SeaSalt Chronicles 6: Backpacking Adventure At Joshua Tree Park
A friend and I decided to challenge ourselves and spend 4 days and 3 nights in the Californian desert. Joshua Tree Park is located in South California very close to Palm Springs and Indio. It is very well-known for its rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. Joshua Tree is named for the region’s twisted, bristled trees. They were given the name Joshua because it looks like they have open arms praying to the sky. I can’t really say the park is pretty because most of the landscape looks bare and naked. Some parts are plain desert with no trees nor any kind of vegetation at all. But it was an interesting experience and given that it’s one of the most visited parks in California, it was well worth the time.
We leave campus Thursday mid-afternoon on a small van with 10 more students including the driver and our camp leaders. We have approximately 4 to 6 hours ahead of us if the traffic in LA is not that bad. Surprisingly, the van isn’t comfortable at all, although we are all compressed against each other to fit inside. We stop a couple of times to use the restroom and to have dinner. When we finally arrive at Joshua Tree, the sky is very dark. We get off the van, collect our stuff and start to set up the tent using a headlamp to help us see. It’s not long after we begin to put aside the cover and stags that we realise our tent is kind of broken. We’ll have to improvise something every night if we want to avoid it to crumble during the night.
The next day, the driver drives us to a part of the park where we are left to start our journey through until Sunday morning. Today, we have 12 miles ahead of us to complete. We start off, carrying our heavy backpacks. It contains everything we will need for the next couple of days – tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water, food, snacks and clothes. At first, the landscape is pretty sandy and flat and very monotonous. However, I really enjoy these Joshua trees. There are only cactuses all around us. Different sizes of cactuses are everywhere I look. To be honest, it’s kind of a weird feeling to walk in the desert. It’s very different from hiking on a canyon or even when I went to the Pyrenees. Something about this is different. At least, it’s easier. As we walk, we’re having breaks and make sure everyone is hydrated and wants to use the “restroom”. Obviously, there’s no such thing as a restroom in the middle of the desert – so what do we do? Get our toilet paper, go behind a bush, make sure we’re not caught in the act, just do our business and then come back. Well, maybe you’re thinking that you didn’t need as much detail but might be useful one day, just note down.
Towards the end, I almost feel like I can’t walk any further because of the blisters all over my feet. Closer to the camping site, where we’re staying overnight, the sun starts to set at a distance and it is so exquisite, like nothing I’ve ever seen. As the sun sinks down, the sunlight reflects on some rock formations at a distance from where we’re standing, creating a shade of orange and some yellow. When we arrive at the camp, the sun’s gone already. We start setting up our tent while the camp leaders start preparing our dinner. After dinner, as we’re having tea, we can hear the coyotes howling at a distance; the sound gives me goosebumps. There’s no way I’m going to the “restroom” in the next couple of hours. Apparently, these coyotes are not the dangerous type, and they’re actually pretty harmless but better safe than sorry, I guess.
The following morning, we are allowed to wake up later than 7 am as we just have 5 miles to walk today. We spend the morning exploring the camp sight around some ruins, climbing to the top of the rocks and admire the view from the top towards the desert landscape, the one we saw yesterday at sunset. After exploring the place, we go back to our tents, tear everything apart, put it inside the backpacks and we’re ready to go. The weather’s boiling in the morning. After walking a couple of miles, we spot a coyote. They’re smaller than I thought and the colour of its fur almost blends in with the colour palettes of the desert, especially in the more sandy sceneries. At some point, the weather gets a bit funny, and it looks like it’s about to rain. Everyone is tired so we stop for a while to have lunch and chill as a group for a while, before we resume our hike.
Our campsite for tonight is absolutely beautiful. We’re literally staying in an open-air area in the middle of what it looks like a very ancient rock formation. We arrive just before sunset, and it’s very windy. I’m afraid our tent might not survive tonight but we’ll see. Before sunset, people including my friend, are exploring the area and watch the sunset on top of one of those gigantic rocks. I feel like I can’t walk any further at this point. Not that I’m tired. I’m not. My legs and back are pretty okay if it weren’t for the blisters on my feet. This is our last night at Joshua Tree and I’m glad I came on this trip. It brought me back memories from the time I was part of the scouts in which resilience and stamina were two things you needed to make through the day. I like to go on an adventure once in a while because it brings me back to earth. Contact with nature expands my horizons and offers me a totally new perspective on life and the world around me. Also, it makes me stronger especially the blisters on my feet. I can rest as many times as I want because I’m in pain, but no matter how much the damn blisters hurt, I have to keep going, keep climbing and this is something that makes me mentally strong. I wake up at 3am in the morning to go to the “restroom”, when I realise the cover of our tent is completely gone with the wind. This basically means that yes, we’re inside a tent but we might as well be outside, as the cover is what protects the tent from weather conditions and animals.
I’m laying inside my sleeping bag looking up, I can see the stars shining bright outside in the open sky. It’s absolutely stunning. It doesn’t bother me, our tent isn’t covered anymore. We’re inside a tent with a privileged view of the contrast of the dark night and the bright stars. It’s been a couple of years ever since I last saw the stars bright like this, shining with this intensity. It’s as if you can almost touch them. The sky is like a veil over me. I’m freezing but I feel safe. I wake up again later because of the light outside. The sun looks like a sharp orange dot rising up among the rocks and the skyline.
On the last day, we wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning, have breakfast, pack everything as quickly as we can and get ready to walk the 3 miles we have left to the parking lot. This hike is way easier than the ones we did before. It’s fast and straight, so you just keep walking. On the way, we can spot many jackrabbits. As soon as they see us approaching, they sprint as fast as they can into the wilderness and disappear. They’re such cute creatures, big and chubby, with their long furry ears sticking out of their heads. When we finally get to the parking lot, we put everything in the van, and then we drive up to Keys View that looks out over the Coachella Valley. We have lunch on the way and then drive back to Santa Barbara. As we’re driving out of the Park, I can still see from the window vast desert landscapes and mountains stretching in front of me. They look like lunar landscapes. It feels like we’re leaving the moon behind us as we drive away. Now, I can proudly say I’ve survived 4 days in the desert.
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