Monday, June 10, 2013

Joshua Tree NP - Ryan Mountain, Willow Hole & Barker Dam

Joshua Tree National Park – Day Two – 3/20/13 – Ryan Mountain, Willow Hole and Barker Dam Loop – 12.5 Miles

(Note:  The good photos are Jeff's, the rest are mine.)

The desert was very quiet last night but the humans were noisy, amplified voices bouncing off the rocks.  Our crew was up by 7:00 a.m.  Breakfast was hot yummies for David, cold pizza for Jeff and a granola bar for me.  (David took pity on me and gifted me with hot chocolate.)

We rearranged the itinerary a bit to do our most strenuous hike before the day heated up.  Ryan Mountain looked intimidating on the map, in the guidebook write-up and in real life.  Three miles round trip, allow 4 to 5 hours, 1,000 feet gain in 1.4 miles? 

Here we go up Ryan Mountain

Serious steps here, thanks to trail builders

Ever-present San Gorgonio on the horizon

This turned out to be one of my favorite hikes of the week.  The trail was well graded and we had a good breeze and the shady side of the mountain in the early morning, calling for long sleeves and shorts.  There were just a few people out, unlike later in the day. Ryan Mountain is one of the most accessible mountains in Joshua Tree, the trailhead parking off of paved Quail Springs Road, a main road through the Park. 

At the summit

The return hike was an easy cake walk downhill.  David and me and the Wonderland of Rocks.  (We will be wandering through the Wonderland later today.)

An interesting encounter on the way down:  a German shepherd off-leash, followed by a woman and a man carrying a smaller dog.  The man asked, “Did she (the shepherd) bother you?” and seemed relieved when I said no.  First of all, if he thought the dog would bark at or bite people, why was it off-leash?  Second of all, dogs are not allowed on national park trails even on-leash.  I kindly smiled and asked if he knew that rule and he seemed genuinely surprised and thanked me for the information.

Hike #2 to Willow Hole.  Starting on the Boy Scout Trail from the Park Boulevard trailhead, the first 1.3 miles of this flat hike passes through an open valley of Joshua trees in a myriad of configurations, ranging from little trunks with a single cap of spiky, sharp, bayonet-like evergreen leaves to big ole trees with dozens of branches, spikes and blooms.  (Note:  Joshua trees generally do not branch until after they bloom.  Also, they may not bloom every year.  Bloom depends upon the right amount of rainfall at the right time plus a winter freeze.)

On the Boy Scout Trail

We found the “best” Joshua tree 

Side trail to a favorite rock climbing spot

The rocks in the Wonderland are monzogranite (also called White Tank granite – someone please tell me if there is a difference) and are piled up haphazardly all around the valley floor.  At 1.3 miles we turned right onto the trail to Willow Hole.  The trail became a little sandy, then a lot sandy, and we walked up a narrowing wash as the piles of rocks grew bigger and closer together.  What a magical place!  Every formation was unique, like clouds. 

Do we go around or over?

David going into the Wonderland

Beauty growing out of the rocks

 First look at Willow Hole, an oasis in Joshua Tree NP. 

 We didn’t see or hear any water, but obviously water is near the surface to keep the trees green.  We followed a little trail past the willows and chose a great lunch spot to gaze down into Rattlesnake Canyon.  We retraced our steps back 3.5 miles through the sandy wash, but it was a quick walk.  Total of 7 miles, 3.25 hours, including a half hour for lunch. 

It was early enough that Jeff decided to sneak in an unnamed peak from his list, another off-trail adventure.  The mountain looked like a big pile of rocks to me, no soil, just rock scrambling, so David and I declined and chilled out in the car.  After about an hour I was getting a little nervous – how would we find Jeff if he didn’t come back?  We debated what we would do, with David voting for going to look for Jeff while I advocated for calling the Park people.  Why have three of us lost?  And Jeff could descend a different way than he ascended and we would miss him. 

Moot point – Jeff showed up 10 minutes later.

And there was still time for one more little hike:  Barker Dam Nature Trail, a simple 1.1-mile walk with interpretive signs.   Barker Dam was built in a natural rock catch basin by ranchers as a reservoir to water cattle.  No water there for us to see and we were not impressed.

A watering trough

Another highlight of the Barker Dam Trail are petroglyghs made by early Native Americans, but damage has been done to some and it’s hard to tell what is authentic and what is graffiti.  We took a little detour wandering past the petroglyphs wall, a minor moment of panic for me with no trail and following two fast guys cross-country, but we were back on the trail quickly.  

Desert vegetation is as lush and diverse as any ecosystem.  
 Name this cactus.

 Or this one

Barrel cactus

4:30 p.m., three hikes done, what next?  Go into the town of Joshua Tree to look for dinner.  We found Crossroads Café, not the burger joint I expected, spinach salad and fish tacos – delicious!  The waitress told us we could pay for a shower at Coyote Corner, a treat for me tomorrow.  We stopped to check it out, an alternative, New Age type place, but hot showers for $4 for 7 minutes. 

Back at camp, an unpleasant surprise: sand had blown into the tents.  I had folded my sleeping bag over and my clothes were all in a ziplock bag, but everything was coated with sand and everything I touched felt gritty.  There was not much to do but get a little organized and wait to get tired, since we didn’t have chairs or campfire supplies.  I took another walk around the loop for stargazing and then crashed at 9:00 p.m. 

Tomorrow the guys are going hiking but I am having a “town day.”

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself. “  ~Alan Alda

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