A Whiskey Writer Wanders Into The Desert In A Heat Wave

Stop me if you’ve heard this one already.

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” Oh wait, that’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

We were going to be so close to the Joshua Tree National Park that it would have been criminal not to stop by for a few days. We rented a house in Twentynine Palms and rolled into town in our rented Nissan Versa hatchback loaded down with climbing gear and no fewer than 8 gallons of water.

The first day we drove through the park, had a picnic at one of the picnic sites, and did a little hiking and rock hopping. We stopped by the Ranger station on our way out where the Rangers gave the kids a workbook to complete while they were visiting the park. It only got up to about 117 degrees Fahrenheit that day, so by the time we made it to our rental house the hot tub was a great place for us to cool off.

The next day we were in the park by 8 a.m., determined to get some rock climbing done before temperatures soared to 120F. We rock hopped on the shady side of the formation while my husband top roped to the top, removed his equipment, and then repelled down the other side of the rock formation. Then we drove to Keys View where we were overlooking the Coachella Valley. We ended the afternoon back in the Ranger’s station where we used the resources to identify all the different plants and animals we had seen in the park. The kids completed their workbooks and were sworn in as honorary Junior Park Rangers.

The next morning we rolled into the park even earlier, knowing that if everyone was going to climb we’d need an early start. We set up on the shaded side of a rock face to tackle Bumpy and spent two hours climbing while we were being swarmed by bees desperate for our moisture. We capped off our day with some additional hiking before heading back to the coast.

The desert ecosystem in Joshua Tree is unique in that it is the intersection of two distinct deserts. Joshua Trees grow almost exclusively in the Mojave Desert, while the Colorado Desert has more scrub bushes and huge rock formations. Although it can reach up to 135 degrees in the summertime, it’s a dry heat.

When you enter a desert ecosystem it’s crucial that you respect the elements. We each had 3 liters of water in our hydration packs, protective sun clothing and hats, and copious amounts of sunscreen. In addition we kept multiple gallons of cold water in a cooler in case of emergencies. In that kind of environment your only job is to stay hydrated.

The park was a beautiful place and I’m sure we will return in the fall some time in the future. Until then we are growing our own Joshua Trees from seeds we purchased at the Ranger station – some scientists believe they will be extinct within 100 years thanks to climate change.

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

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