Joshua Tree National Park

Only slightly more than 1000 miles away from my home here in Montana, lies a small National Park in the heart of the Mohave desert of southeastern California. Franklin Roosevelt designated this area (without needing Congressional approval) a National Monument back in 1936. Congress changed its status in 1994 to that of a National Park.

The Joshua Tree is a unique and unusual plant and although this park is named after it, do not expect to see an abundance of Joshua Trees here, especially in the eastern half of the park. I carefully researched, then charted out my brief 16 hour stay on this, my maiden voyage to Joshua Tree, and was rewarded for my efforts.

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I entered the park from the Joshua Tree Visitors Center, NW entrance. This is a very small, understaffed facility with limited parking lot and long lines of eager tourists like me, wanting to question a ranger, or to buy a souvenir. Not worth the time so just proceed into the park, stopping at the West Entrance Station to pay, retrieve your map, and ask a question or two.

Immediately you’ll find wonderful rock piles of huge boulders of every size and shape. Picturesque vistas abound! I was there in February so the park had not yet greened up but the day was a perfect blue-bird sky with just under 80 degrees temperatures, wonderful for hiking.

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One of the major attractions I was looking forward to was the walking tour of the Keys Ranch homestead. Nothing I read warned me to make a reservation in advance, so I was very disappointed to arrive at the gate finding it locked with signs warning me to stay away. It is rare to find cell phone service anywhere in the park, so I reluctantly turned around.

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Road to Keyes Ranch

Hidden Valley was a great stop with an easy 1 mile loop trail of walking among the rock formations and desert flora and fauna. More than anything, I hoped to spot a desert tortoise but did not. A lovely picnic area too.

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The color and shape of this boulder coincidently lined up giving the illusion of my sporting a third arm!

Transitioning from our below sea level elevation, we headed up to Keys View, at over 5000 feet, to overlook the valley, mountains, and desert below us. We could clearly see both the San Andreas fault and the Salton Sea. Cooler temperature, somewhat windy, and with lots of people jockeying for the viewpoint, we did not stay long but headed back down to the desert floor and wide-open spaces!

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The roadway is curbed, with limited pull-outs. And the signs for various landmarks are typically only at the turnoff, giving no warning. (And no place to turn around and go back) My advice is to go slow and have a navigator with the map giving ample warning for upcoming attractions you’re wanting to see. I cannot imagine the chaos of being in this park on a crowded day. Seems like more than radiators would be boiling over.

I noticed a larger than normal Joshua Tree with a pull off across the roadway. It was only later, when viewing the photos, that the enormity of this tree was realized. There are no signs alerting passerby’s to this remarkable tree that is hundreds of years old. You see a Joshua Tree grows about 3″ per year for the first 10 years. The growth rate slows to half that for the remainder of its life, upwards of 1000 years. I think this tree was my most favorite thing to see in all of JTNP. And I hope you’re able to spot it too. I’d give you specific directions, but I don’t have any.

My second most favorite place in the park, was the Cholla Cactus Garden. Now, I did not have this on my “my do” list for the park, and only stopped here because it’d been a rather dull drive for 20 minutes or so, with nothing notable to see. (I mentioned to my companion that I pitied the people who entered from Cottonwood or Twentynine Palms visitors centers, going only on the north-south road. The most interesting and diverse sights in the park are on the road to the west of that north-south roadway. And if I had only driven that portion of the park, I would have been left wondering why anyone saw the importance of making this a park!

That being said, we arrived at the Cholla Cactus Gardens as the sun was slipping behind the western mountains. Although there were a lot of people out among the cacti, it was still a stunning sight to see. Erase from your thoughts any typical definition of “garden”. Mother Nature alone has planted and tended to this area, a wild-field of Cholla’s just barely starting the spring bloom. I think you’ll agree it was beautiful!

 

Once more, our road trip scenery became rather dull and monotonous as we continued south at the end of a perfect day of wandering. We stopped at the park exit, to see my first sight ever of a desert oasis. This area was closed off with an industrial strength chain-link fence (unable to find any angle for photographs that didn’t have the fence in it) to keep visitors out of the oasis. This wasn’t worth the stop. There are several other oasis in the area, like Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, well worth a side-trip.

Overall, I truly loved Joshua Tree National Park and was so happy for our decision to include it in our travel plans. I can’t wait to go back again for a more extended stay, and will definitely make reservations to tour the Keyes ranch–a good reason to go back! I hope to camp in the park next time, to witness sunrise and sunset over the giant rock formations, and to take some of the longer hikes.

And next time, I’ll try to make my trip in March, even though the temperatures will be hotter, the blooms should be on the desert plants, adding frosting to the cake of this delightful place.

 

Oh! Let the Sunshine In!

I love being a Montanan like a flower loves the sun! But like a flower, if I don’t get sunshine for weeks or months on end, I start to wither and fade away. Vitamin D is as essential to those of us living in these northern, low-sunlight, always so covered and bundled up against the cold, states almost as much as we need oxygen to breathe. But even with all the supplements and strategies for winter survival, sometimes a girls’ just gotta do what a girls’ gotta do. For me, shortly after ringing in the new year, this meant going on a road trip to sunshine California for a few months!

