the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected
when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing
back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My
Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or
computer issues over the years.
entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the
site, it was part of the Travel
Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange
and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Two: California.
that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost
definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site,
and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that
piece and used for the book.
material was originally posted on January 2, 2006. It was later
published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments
may have been made while bringing the material back to the site
in this posting.
~ ~ ~
four, Tuesday, April 19, 2005
like to begin this section with a little reminder… suntan lotion.
(Just keep it in mind. It will be important later.)
is the big risk day for me. It is either going to work out spectacularly…
or… be the biggest flop of the trip. And, truth be told, with
the San Diego Zoo finished… theme parks and sightseeing on the
way (which the boys like but don’t necessarily love)… the honest
truth is that if today goes down in flames the entire trip may
fall apart around it. If today goes well, it will be the centerpiece
of some terrific memories.
isn’t that we’re having a bad time. In fact, just the opposite…
the resort is good, the weather is great, and we’re having fun.
The Getty Center and the San Diego Zoo were incredibly nice and
we really enjoyed them, especially the zoo. There just hasn’t
been an overwhelming, signature moment. And I’m not sure Disneyland
will provide one for Jay and Justin.
enjoys seeing theme parks and ride roller coasters (not entirely
true… but close enough). Jay does as well… just not as much. Both
boys, and especially Jay, are really drawn to rocks and mountains
and oceans and trees. (In fairness, Terry and I basically want
to sleep late and not think about Connecticut. We’re open to adjusting
the sleeping late part.)
Jay said he wanted to include a national park for one of the days,
I started researching the idea. Eventually I began finding information
about the Joshua Tree National Park and found myself getting really
excited about the possibilities.
is, until I talked to people in California.
thing about the Joshua Tree National Park. No one has heard of
it. No one knows the directions to it. Californians basically
don’t seem to even know it exists.
start off with, I should mention the web site of the National
Park Service. I e-mailed them in late February after visiting
the site, and they sent me the Spring 2005 newsletter. It contained
some great information, including a map of the park that outlined
driving distances and points of interest. Awesome. If you’re going
to a national park anyplace, I highly advise you to ask for information
from them. Terrific resource. That said…
already introduced you to Paula. (She made an appearance on day
two of this travel diary.) When exchanging information with her
on a few places of interest, I mentioned Joshua Tree. She had
never heard of it, but thought it sounded kind of interesting.
(Uh-oh… a state resident that has never heard of it? So-so start
for the park.)
called the resort to confirm our reservations at one point and
ask some general questions. You know… about an iron in the room,
extra pillows… something I might be missing questions. I mentioned
Joshua Tree. The operator I spoke to informed me that the park
was a minimum of six hours away by car. That didn’t match up at
all with the directions and mileage I was seeing, but I figured
perhaps there was something going on… the old California traffic
thing or slower speeds on the routes available for travel or such…
that I wasn’t including.
hasn’t heard about it… a six hour drive… the park was picking
up speed on a possible downhill run.
we arrived at the resort I decided to ask about it at the desk,
and one girl told me they had heard of it, had never been to it,
and didn’t know anyone that had been to it. The other girl didn’t
know it existed.
this once promising lead wasn’t adding up too well.)
morning, we set off on our trip anyway.
scenery takes an impressive turn as you head out toward the park.
Those mountains in the distance? You get closer to them… you see
the snow on the top of them… and you drive past them. At times
it’s hard to see the top of a mountain as it disappears into the
clouds. Beautiful stuff.
drove past exits for Yorba Linda. Turned out I was the only one
who was impressed upon initially seeing the signs… no one else
in the car made the connection to Richard Nixon until I explained
it. I always wondered where Yorba Linda was. Never looked it up
when I was younger. Now I know.
stopped for gas. (It’s a rental… I’m putting in the cheapest gas,
and so help me, since then I’ve learned things could be worse…
I was cursing stations charging $2.60 to $2.80 a gallon for the
cheap stuff.) As we left the gas station we started to see fields
of windmills. They went on for miles… on both sides of the road.
(Or more precisely, turbines. Wind farms.)
this point in our trip we are on route 10. Looking over the maps
I had, especially the one I received from the National Park Service,
I had decided to enter through the North Entrance Station. So
from route 10 we connected with route 62 and drove around the
outer northwest edges of the park. We arrived in Twentynine Palms,
California, and ultimately at the Oasis Visitor Center, just about
three hours after we left our hotel that morning. Not too bad
a drive at all.
going to tell you right here that this turned out to be a simply
brilliant day. The weather was gorgeous (honestly just about flawless),
we ended up staying hours longer than we anticipated, and everyone
was overwhelmed by some simply breathtaking natural wonders. Gorgeous.
