Hiking up and down wishy washy
A backpacking trip in Joshua Tree National Park
Eureka Peak Trail, January 29-30, 2005
So towards the end of last week I made plans to go camping with my parents at
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park over the weekend. Well, it was a good idea, but then
my Dad had to work on Saturday and my Mom didn't feel like making the trip without
him. So I called up heredoggy, a friend from Backpacker.com, and asked him if he'd like
to go. He said sure! Heredoggy, aka Jeffrey, moved out here recently and has seen just
a little bit of California. So I picked him up in Santa Clarita Friday night and we headed
towards the desert.
We soon found out that heading east on Highway 210 which merges into I-10 wasn't a
very pleasant driving experience on a rainy Friday evening. It was very congested and
for a while it seemed we'd never get out of LA and San Bernardino so we entertained
the idea of just camping in the trees in the median. But we stuck with it and finally left
most of the traffic behind. Near the town of Fontana we exited the freeway to find gas
and a place to eat dinner. This turned out to be a harder feat than one may imagine.
Finally after a little bit of exploring and some u-turns we found a gas station and a
Mexican food restaurant which claimed to have the best tacos in town. Without sampling
all the other tacos in that town I can't say for sure if their claim was correct, but they
were pretty darn good tacos.
We then got back on the road and I made the decision that we were going to stop in
Joshua Tree National Park for the night. It was getting late and I was getting tired. So
we drove into the northwest corner of the park to Blackrock Campground. There we set
up my big car camping tent, a Kelty Trail Dome 4, by moonlight and decided we wouldn't
have to stake it down as it was a still evening so we just crawled inside and talked for
awhile. Then just as we were starting to fall asleep a terrific wind began whipping
outside. After the tent nearly caved in on our heads we decided we'd best stake it
down. So we left our warm sleeping bags and went outside, found the tent stakes,
pushed them in, then crawled back in the now stable tent. Then the wind stopped, of
We slept in the next morning. I poked my head out at the sunrise and entertained the
thought of taking a picture but was too sleepy to remember where my camera was. So I
went back to sleep.
When we finally got up it was pretty clear in my mind that I didn't want to get back in
the truck and drive anymore. So we decided to stay at Joshua Tree rather than go on to
Anza-Borrego. After consulting a book I found an 11-mile loop trail that looked like it
would be a good overnight BP trip. Jeffrey agreed and so we packed our packs, bought a
map from the campground office/visitor center, drove to the campground entrance
where there is a backcountry board, parked there, and took off on the trail.
There is not much water in Joshua Tree and what natural springs there are are not for
backpackers but for wildlife so you're supposed to carry in all your water. We each
brought about a gallon and that ended up being more than enough for about 28 hours in
the backcountry... as the weather was chilly and the trail wasn't too difficult.
The first part of the trail followed a sandy wash. In fact, most of the trail was a sandy
wash. At first it was difficult to walk in but soon enough it became easier. The trail
steadily climbed through a prickly landscape of sharp rocks, yucca, cholla cactus, juniper,
pinyon, and Joshua trees - all with fluffy white clouds overhead to soften the view. Then
we went over a low pass and down the side of a ravine and then started hiking down
At some point there was supposed to be a trailpost pointing the way up Eureka Peak but
we never saw it. So we decided after lunch to drop our packs and hike cross-country.
We headed up a steep mountain, over a low grassy pass, then we dropped down into
another wash. But this wash was narrow with steep granite walls. It was very cool back
in there and I really liked the different colors of granite that we saw. We even came
across a water seep back in there.
The wash broadened out then opened up to a wide valley. On the eastern edge of this
valley was a ridge that had been burnt. We decided to scale this ridge and see what we
could see. Jeffrey took off up the side while I followed a natural drainage which ended
up being very steep with lots of loose rocks. I dubbed it Forboding Canyon and vowed to
never climb up anything like it again.
At the top of the ridge a magnificent view of the central part of Joshua Tree and its
plethora of rocks unfolded. We could also see to the north where some crazy rich person
had built a mansion on top of a rugged rocky mountain. We wondered how they got up to
their mansion as there were no roads visible. Helicopter I suppose.
