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!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world.
Thanks for stopping by!!

43 comments:

  1. Great detective work & most enjoyable (well, apart from the nasty scratch!) hike through this remote part of the desert!
    The rocks & skies are always spectacular!

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  2. Wonderful photography and love quartz ~ will heal your cut ~ Wish I had no snow and not a desert fan but right now it looks good ~ New England having a blizzard ~

    Happy Week to you,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

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  3. What a find, a mistery road. I love coming across old roads though here you usually quickly find the reason it is there. Great hike I'd have done the same so looking forward to the next installment. Happy New Year

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  4. Thank you for the nice pictures and i wish you a happy new year!

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  5. Interesting post. Awesome pics.
    Greetings.

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  6. That looks like a forlorn area.I guess with a GPS it is safe to walk there.The scenes are fascinating.

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  7. Another great adventure. Back in my pipeline routing days I used to study topographic maps and aerial photos looking for good routes and would note interesting things like your asphalt road. Every once in a while I would have a chance to check my finds out and I never really found anything earth shattering but enjoyed the walk.

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  8. I like deserts and quite naturally photos of deserts and I discover with your report a magnificent desert which I did not know. Thank you for this sharing, your photos are magnificent

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  9. Hello, looks like a nice warm day for a hike. I like the rock formations and the pretty blue sky. Do you come across any snakes while hiking in the desert? Great photos. Happy Friday, enjoy your day and weekend!

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    1. Hi Eileen. Snakes are actually rare in this area, not really sure why. It's been a long time since I've seen one on a hike. My goal is always to see them before they see me!

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  10. Beautiful scenery. Know what? I will let you do the work and admire from afar. And thank you again for the opportunity of being taken on your hikes, virtually. I enjoyed the "mystery of the lost road".

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  11. Thanks for the amazing story and photos.

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  12. Wow! Wonderful captures and adventure!

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  13. Fabulous post! I never realized there was so much beauty in this region. And loved the road mystery!
    Thanks for sharing!

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  14. Some fun sleuthing! And beautiful photos along the way!

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  15. I really enjoy my hikes with you. Makes me really miss my Southwest deserts.

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  16. Looks like an amazing place to hike. It's beautiful!

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  17. No doubt about it. Fine pure quartz and it's onward and upward. :-)

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  18. I loved all your pictures from the hike. Many years ago I used to go to Joshua Tree. One trip rather than take the paved road out we followed a dirt road back over the mountain and out to Highway 10. It was pretty scary in parts, but very beautiful. - Margy

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  19. Gorgeous skies! The rock colors really make the blue pop!

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  20. haha, looking forward to the follow-up.

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  21. Interesting find! Beautiful rock formations and beautiful blue sky!

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  22. wow white quartz - that is a very cool find - did you take it home?

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    1. Hi Amy. No, can't remove anything from a National Park. Leave no trace, so took the photo and then put it back where I found it. It was a beautiful piece of quartz, though!!

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  23. So much to enjoy in your post. Adventure off the beaten track. Endless blue skies punctuated with clouds. Variety of the landscapes. And suspense at the end! Thanks for taking us with you, and happy new year!

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  24. Gorgeous rock formations and awesome blue sky!

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  25. A wonderful adventure to s start off the new year. Fantastic photos and some great decision making. I be returning for the cliffhanger.
    Have a wonderful week!

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  26. Great post. Always good to try to find out why things are there I think. The Cats Claws don't sound good.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  27. you find so many interesting places. Sorry about the cut though. Hope you carry bandage in your pack .)

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  28. It is always so much fun to find an old road that no one knows why it is there, gets the imagination going. Oh that scratch from the Cats Claw looks bad. Loved all the photos! Your camera gives you some great shots so crisp and clear. Nice to see blue sky and good weather. So much rain here. You live in the opposite weather than I do!

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  29. What an incredibly beautiful hike! Thank you for sharing it with all of us… Your narration “took our imaginations with you.“

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  30. What always delights me about your posts is the spaciousness and the clarity and brightness of the terrain through which you travel. It contrasts so greatly with my own experience, especially at this time of year. It is dull, damp and dismal in Blighty, so it's great to join you on your trail!

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  31. Great photos from an interesting and beautiful adventure Pete.

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  32. The desert is full of mystery ... and beauty. We may never know the mystery of the road that goes nowhere, but at least we do know one thing about the mystery you left us with -- we do at least know that you got home again; I look forward to reading the next post to find out how. There are so many beautiful (and dangerous) cacti in JT -- even for those of us who, compared to you, have just explored it superficially. Beautiful post.

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