Did I say gorgeous? It was gorgeous. But I mention it here because
we were starving… and yet we could not get to lunch.
we had packed a lunch to eat in the park. A picnic. And the scenery
actually kept getting more and more impressive as we entered the
grounds. We’d see one thing, stop to take a look and some pictures
and decide it was neat and we were going to have a pretty good
day, and then suddenly we were all pointing at something coming
up in the distance that was even more impressive. Before we even
arrived at the gate, we were hungry. We had pretty much skipped
breakfast and taken off. Depending on the travel time, I planned
on driving in to one of the picnic areas of the park and stopping
for our lunch. But wouldn’t you know it… after arriving in a decent
amount of time, we kept seeing signs and plants and rocks and
things. So… we kept stopping… and kept photographing… and kept
pointing up the road just a bit. Little did we know that the small
lizards and first cactus were absolutely nothing compared to what
finally got to the Live Oak picnic area to eat our peanut butter
and jelly sandwiches. If you happen to head in to the park, I
highly recommend bringing not only water (which, at the visitor
center, they will ask you if you have with you) but also some
food such as a lunch. We had purchased a small, disposable cooler
earlier on the trip. We filled it with some ice from our hotel
and used it for drinks (water and soda… let’s not go crazy here
people) during some of our drives. On this day, it worked perfectly
for drinks, lunch, and other stuff.
and Justin took off to walk around and climb up the rocks. During
the course of the day, Tigg and I did our share of climbing and
walking as well.
pulled off to the side of the road a few times, but basically
here is the running order for our trip around the park during
Rock – Yes. It does. Looks exactly like one.
Mountain viewing area – We didn’t walk up the full
trail here to the top of Ryan Mountain, but we did meander around
a bit. It was right around here that the actual Joshua Trees
began to appear.
Dam – It is advertised as a 1.1 mile loop. Felt like
about 3 miles to me. Tigg insists it was closer to 8. Still,
well worth it. Of all the wildlife we saw on our visit, most
of it was around here. According to the Joshua Tree National
Park information pamphlet, we saw: jackrabbits, kangaroo rats,
antelope ground squirrels and plenty of small lizards. The dam
supports a small reservoir and was pretty neat to see.
Valley – Very interesting surprise here. The rock formations
had become incredible by this point in the park, with one after
another topping all previous offerings. We drove in to the parking
area and got out of our car. After taking a few steps, an absolutely
jaw-droppingly stunning view opened up between this spot and
Ryan Mountain. Breathtaking. Amazing. Brilliant. Smashing. I
have no words that fully capture it.
Rock – Neat example of the rock formations in the park.
View – 5,185 foot elevation and a beautiful view.
Cactus Garden – For me, the most visually striking
place in the entire park. Driving along the main road (in parts
referred to as either Park Boulevard or Pinto Basin Road), there
is a marking on the map where the Mojave Desert and the Colorado
Desert meet. Yes… two deserts in this park. At one point, the
Cholla Cactus Garden is noted. Earlier, we had passed some Joshua
Trees before we even got to the park. Inside, we’d see one,
then a few more, then more than a few more, and finally Joshua
Trees as far as the eyes could focus. So, we had no clue what
to expect from the cholla cactus, but figured we would see a
few and then finally a few more. Nope. It just smacks right
into you… here it is. In the middle of nowhere, and it is absolutely
Rock – It’s hidden folks. Located in the White Tank
campground area, Tigg and I just kept walking along until we
eventually found it right when we were going to give up. Along
the way we spotted two iguana-like lizards that looked really
neat and were pretty decent in size.
after we started moving from place to place inside the park, Jay
asked if we could stay until after sunset. He wanted to get some
shots of the setting sun, and also around the desert after it
got a bit dark. Since we now knew the drive was a manageable three
hours and didn’t have major plans for the next day, we agreed.
after visiting Arch Rock, we decided to leave the park to get
something to eat for dinner, try to find Jay an additional memory
card for his camera, and then get back in time for sunset. It
took us about five hours to cover all of the ground noted above…
and we could have moved much more slowly. Having arrived close
to noon though, and knowing what we wanted to do after dinner,
we had to keep moving along.
