Going Solo in Joshua Tree National Park

It’s Tuesday Afternoon and after getting some more bad news, I decided to take the only medicine that ever does me any good. A trip to clear my head. A couple of days alone in nature should be just enough to get me feeling like myself again. I start packing up my things in the back of my truck. I’m not taking a lot, but I’m not going ultra light either. I take my day pack, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, chair and food and water for 3 days. As I load up my truck, I keep asking myself “Is this enough?” and then I ask myself “Is it too much?” I don’t want to take too much, but then again I don’t want to take everything either. I finally decide that it’s the perfect amount. I close my truck up, thinking that tomorrow I set off on an adventure.

The next day when I arrive at the Park. I decided to enter from the North and make my way down south to my planned campsite. The best thing about doing this mid week is that there is hardly anyone here. The campsites are practically empty, and there is blissful stillness in the park that is only broken by the occasional speeding car. I spent my first day near the Jumbo Rocks campground. The surrounding area is absolutely fantastic. I found small little trails that lead me near the large rock outcrops. Once I got close to the rock I decided to scramble up to the top. There are no words that describe how much I love scrambling. It makes me feel so alive to move up the rock, and the slight danger factor really gets the blood flowing.

After spending the better part of the day hiking and scrambling, I decided to head out in order to make camp before sun down. I had made the decision to stay on a patch of BLM land that is located a few miles outside of the park. While there are some wonderful campsites located inside the park, I really felt like roughing it and being isolated on this trip. There was no surprise when I arrived to an empty camp lot. Not a soul was in sight, which was great news to me, as this is what I wanted. I pitched my tent and as the sun sank in the distance I started a fire.

The night sky was simply stunning that night. The Milky Way stretched over my head and extended beyond the horizon. The stars glittered and shined in every direction. Growing up in an area with a lot of light pollution, you don’t get to see the stars like this. It’s great to have opportunities like this to see the night sky with little light pollution. Every time I see the stars, it’s like I’m looking at home. I see my family and friends in those stars, and it comforts me.

The next day, I decided to hike into the park. I wanted to have a really long hike and I figured this was the best way to do so. I had enough water and I knew of a Ranger Station where I could refill my hydropack so I wasn’t worry about not having enough water. I should have paid closer attention to the map before deciding on this course of action.20141113_103300 As I didn’t realize I made a mistake of underestimating the distance of the hike. I thought I was only about 4 miles away, when in fact I was around 6.5 miles away from the Ranger Station. That hike in took most of my morning, and as the days grow shorter, every minute really does count. Still it wasn’t that bad and after a short break at the station I headed towards Mastodon  Peak Trail. I was told the trails where well marked, but it didn’t appear to be so. Now don’t get me wrong, I love exploring, I love taking the beaten path and such, but when you have already hiked about 8 miles, you really just want to know where you are going.

It was literally a few feet after the trail head, when I couldn’t tell which way to go. The map from the station was not detailed enough to show the path clearly, so I did what I usually do when I don’t know which way to go. I followed the footsteps in the sand. I did this for about a half mile until the foot steps lead to the road. Great, now I either can backtrack or press on and see if I could find the trail again. I decided to press on, and shortly I found a trail marker not to far from where I was at. I scrambled up to the marker and thought finally I’m on the trail everything is going to be good. About 50 feet later I realize that I’m not on the path again. Seriously, this never happens to me. I backtrack again until I find the trail again. I scanned the area to see which way I should go next. That is when I saw a little stub of a post poking out of the ground. It didn’t look natural so I made my way towards it. The little stub only poked out by about  8 inches and it had worn out painted arrows on it. So now I knew I was surely on the trail.

I thought it was rather odd for a trail marker to be so small and so low to the ground. If you were not looking at the ground, you could easily miss it. Not to mention some parts of the trail looked washed out from recent flash floods making it hard to see any distinguishing trail marks. It was a bit annoying but then I remembered reading a post on the information wall, that due to recent increases of vandalism the rangers who would usually be working on maintaining the trails were now removing graffiti. So now when I can’t find the trail I just get upset at taggers for defacing the environment , which in turn causes the trails to deteriorate.

I eventually made my way up to Mastodon Peak. It was magnificent.  It wasn’t really that high up, but all of those rock structures poking out of the ground, much like a whale breaching the surface of the ocean, were incredible and beautiful. Rocks always have an interesting story to tell, and these were no exception. I scrambled up a structure that looked like it overlooked the trail. Near the top were crevices that separated the rocks. Now I’m afraid of heights, and of getting hurt, so what do I do? I jump across the crevices, of course. I then sat at the top and soaked in the view for as long as I could.

The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and I still had a long hike to camp, so I started heading back. As I walked out of the park and through the mountain ranges I knew it would be dark before I reached camp. The temperature was starting to drop, and I was still a good five miles away from camp. That is when someone who was driving by, stopped and asked if I was lost. I informed the man that I wasn’t, just making my way to camp. He offered to give me a ride if I needed it, and considering the alternate would be walking the next few miles in the cold dark, I decided to accept the offer. His name was Jose and he helped me out in a big way. Thanks to him I got to my camp before dark. It was going to be my last night camping here, and I was already pretty tired from all the hiking from the past two days. Doing that last five miles would have really been something that I didn’t want to have to do.

As a sat by the fire I reflected on the past week. The ups, the downs, and all the craziness that life likes to throw at us. It didn’t feel as bad anymore. I knew the sun was going to rise tomorrow and with the new day, will come new opportunities and another chance to make things right.20141113_054038

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