Jeffrey carries a walking stick that his friend made him out of cherry wood. It is nearly
as tall as he is and is smooth and light weight. I soon learned that it had many uses. One
use that was discovered on this trip was launching pieces of Joshua Trees into the air.
You see, the end of a Joshua Tree branch often breaks off and it has a hole through the
center of it. On the burnt ridge we were on there were many of these pieces lying
about. Jeffrey would thread one onto his walking stick then swing the stick forward
thus propelling the piece of Joshua tree into the air. It was really quite impressive how
far he was able to fling them. I think that if it were an Olympic sport Jeffrey would get
the gold medal.
As the afternoon waned we hiked down the burnt hill then headed back up the rocky wash
and over the grassy pass to where we'd dropped our packs. After we put them on our
backs we walked a wee bit down the wash then found a nice campsite; it was on a level
bench above the wash.
Just a few minutes after I had dropped my pack and was putting on a dry pair of socks
and my campshoes a yucca monster showed up and demanded I put up the tent. Well,
okay, it was just Jeffrey with a Joshua tree frond hat, but he made a very convincing
After making dinner and watching the sun set it began to get downright chilly in our
wash. We put on all the layers of clothing that we had and were still cold so we began to
do jumping jacks and hop around and, well, dance in the wash. With our headlamps on
flashing mode it became a wash dance party. You can laugh, and you probably would have
if you had seen us, but hey, it did warm us up!
In between dancing I taught Jeffrey the names of a few constellations. We also spied
several satellites and I saw a shooting star. There were lots of scars up there that
evening, er, um stars that is.
Once we were thoroughly toasty we crawled inside the tent and fell asleep. It was
restless sleep, however, as the wind gusted around the tent all night long. Finally the
light of dawn began showing and I heard a few coyotes in the distance howling and yelping
I rested a little longer then decided it was time for tea and cream-of-wheat. I sat
down on my thermarest chair and set up my stove in an enclave under a scrub oak tree
which blocked most of the wind. Shortly afterwards Jeffrey got up and began his
breakfast preparations. He refused to leave his sleeping bag, though, and hopped around
in it like it was a potato sack. He also didn't know it but I had my journal out and was
writing down a few of the more colorful phrases he uttered that morning. Two of my
favorites were: "Come sweet sunshine and spread thy effervescent rays." & "Hmmmmm,
that's going to be some thick oatmeal... Thicker than snot."
Once breakfast was done we began to pack up and then it was back down the wash. Down
down down we trod past more colorful rocks and the everpresent Joshua Trees. We
began to see a few houses then we reached a fence and the boundary of the park. Soon
the wash ended on a street and not near the campground like we had hoped. But here
there is a park and I decided I needed to see if I could swing with my pack on. After we
played for a bit on the swings and the slides it was time to try to find the campground.
After walking about 4 or 5 blocks through suburbia we found the Blackrock Campground
and my truck. It was 11:45 and we decided to head into town, Yucca Valley, and grab a
bite to eat. We ate at an old diner/family restaurant which had interior decorating of a
questionable taste. The ceiling was painted pink to match the pink vinyl booths and there
were 2 huge identical paintings of a smiling Mexican father with his two smiling
daughters on opposite walls. But the food was decent, I had a avocado BLT and Jeffrey
had a Manny's omelette. We decided Manny must be the Mexican guy in the painting.
We decided to take a different route back and we headed up to Lucerne Valley then
Apple Valley then out to Palmdale and Lancaster and finally we headed southwest on Hwy
14 and made it back to Santa Clarita. After dropping Jeffrey off at his place I then
headed up I-5 homewards.
I thoroughly enjoyed this overnight trip, the scenery was nice and we pretty much had
the trail to ourselves. Jeffrey is great company and I was forever laughing at his silly
antics and phrases. We both speak German, him a lot better than me, and it was fun
babbling auf Deutsch. I was the first person from Backpacker.com that he has ever met
and I hope we get to go hiking together again sometime :)
|Jeffrey demonstrating the use of a Joshua Tree frond as an umbrella
|Nothing to see here, just a pile of rocks
|An ugly tree that was growing in the wash
|What a terrible spot to spend the night
|Just when I thought I was safe Yucca Man showed up
|Sigh, more rocks, more shrubs, how boring is this?
|My pack wanted to swing as well!