we pulled in to Jack in the Box to eat, you’ll never guess what
After a day in the desert, we were all a little sunburned. (You
forgot the suntan lotion too… even after I reminded you… didn’t
dinner, Tigg starts on one of her favorite stories… about how
she used to go to a Jack in the Box all the time when she was
growing up in Warwick, Rhode Island. She went on and on about
how she used to get the tacos there, and thought they only cost
sure, Tigg… sure.
trying to introduce the boys to Burger Chef and Jeff from my youth,
we finally wrap things up and head back to Joshua Tree. We never
did find a place that sold memory cards. That meant Jay had plenty
of memory to take the pictures he wanted to take, just not enough
to take as many pictures as he would have liked to.
we drove back out toward the Keys View area, I come up with what
may have been the dumbest smart thing I have ever said. We had
stopped to take a few pictures and then returned to the car. I
was wondering if Jay wanted to be looking out across the desert
as the sun went down. Instead, as we headed up the mountain to
watch the sunset, I asked: “Do you want to be looking at the sun
or away from it?”
finally decided to help me with my confusion by explaining that
to watch the sunset, she would prefer to have a view of the setting
the sun disappeared into the distant haze of the horizon, we drove
back down into the desert, making some assorted stops. In Joshua
Tree, the night sky… and more to the point, the twilight sky…
is one of those all too rare amazing experiences.
the end, it was a fabulous day… not just the best of this trip,
but one of those special days that rank up there with the best
from any vacation. I can’t recommend the Joshua Tree National
Park strongly enough.
are a few notes from the end of day four that I jotted down while
driving home. By the way, we used a different road out of the
park. We had seen on a map, and in some signs along the way in,
the West Entrance Station. It ended up saving us a lot of time
on our way home, ultimately connecting to route 62 without having
to go back through the park. Basically we went west and out, instead
of looping around by moving east to reach the road to use to head
west. I would still use the same entrance to start my day (Oasis
Visitor Center) if I ever have the opportunity to visit the park
again, but this exit was no trouble to navigate, even in the dark.
listened to 101.1 on the radio. Over time some of the songs
became a bit repetitive. This could have been because they
didn’t vary their rotation much over the week that we were
there... and it could be that they never vary their rotation
much at all. If it’s the latter, it could make for an awfully
boring station over time. But for our week, we really enjoyed
most of the drivers we encountered were great. Even in traffic
jams everyone seemed ok with the way things moved. Heck, for
the first time in my life I actually was in a traffic jam
where lanes merged and the cars all alternated back and forth
perfectly into one lane… and that happened three times during
our trip. Imagine that… people that can figure out how to
alternate merging traffic. That said, a stunning number of
drivers were not only speeding, but idiotic jerks as well.
Basically, there were no clueless, casual drivers. No drivers
in the middle. Everyone seemed either really good and aware
of their surroundings or amazingly reckless.
And to wrap up day four,
I’d like to take a moment to add a few bits and pieces to this
entry of tour diary. A computer nightmare led to an unprecedented
cleaning of my office. And underneath stacks of papers, programs
and other assorted stuff that Tigg is stunned I managed to defend
keeping, I found a piece of paper with two things written on it…
found a note on a map that said California began the transition
to a mileage based numbering system for their exits in 2002.
They expected it to take three years for a full implementation.
Ok… during the trip I saw some exits signs marked in one way
or another, and a few of them marked by mileage, and I even
mentioned this to you before… but there is no way it will
be done in 2005.
– Evidently the trip from our hotel in San Clemente to the Joshua
Tree park only took us 160 miles to cover. The notation I have
for mileage is a 6,241 start and a 6,401 arrival.
– Our route to the park. I’m including this because later during
our trip I noticed a stretch of one of these highways was closed
(it was on route 55). And, you might actually want to know how
we drove it, that the signs were very easy to follow, and it went
55 (heading north or east is the note I have listed for this…
and all other connections)
91 (I have a note that says 91 involved a possible toll section
that didn’t accept cash, but I don’t have any recollection
of encountering a problem with it, so I think there is an
express section of 91 and a regular section and we stayed
on the regular part… help me out people that know more about
62 into Twentynine Palms
to wrap it up, a brief defense of my north – east – I don’t know
comment. In Connecticut, route 95 effectively runs east – west.
There is no part of it in the state that truly runs north or south…
check out a map and you’ll understand what I mean. And yet route
95 across Connecticut is for 95 north and 95 south.
And that is how 95 runs for the majority of the east coast… north
– south. Just not in Connecticut. Hence, while I cannot recall
if, for instance, route 215 above was considered north or east,
I do know that for the drive to the park on every one of those
routes we went to the north or to the east in the direction we