Thursday, January 11, 2018

Old Road Hike (the Hike Home)

You may recall that I left things up in the air last week (Old Road Hike). It was another beautiful blue sky day in Joshua Tree National Park, and I was about half way through my exploratory hike of the "Old Road" area. 
I climbed out of the wash and this (above) was my view to the north (the direction I needed to go). My options were to continue exploring unknown (to me) territory or to backtrack. Since I hate backtracking and I still had almost 2 hours of daylight left, I continued north, hoping to go past the large rock formation and then make my way east (behind those rocks) back to the Old Road area.

This joshua tree seemed to be telling me to "keep left!" (which I did).

As I followed the path pointed out by the joshua tree, I quickly came across this stone cairn. Actually more of a mound. The stone cairns I see are typically very small and are used as trail markers. This one is a real mystery. Someone put a lot of work into it, and it looked to be old (or at least not recent). I wonder what significance it has? Another Joshua Tree mystery!!

Time to move on. As I made my way around the back side of the rock formation and started heading east, things started getting interesting and I had a sense of total solitude and of hiking in an area that sees very little human traffic.

This thin, flat disc-shaped rock formation was weird and intriguing!

Desert weed, late afternoon light
Recently split rock (sharp edges)
Long ago split rock (smooth edges)

Couldn't resist a bit of PhotoShop fun!

Small window rock

"Bottle Opener" rock? Would the name have anything to do with the hike being nearly complete, and looking forward to a cold beverage?

Around the corner from Bottle Opener rock is Lizard Head rock.

Profile Rock

As the sun sets behind the rocks in Joshua Tree, my hike comes to an end. Thanks for joining me on this interesting adventure!

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Old Road Hike

My first post of 2018 finds me out hiking in the middle of nowhere (my favorite place to be!). While cruising around Joshua Tree on Google Earth (a favorite pastime) I noticed what looked like a small piece of paved road out in the middle of nowhere. Here's a screen grab:
This was interesting to me not just because of the mystery of a "road" in the middle of the desert, but also because there's nothing here to attract tourists. No trails, no old mines, nothing. This area probably sees very little human traffic.
I formulated a theory: Perhaps this was the remains of an old road that, many years ago, connected Park Blvd. with Pinto Basin Road. For those wanting to travel from the west end of Joshua Tree National Park down to Cottonwood Spring (and what is now the 10 Freeway), this would have been a little quicker route than the current road. Could be that over the years the road deteriorated, and this is all that's left.
This "old road" would have bypassed the current Pinto Wye. Perhaps a thunderstorm washed out this old road and the engineers decided the new route (Pinto Wye) was the better option? Whatever the explanation, I decided it deserved further investigation. The "old road" is only about 1/3rd of a mile off the main road (Park Blvd.), and there is a lot more to see in the area.
The blue line is my hike path. The first part of the hike heading SE to the first dot is my hike to the "old road". All the rest is just having fun exploring and taking pictures of an area that doesn't get explored much!
On the hike in, I could make out the faint markings of the "old road" (see above). Looks like people may have traveled this way in vehicles, probably many years ago!

Here we go! Following the faint "old road" trail SE, you eventually reach an area where the asphalt is clearly visible. Looks like it's been sitting here unused a long, long time! 

No question about it... an old asphalt road (or piece of a road) in the middle of nowhere! The asphalt stops as abruptly as it starts, although on Google Earth I can make out faint signs of a jeep trail that continues SE all the way to Pinto Basin Road.

The mystery remains as to why it is here. After further research and talking with a couple friends who are knowledgeable about JTNP, I've changed my theory. Perhaps this paved area was used to store road-building supplies (gravel, etc.) and equipment back when the road through the park went from sand to asphalt. That would explain why just the one area, which is about 50 yards long, is covered with asphalt, while the rest of the "old road" just looks like a jeep trail. However, it seems odd that you would store supplies this far from the main road (about 1/3 mile). Not sure we will ever solve this mystery so let's move on to the fun stuff (photographing the rest of the hike)!

As I hike to the south across open desert, some cool-looking rock formations come into view. I know from my Google Earth research that there is a wash just beyond those rock that runs west that I can follow, and with any luck, do a large circle back to the old road and then to my car.

A little hard to see, but look closely and you can make out the nest in this cholla cactus. They should really rename this stuff "Bird's Nest Cholla" as more often than not there is a nest within it's thorny branches. By the way, the cholla is one of the nastiest cactus out there. You really don't want to get stuck by one. The barbs are painful and very hard to remove. It's amazing that birds can nest in these spines. I think it's most often the cactus wren that nests in these chollas.

Let's go check out this rock formation.

Ouch! I don't get far before I have a close encounter with some cat's claw. This stuff is NASTY! It doesn't look like anything special, but has extremely sharp backward-facing claws. It's perfectly named, and all it takes is an innocent brush against a small branch to end up with a slice. Unfortunately, it's common throughout much of JTNP.

Some of the pockmark erosions in the rock look like they would make perfect steps leading to the top of the rock formation (tempting, but no, I did not try).

After checking out the rock formations, I find the wash I was looking for and start following it west. Unless you can find a stand of Cottonwood trees, these desert willows probably provide the closest thing to "fall colors" you will see in this part of the desert.

Not much sign of human footprints in the wash. Just an occasional print, and none look recent (although lots of animal prints). Contrast that with washes that get a lot of hikers... the sand turns into "beach sand". Very soft and hard to hike through.

This old tree looks like it might have been uprooted during a big desert rain and literally "washed down the wash" to this spot.

A classic desert wash. So peaceful and enjoyable to hike along these washes and see where they take you.

 This wash looks like it gets a pretty heavy water flow after a rain. The sides are getting high and steep.

Wow, this is beautiful! The steep granite walls have been washed smooth over many, many years of desert thunderstorms. No footprints at all in this area. Unfortunately, it looks like a dead end. A key decision needs to be made at this point: Try to hike on, through steep and unknown terrain which may be a dead end, or turn back??

You guessed it: Hike on!! I find a beautiful chunk of white quartz which I assume is a good luck omen!

After climbing through the steep rocks, the wash continues on in a much less demanding fashion. This is roughly the area where I need to leave the wash and start heading north to make my loop back to the "old road".

Now out of the wash, here's the view north. I need to make another critical decision. Can I head straight up and explore those rocks and then make a sharp right behind the rocks (the direction I need to go to get back to the "old road")? Or will it just be a huge jumble of rocks, impossible to pass, and force me double back??

Sorry to leave you in suspense, but you're going to have to check out my follow-up post to see what happens next!

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