It is National Park Week, so we will revisit a few of the National Parks that I have been to. We are extremely lucky to have such a system in the United States: from Battlefields to Memorials, and Monuments to Parks and everything in-between, the National Park Service has it covered.
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Today’s Park Week Theme: Park Rx Day
The Day One Theme for National Park Week is Rx Day: Where being outdoors improves your mental and physical health. Anyone who has followed this blog for anytime would not be surprised to hear that I support that conclusion. As a dweller of the Far North, I find myself intrigued by the desert, and I have to admit that Joshua Tree is one of my favorite parks. Full Disclosure: I may say this all week long.
There is a simplicity to the desert that I find fascinating. Rarely have I found a crowd when I visit the desert, which suits me just fine. I have been to Joshua Tree several times: Once on the Beetle Roadtrip, at least once during a Land Rover Roadtrip, and once when I was on an Amtrak Railpass crisscrossing the country. Each time, I found my visit to Joshua Tree to be soul cleansing, and I do not use that term lightly. Even though, I may not have known I needed it, that is exactly what I found as I hiked the trails of this magnificent National Park.
Joshua Tree was declared a National Monument in 1936, and it wasn’t reclassified as a National Park until 1994. Today, the Park encompasses 790,636 acres, including parts of two deserts: The Mohave and the Colorado. In the open areas of the Mohave Desert thrives the Yucca brevifolia, also know as the Joshua Tree, from which the park gets its name.
I spent much of my time hiking Joshua Tree, and I do not remember ever coming across another hiker on the trails. I met people at other areas, like lookouts, etc, but on the serious trails I was alone with my thoughts and the wilderness. I was certainly helped out at times by a friend who was a park ranger, who could point me in the right direction, but I imagine that much was simply luck of the draw.
In the spring of the year, I found the park relatively green, but I still carried plenty of water, as temps did rise above what I am used to by noon. Still, I found the desert refreshing in a way that only someone who lives in a completely opposite environment can. I have found myself coming back to this park often.
A popular hike is out to Lost Palms Oasis, which is approximately 7-1/2 miles roundtrip. Most of the hike was through hilly terrain with a drop down into a palm-filled canyon at the end. It was a beautiful hike, with what really is an oasis at the end. Well worth the effort, although this is hardly the only hike in the park worth sweating over.
The park has a rich history of mining and ranching, and a good example of both is Keys Ranch. I took the tour on one of my visits, and as an end-of-the-roader myself, I really enjoyed it. The family had a rich history in the area, and had carved a unique, yet wonderful homestead out of the desert. If in the area, I really do recommend a stop at the ranch.
Any resident of Interior Alaska would sympathize with the ranch life out here. The ranger giving the tour took us through their “hardware store” of used parts sitting out in the dry air, ready to be put back into action. There is even a sawmill run by a FordAll tractor. A dam was built to collect what little water flowed from a creek, which allowed the family to prosper.
I should not perpetuate this story, as it will annoy my ranger friend, but how does one talk of Joshua Tree without mentioning Gram Parsons? I did my pilgrimage out to the Gram Parsons Rock, in spite of the annoyance it gave to others. Parsons, who was a singer and musician in bands such as The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and others, was a huge fan of Joshua Tree back in the 1960’s and ’70’s, when it was still a National Monument. The cliff notes version of the story, is when Parsons overdosed in 1973, his friends knowing that Parsons wanted to be cremated within Joshua Tree NM, stole his body from the Los Angeles International Airport in a “borrowed hearse”. They then brought his body and casket to Cap Rock and attempted an unofficial cremation with five gallons of gasoline. Police arrived, and the friends escaped, only to be caught later. Since it wasn’t exactly a crime at the time to steal a dead body, they were charged with stealing the coffin and fined $750. Cap Rock, or what is now mostly known as Gram Parsons Rock, still brings mourners and fans of the influential singer/songwriter. I should note that it is the site of my very first selfie. One of a total of three. I should also note that Park Rangers are not overly fond of giving directions to the rock, even if you have known them since they first arrived in Alaska, back when they were a young Cheechako. Just saying.
I have met many rock climbers within Joshua Tree, and have offered a few beers to some after their climb, after finding out they were camping near me. This park, along with Yosemite and Zion seems to be a magnet for climbers.
My favorite individual who I shared a camp with was an Argentinian. I had just traveled from Prudhoe Bay to Belize and back to Southern California, obsessed with driving to the tip of South America. My new friend from Argentina had beat me to it, and was driving north to Alaska from Tierra del Fuego in a mid-80’s Land Cruiser. He had spotted my old Land Rover first, as one does, when I was out hiking, and stopped by with a bottle of Argentinian Fernet. The next night, I went down to his campsite with a bottle of Scotch. We had a lot to discuss.
One never knows who you will meet when you are out & about in our public lands.
There were 2,399,542 visitors to Joshua Tree NP in 2020.