Joshua Tree Hiking — An Adventure in the California Desert

   

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Joshua Tree Hiking

I think somewhere, at some point, someone must have said something pithy about hiking such as, “The two things a hiker needs most are preparation and good equipment.” It’s a reasonable assertion, sure enough. But there is a third commodity even more essential to the adventurer: good information. Joshua Tree hiking is no exception, and believe it or not, detailed and precise information can be hard to come by.

Joshua Tree Hiking Maps and Info

Unfortunately, despite all my gathering and documenting of Joshua Tree hiking maps and information, hiking guides are notoriously cryptic and I found myself lacking precise directions I could understand. As I drew near Joshua Tree, I tried to make sense of the paltry directions. Go 2.1 miles NW of such and such road then veer past the Y junction and onto Sheep Pass Lane. To me, it might as well have said, “At the edge of the shire descend into the forbidden forest and follow the eastern path into the grove of blood-red cacti.”

Getting Lost in my Joshua Tree Hiking Excursion

I was so helplessly lost, I pressed on with the other of the hiker’s most important qualities: a willingness to accept being lost and perpetual disorientation. Besides, who can worry about cardinal directions in the midst of towering rock formations and the scattering of what I presume were Joshua trees, which look like sort of droopy, upside down cacti. The sheer oddity of these trees, at the foot of the endless and alternating rock formations and mountains stretching to every horizon is enough to inspire anyone with their forgotten, youthful wonder.

But don’t dizzy too long in the sublime. The road is busy with bicycles, bikers, cars and other Joshua Tree hikers that have apparently stopped in awe. Trust me, it’s an understandable sensation. Once you are in in the National Park, you want to rid yourself of the burden of the car. The impulse to rejoin, to atone with the earth overwhelms.

Finally, I pulled over as close to what I hoped was my destination, Ryan Mountain, as possible, grabbed my pack, and headed for the thickest part of the stoic Joshua trees. Here and there a faint whispering breeze swept into the silent empty.

Being Prepared for Joshua Tree Hiking

It turns out I was in supreme violation of my initial, hypothetical hiker’s creed. Only if I were barefoot, could I have been more ill-equipped. While running shoes sufficed along the soft, shady soil beneath Appalachian Pines, for the high desert, navigating cacti and sandy rock faces, I recommend something a bit more rugged.

My Joshua Tree Hiking Route

As I followed no discernible trail and no specific direction but up, I will try to convey my route as accurately as possible.

Follow the flutter of the twin hummingbirds along the low-cove then head upward to the dimpled rock that noses east. From there, scale haphazardly until you encounter the leaning-yellow, bee-swarmed cactus. Once here, you are anywhere from 1 to 2 hours from the summit.

But seriously, if you can endure a steep, slipping ascent with no trail and no promise of summit, it’s a doable hike. And if you do reach the summit, you touch that hidden swirling that I have no other name for than mystical. Yes, there is terror in the immensity but pleasure too. It’s one of those rare and ever rarer moments that cuts through the mechanical and forces you to acknowledge beauty and wonder. Maybe all the partial information in those Joshua Tree hiking guides serves a purpose after all. It gives the hiker their greatest joy: the getting lost and the getting found.



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