Monday, April 10, 2017
Last winter, my friend Karen wrote a series of blog posts describing her top ten favorite hikes. It led to a lot of discussion between Larry and me as to what our favorite hikes were. A few weeks later, we found ourselves in California to celebrate our anniversary in Palm Springs. After a few luxurious days at Sparrows Lodge, we drove out into the high desert to stay in Joshua Tree for a few days. It was in Joshua Tree National Park where we did a hike that I knew would definitely make my own top ten hikes list: Lost Palms Oasis.
Larry woke up before dawn that morning and shook me awake to watch the sunrise from the patio at the AirBnb house where we were staying.
It was freezing out - Larry went out on the patio in his underwear to watch, but I figured I could see just as well stretched out on the lounge chair in the living room bundled up under a blanket.
Pretty soon though I couldn't resist joining him outside to wait for the sun to come up over the mountains.
It was a spectacular show.
After breakfast, we headed into Joshua Tree National Park to explore the park and take a hike.
We entered through the north entrance of the park where the park's famous Joshua Trees (which are actually a type of yucca) grow everywhere. I wasn't paying attention to my camera settings and accidentally overexposed the first few photos I took. I love the result! Happy accident!
We drove almost all the way through the park to get to the trailhead for Lost Palms Oasis, which was in the southern portion of the park - almost 60 miles away from the northern entrance. It was an incredible drive and a great way to get an overview of the entire park and all the different ecosystems it contains. Joshua Tree is a huge park - at 1,234 square miles (794,000 acres) it is the same size as the entire state of Rhode Island. What's interesting is that completely different types of plants grow in different areas of the park because the park actually contains two different desert ecosystems - the Mojave Desert (high desert) and the Colorado Desert (low desert). We drove through miles and miles of Joshua Trees and then abruptly the Joshua Trees stopped growing and we drove through areas where only Cholla cactus grew or where there were only Ocotillo.
Because the trailhead was so far away we didn't have time to stop and photograph each of these areas and I gave up on trying to take pictures from the car. We cranked up U2's Joshua Tree album and just enjoyed the drive in real time.
The Lost Palms Canyon Oasis hike was about 8 miles round trip. The park info lists the official mileage as 7.2 miles, but we learned that this only goes to the sign at the top of the canyon - there was additional mileage to climb down into the canyon to view the fan palms that grow in the oasis. We headed into the desert with our packs full of snacks, camera gear, and two camelbaks of water plus a few extra water bottles. We ran out of water a few hundred feet before we made it back to the parking lot - I think this is the first hike where we've used up all our water. The desert is no joke!
But onto the hike! It was incredible. Hiking in the desert is so different from hiking on the east coast because you can see for miles and miles. This was one of those trails where the hike itself is the payoff because you could see so much from the trail and your view was constantly changing. Though there was a pretty cool payoff at the end of the trail, too. I loved the undulating sandy path - we were constantly going up and down, but it wasn't too steep, so it made for pleasant easy hiking terrain. (However, due to the distance and heat, NPS lists this hike as "difficult" and the climb down into the canyon is listed as "strenuous." Personally, I would categorize this as a moderate hike.) There are no Joshua Trees in this part of the park, but there were lots of other unique desert plants and cool rock formations.
At the 3.6 mile mark, we reached the sign at the top of the canyon and stopped for some water and to take a few pictures.
And then we climbed down into the canyon. The beginning section of this trail was steep and rocky with the kind of gravel that slips out from under your feet, and as I was climbing down I had moment of worry wondering if I was going to be able to climb back out of the canyon! But it was all worth it when we rounded the bend and got a glimpse of the oasis below.
We made it to the bottom of the canyon and decided this was a great spot to stretch out on some boulders and eat our trail snacks while surrounded by giant fan palms. The California Fan Palm is actually the only species of palm tree that is native to California. It was a great spot for a lunch break. What it wasn't great for was seeing Bighorn Sheep that supposedly inhabit this area. Foiled again!
And then we climbed back out of the canyon (I had no trouble getting out!) and headed the 3.6 miles back. On the hike back, I heard Larry suck in his breath in surprise and wondered what sort of danger he had encountered on the trail. It was this guy:
A Desert Tortoise! We were very careful to be quiet and move slowly because a startled Desert Tortoise will pee in surprise and lose all its stored hydration. The tortoise can reabsorb urine from its bladder to rehydrate itself (which it can carry in its bladder for a year!), so if it pees it can lose its entire water supply. This can be fatal for a creature that lives in the desert. However, the desert tortoise can live 50-80 years, so they're pretty hardy fellows. Incredible to believe that this guy might have been roaming around the desert since before I was born! The Desert Tortoise spends 95% of its time underground and is a threatened species, so I guess this was a rare sighting?
We were pretty exhausted and our feet were pretty sore by the time we made it back to the car. I ended up with a blister caused by my sock (that's a first!) and really didn't want to walk much further, but we had heard from a park ranger that the best place to view wildflowers was from a short nature loop nearby. We dragged our blistered feet around the loop, fairly unimpressed. It definitely wasn't a superbloom.
Feet sore, bodies exhausted, bellies famished, and minds clear, we headed back to our little house in the desert, in awe of the unique landscape we had gotten to explore that day. Definitely one for the top ten list!