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Into the desert

California day eleven

View California 1991 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Our longest, hottest day

On the road to the Mojave Desert


In Littlerock

It was Sunday, so after breakfast in a roadside café we went to mass. There we were greeted by a guitar-playing cowboy who invited us to turn to each other and say, ‘Howdy neighbour’. Mass over, we returned to the car and set off on what was to prove the longest day’s driving of the holiday, and the hottest.

At first we drove south, passing Edwards Airforce Base where the space shuttle lands. Then we turned south east to bypass LA, passing through several small towns such as Littlerock. Here we stopped for a drink, to the fascination of the young waitress who thought it was ‘really neat’ that we were from London, England – while to us her very ordinary (and probably very boring) small American town seemed quite exotic.

Our route took us through the outskirts of San Bernadino and on to the busy Interstate 10, from which we saw more of the white wind pumps we had seen in the hills near San Francisco. We also saw two giant dinosaurs outside one of the service areas but as the journey had already taken some time decided not to stop.

We turned off on to a smaller road, with lampposts and telegraph poles decorated with yellow ribbons that had welcomed home troops from the Gulf War. This road, dotted with warnings such as ‘last gas before the desert’, brought us to the entrance for our main destination for today.

Joshua Tree National Monument

We paid our $5 and were given a map, and we drove to the first main stopping area. As we got out of our beautifully air-conditioned car the heat hit us (we were later to learn that it had been 102F in the shade that day – and there wasn’t a lot of shade!)

The heat was of course very dry, and we were able to walk around for a while and take lots of pictures of the strange Joshua Trees themselves, the unusual rock formations and the surrounding desert. But we ate our picnic in the cool of the car!




Joshua trees

What with the heat and having relatively little time here, we didn’t tackle any of the trails in the park, but there was plenty of interest within easy reach of the well-made (and very quiet) road. Our second stop was at Hidden Valley, with more photogenic rocks and a wide variety of cacti.

Exploring Hidden Valley

However we soon drove on to the third, and most spectacular, halt, at Keys View. Being quite high up it was a much more pleasant temperature here. A short walk from the parking area brought us to a view of the whole Palm Springs Valley and the Santa Rosa mountains beyond. It was very hazy (caused by smog drifting up the valley from LA) but no less dramatic for that.

Smoggy views

We then followed the road right through the park, crossing an interesting area called the Transitional Zone, where the high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado Desert. The difference between the two ecologies was quite apparent.

The road through the park

Our final stop in the Joshua Tree National Monument was at the Cholla Cactus Garden where there was a group of Bigelow cacti, also called Teddy Bear cacti because from a distance they appear soft and fluffy (they aren’t!)

Cholla Cactus Garden

Palm Springs

Eventually we left the park and drove the final miles along the freeway to Palm Springs where, after a slight detour (i.e. getting lost!) we found our Motel 6. We were both tired from the long day (but especially Chris who had driven nearly 300 miles) and were concerned to find that they hadn’t received our reservation, but luckily as summer is the low season there they had plenty of rooms available and gave us a nice one overlooking the pool.

Motel 6, Palm Springs

Aerial Tramway leaflet

With perhaps unfortunate timing, given the long and tiring day, we had planned a special evening out. First however we refreshed ourselves with a dip in the pool (where the water was incredibly warm). Then we got ready to go out, and as we were headed for the Aerial Tramway, that meant putting on trousers, despite the heat, and carrying jumpers.

We drove a few miles through the centre of Palm Spring to the tramway where we bought a combination ticket, called ‘Ride and Dine’, which covered the return fare and a meal at the top of the mountain. The actual ride on the cable car was similar to others we’ve been on in Europe, but the behaviour of our travelling companions was completely different, and good fun – every time the cabin lurched past a pylon, there were shrieks and cheers, with more cheers as we reached our destination.

We arrived at the top station, having climbed nearly 6,000 feet and crossed (apparently) five vegetation ones. Certainly we had gone, as promised, ‘from palms to pines’ and the scenery around us, and the wildlife, was more reminiscent of Yosemite than nearby Joshua Tree.

We went out on to the mountainside, glad of our jumpers, to see the view down into the valley. Despite the haze covering the floor of the valley it was a great scene and we got some lovely photos of the sunset.

Sunset from the top


Then we went back indoors to take advantage of the ‘dine’ part of the ticket, which entitled us to a generous meal of barbecued ribs, beans, salad etc. Plus of course the lovely view, only marred by a kind of ‘singing cowboy’ who was determined to serenade us. Luckily we dissuaded him!

Back at the foot of the mountain we had to find our way back to the motel in the dark, but managed this successfully. We finished our long day with a cold drink by the pool; it was still hot enough to sit out in t-shirts at 10.00 PM. What a contrast to San Francisco just a few days earlier!

Total miles for day: 322

Posted by ToonSarah 06:13 Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises desert sunset road_trip views california national_park cacti

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Again, this is a part of California I have never been to.

by Nemorino

I love deserts Don, so this was a great area for us to explore. But you can really only do so by car, which I expect rules it out for you now

by ToonSarah

True. I haven't even been in a car for several years now, much less driven one.

by Nemorino

Thats really cool.... going from the heat of the desert in the day to a lovely mountain with fabulous scenery and a bit of a chill. What an experience!

by aussirose

A long day which started with a guitar playning cowboy and ended with a singing cowboy.... how fortunate you were lol..

by Wabat

I hadn't thought of it like that Albert, but you're right! And Ann, yes, the coolness of the mountains was very welcome after the desert :)

by ToonSarah

Ahh, the desert ... it heats up the room immediately!

by Ils1976

We could use some of that warmth now - but only some of it, it was far too hot for me to be comfortable for long!

by ToonSarah

It can be hot for sure, I had the same experience when we visited Death Valley, but I must say that now I hope we've got a bit of the warmth back then. I love the winter, but it seems I am not used to the cold weather than when I was younger ... strange, but so true! :)

by Ils1976

Ha, I've never liked the cold! But I'm not comfortable when it's very hot either

by ToonSarah

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