Yes, this is not unusual. Montana breeds a whole lot of snowbirds who fly the coop every winter in their RV’s, heading to warmer climates. But this was the first year that I got to participate in this migration south.

 

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Exploring 101

Recently, an acquaintance requested that I take her with me on a typical exploration trip. An admirer of my photography and stories, she wanted to witness a day-in-the-life-of me on an adventure. I was, and am, flattered.

Heading north out of the greater Spokane area, we chose a random paved road neither of us had ever been on. We chatted as we drove along with no destination in mind, just admiring the natural landscape of Washington state, but not really seeing anything photo worthy.

As we drove along about 65 mph, I was being proactive in my search for something rare, unique, and beautiful. dsc_8959A foreign shape back in the woods caught my attention. As a child learning to hunt from my father, my brain was shaped to take notice when something in my vision was out-of-place. Skinny legs in a forest of thick tree trunks. A dark mass standing out green bushes. So a granite tombstone in an overgrown field of apple trees, bushes, and tall grasses was worth turning around for.

Let the real adventure begin! Wonderment, excitement, and the thrill of finding something so unusual filled our hearts with joy! Strapping on our camera’s, we began to slowly explore the area discovering additional tombstones in this old and overrun cemetery.

Most of epitaphs were dated in the 1800’s with a only a few in the early 1900’s. Considering most of the population during this time were poor farmers, the beautiful granite headstones are a tribute to the honor of the family. Many, like the one pictured above, marked several family members buried together in a family plot.

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These are graves not visited nor maintained, by the generations since. Perhaps the families have moved away as small farms were no longer sustainable and people moved into the cities for occupation. Smaller trees and shrubs planted nearby a plot over 100 years ago, have now overtaken the cemetery, turning it into a forest.

Apple trees, wild roses, chokecherries, and weeds have buried, hidden, and adorn the cemetery with color, texture, and beauty.

Even though it was early September, we were amazed to find this fresh Lupine wildflower. Typically a late spring bloom, it graced the floor of this forgotten place with the reminder that life goes on.

We enjoyed several hours on this wonderful adventure, while pausing to read each headstone. We’d often stop to question, then surmise the stories of the deceased buried there. So many had died in 1889. Was there a disease that caused so many of various ages to lose their lives at the same time? So many young children. So many young mothers. The grief and tears of those who had stood upon that land so long ago, as the final words were spoken over the freshly turned earth were felt by us.

We honored. We respected. We valued that afternoon in what we later learned was the Mica Cemetery.

My story could end here, but as part of the continuing education, let me add that once home, the computer searches began. Wanting to know the history behind the photos we now possessed as mementos and memory sparkers. Several more hours of sharing our finds with one another only added to the delight of this adventure, off the beaten path.

We could have gone shopping and out to lunch. We chose the path less traveled and were the better for it.

Buffalo Gals are out tonight!

I’m basically a cowgirl at heart. I love the combined experience of nature with a western lifestyle. So camping really makes me happy! It’s like living on a ranch without the ranch house. {or hard work!}DSC_8241

Several years ago, I started a women’s adventure group and named it Buffalo Gals Travelers and Campers. Like minded women meet together for a few days–and nights–of western themed camping. DSC_8249

My little sister gave me this wonderful wool carpet bag and glitzy purse jewelry for my birthday–so appropriate for the leader, right? I love its big size, because there’s even room for my camera!

Buffalo Gals Camp was last week here in Montana.  It involved a lot of work but I enjoy event planning so it was fulfilling to see it come off without a snag or hitch.

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Every detail was attended to for these Western ‘cowgirl caravan’ campers who pulled into camp throughout the day. They found snacks, cool water, a vintage wash IMG_5591station, and some sweet little swag bags waiting for them as they arrived.

Imagine my excitement when I found sterling silver earrings that matched this year’s camp theme “Kick Up Yer Heels and Have a Good Time”, to add to all the local cowgirl boutique coupons in their swag bags!

Thanks to Cowgirl Corner, Crazy Horse, B.E. at Home, and Antiqueology shops for your support of Buffalo Gals Camp!

 

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Don’t my Sam Edleman boots make awesome centerpieces? I’ve stuffed them with a narrow canning jar, water, and fresh roadside wildflowers!

 

Four EZ up canopies gave us plenty of shade! I added some of my cotton bandanas for color, and bug control. (I did not realize I had so many — 27 in all — until I started gathering them from my two trailers, backpack, fishing gear, etc.

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My Buffalo Gals enjoyed a lovely, inviting venue for their four night stay in Western Montana. There were many options to fill our time, but most of us chose to stay in camp, chatting while cooling off in nearby Lolo Creek, reading in the shade, or dozing in one of the hammocks.

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Living life laid back. Oh, and maybe a couple of us danced by the light of the moon as the Pistorius Meteor Shower danced overhead through the night sky.