This is the one where Michelle almost got us killed. Heat stroke or giant tarantula wasps.
Jul 5th • 2015
Our time in the desert continued for a while following White Sands.
The desert provides a startling change from the humid and saturated life of Georgia and Florida low lands. There, everything is dry. There’s a lot of wind…and lots of sand in the wind.
The culture shock continued with our first pass through an interior US Border Patrol checkpoint. As we drove through Las Cruces, we found ourselves in the queue for a quick question of “Are you a US citizen?” and a wave onto the interstate. It’ss not like we screamed illegal immigrants or smugglers, but that didn’t seem super effective.
And then we drove. I-10 is my least favorite interstate. Ever. I loathe it on the Panhandle and I loathe it here. Even with the change of scenery. It just drags on.
Another cultural note I’d like to make has to do with jerky. It is apparently a huge thing. At some point after crossing the Mississippi, it seemed like everyone had the most amazing and tasty fresh jerky available. People were on the side of the road selling it out of their car trunks. Why? I don’t know.
And we drove.
Fourth Campsite: Joshua Tree
As the day began to close, we were emptied from I-10 into Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. This is the infamous home of the twisted Joshua Tree and also the meeting point of two major deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado. It’s desert squared at this point.
We set up camp, had dinner, and took a quick walk around the Cottonwood Campground. I’d like to give a shout-out to the three British guys that spent the night there as well. After our can opener rusted and proved unusable, they opened a can of dog food for us…and made me feel really stupid when they did it with a pocket knife/multi-tool they had. I have one. I didn’t realize there was a tool for opening cans. The more you know.
By the way, early morning in the desert is awesome. It’s quiet and cool and magical.
Following breakfast, we began our foray into Joshua Tree. The closest trail to our campsite was the Mastodon Peak Trail. We had been encouraged to do this loop as it was a nice hike and provided spectacular views of the Salton Sea to the south.
The desert is beautiful. And painful. It’s like everything is out to sting/poke/bite you. The photo below shows a silver cholla cactus in the middle. This freakin’ plant would shed pieces onto the path making it a little harrowing in certain areas for us and the dogs. And that’s why you pack a first aid kit into your backpack that contains a small tweezer set. Brittany 1, cholla 0. Okay, it was more like cholla 4. Courage and Taco both got pieces stuck in their paws. Michelle got one in her finger. And I managed to sideswipe one with my ankle.
We didn’t encounter as much wildlife as we expected along this trip. And I’m okay with that. But it did make us a little too excited to see this lizard.
The ever welcoming desert ecosystem.
We lucked out with hike as the sky remained cloudy, shielding us from direct sunlight and the potential of triple-digit temperatures. I still got a crazy tan though.
Adriana atop Mastodon Peak. I’m not sure if she was taking a photo or trying to text our parents that we were alive. The moment we entered Joshua Tree, our phones lost signal and became expensive paperweights.
As we headed back to camp, we saw a sign for the Lost Palms Oasis Trail. That sounded really awesome and magical. I’ve never seen an oasis in the desert and considering that my only reference was Hollywood portrayals of pools of water under shady canopies, I might have hyped this up too much in my head.
We walked for what seemed an interminable amount of time. It’s at this point that I want to stress the importance of following the guides provided by the NPS. Usually, they have notices at the trailhead that warn of dangerous wildlife or hiking conditions. The notice here had advised hikers to carry a minimum of a gallon of water with them. I would recommend doing that. Even though I had brought extra water along, we depleted all liquid at least a couple of miles before the end of the hike. Not that we were in any danger (fingers crossed) but between the heat and distance, more water would have been really appreciated. And don’t get me wrong, the trail is really well-marked and not super strenuous. The heat is just very intense, even before noon.
We reached the oasis just as Adri and I were ready to turn around.
And…it wasn’t what I thought. At all.
The oasis is sheltered by a steep ravine and features a ton of California fan palm trees. It’s the only palm tree native to western North America. That’s cool…but I still would have opted for a pool of clear water. (Thanks Hollywood.) The climb into the ravine is a little tricky, and I had to coax/carry Courage in a few areas. The sad part is that we didn’t stay too long as the moment we sat down to rest, large black wasps with huge orange wings popped up out of nowhere.
But hey, we got to find the lost palms. Which doesn’t make sense…they’ve been found. When were they ever lost?
Also, sidenote…or post note? I learned later that the black wasp was a Tarantula Hawk. Cool right? Yeah, no. According to good ‘ole Wikipedia, their sting is considered the second most painful insect sting in the world. 1) I’d like to know who pulled the short straw and figured that out and 2) da fuq?