleep.