Dan and Hannah Hike a Threesome of Trails at Joshua Tree National Park in California

Lost map of JT and Lake Havasu

Somehow they left Nowhere off this map

Hannah and I arrive midday at the Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert, literally in the middle of Nowhere, California.  Fired up to explore this national park on our last days as sunbirds in California, we are greeted by snark at the visitor center.   Let me set the stage.

Walking into the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, I approach the counter looking for a hiking recommendation and say to the park ranger, we have never been to Joshua Tree.

Ryan visitor center

Without a smile, she responds, shame on you.  Whoa!  What about, you are in for the time of your life or March is the best time of the year to visit with the cooler temps and the desert life blooming, all with a smile.

But noooooo!   Snark slaps me in the face.  Perhaps, it was a joke?  Ellen DeGeneres says, if it was a joke, we’d both be laughing.  As the founder of Zappos (online shoe seller) believes (and I paraphrase), all successful businesses are, in fact, service businesses.  The product changes, but every successful business is about service.  That goes for the national park service, too.  Hmmmm.  Service is in its name, and yet…!

Ryan 1A H at start of trail

Staircase to Ryan Mountain which is behind the mountain in the foreground under the bluest of blue skies

Figuring she was having a bad day and ready to live my belief in the Fourth Agreement (Don’t take anything personally.) of Don Miguel Ruiz, I ask, what hiking trails do you recommend?   She mentions a few, and we escape as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, I have our twenty-something friend, Justin Kyker, to thank for his Joshua Tree hiking recommendation – Ryan Mountain.  Rated strenuous, it has a 1000’ of elevation gain to the summit at 5457′ a mile and a half away.

Ryan 1B masterful stonework

The natural stonework of the trail is magnificently intricate.  Italian stone masons would give up their first born to have their signatures etched into these stones.  At the start, the trail is a glorious natural granite staircase.  As the signature trail of the park, it is happy with people climbing to the distant mountain.

Quickly the switchbacks take us to where the wind is cranking.  Fifteen to 20 mph gets our attention, but our warmth remains as the full sun adds ten degrees to the mid-50s ambient temperature.

Ryan 2A H on step trail

Just in front of us, two young couples (thirty-somethings) sense us and make sure they step lively and stay ahead, not wanting to be held up by two seventy-somethings.  Dream on.  We feast on thirty-somethings for lunch on the trail.  Within a half mile, our steady, not-stopping-to-smell-the-roses pace, has them eating our dust.  As we pass, they smile and seem delightful; we have a touch of remorse as we snack on them right here on the trail.

Ryan 3 D at top

An Ithaca Bomber atop Ryan Mountain

Soon we are behind the first mountain, wondering which distant summit is ours.  At times, the mountain protects us from the powerful winds.  Other times, the winds mess with us, clearly establishing that Mother Nature is the boss of the apple sauce (i.e. a euphemism for absolutely nothing, just a playful rhyme that’s fun to say).

Ryan 3A D and H at top of Ryan

Atop Ryan Mountain beneath blue on blue skies

Climbing to the summit of Ryan Mountain in 45 minutes, we are loving the views in every directon.  Check out the video from high atop Ryan Mountain and note the wind chorus in the background.


Once back at the trailhead and wanting to add to our 90 minutes of hiking, we drive to the nearby Barker Dam trailhead.  As a short and sweet mile and a half hike in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park, we have a hike with no elevation gain, ideal for families with small kids.

Ryan Barker 1B crash pads

As we start out, we meet five or six twenty-somethings with rectangular foam pads on their backs.  Any idea why?  See the picture to the right.  For the answer, see just beneath my final image of the Barker Dam trail below.

Constructed by cattlemen, the Barker Dam itself is a gathering place for desert wildlife, including birds and Desert Bighorn Sheep, of which we see not a single one.

In the end, it’s just a helluva sweet walk in the Mojave Desert.  See the images below

Ryan Barker water at dam

Pool/reservoir behind the Barker Dam

Ryan Barker 1A H at start of trail

The sandy Barker Dam Trail begins

Ryan Barker 2 H by stones

Hannah among the boulders on the Barker Dam Trail

Ryan Barker 3 sandy part of trail

Desert stroll among the Joshua trees

Ryan Barker about more


The rectangular foam pads are for novice boulder climbers to be used literally as crash pads.


Within a stone’s throw of the Barker Dam is the one-mile Hidden Valley Trail.  Rumored to be the one-time home of cattle rustlers, Hidden Valley is an another no elevation gain walk in the desert among massive boulders.  Again, short and sweet, the trail even on this Friday afternoon has a bumper crop of foreign visitors, families, and couples in love.  The “bouldering” public has another golden place to practice their craft.

Check the images from our desert hike at Hidden Valley.

Ryan Hidden 2 H with stones

The boulder-y Hidden Valley Trail

Ryan Hidden 2B stony mountain

Hidden Valley Trail

Ryan Hidden about even even more



If there is one hike to do in the Joshua Tree Middle-of-Nowhere National Park, make it Ryan Mountain.  Our kind of national park!

Dan and Hannah Hike at Joshua Tree National Park in California’s Mojave Desert

Lost truth

Previously in this blog, I have written about small t truths (i.e. one’s personal beliefs) that complement the big T truths (i.e. one’s religious or spiritual beliefs) in our lives.  Click here for that blog.  Today I have another small t gem for your consideration.

Do what you want to do even though it might disappoint another.  And by doing so, you will have a better relationship with that person.

Either you are thinking: (1) Sounds a little me, me, me, Danny Boy or (2) well, duh, of course that is true.  Hold on, let me explain and give you an example.

If you do something you don’t want to do, resentment can rear its ugly head quite easily.  Would you want someone to do something for you that they didn’t want to do?  I wouldn’t.

If you do what you want, the other person has a clearer idea what you like and dislike.  You become more real to them, and they know when you say something you mean it; and you aren’t just being disingenuously polite.

Lost Wayne and Nancy

Wayne and Nancy

So, the example.  In the fall, Hannah and I had arranged in early March to meet with our longtime (40+ years) friend Nancy, whose husband Wayne had died recently, in Zion National Park, four hours south of her home in Utah.  (Click here for my eulogy blog for Wayne.)

In the days prior to our planned meeting during the first week of March, the weather forecast for our overnight and hike together in Zion turned nasty – a forecast of snow, morning temps in the teens, and daily highs in the mid-40s were not conducive to hiking or even being outside.

Lost D and Wayne

Two cool guys, Dan and Wayne (1991) when the Family Turley came to visit us in Maine

Three days before we were to meet, we offered Nancy the option of postponing our rendezvous in Zion.  Though I bet she wanted to talk with us, two people who knew and loved her husband Wayne dearly, she said the drive through the mountain passes in southern Utah concerned her.  Even though we might be disappointed, she said she’d like to postpone.

Knowing she was doing what she wanted to (re: my small t truth), Hannah and I were pleased for her and for ourselves.

Lost map of JT and Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu City is 25 miles north of where route 62 crosses the Colorado River

Once Nancy decided, Hannah and I then chose not to go to Zion either, which opened us to spending an extra day in the sunshine at Joshua Tree National Park and two days of warm in Lake Havasu City, Arizona on the Colorado River.

Lost 2 H at JT sign

Nancy opened the door for us to find the good in the change of plans.

After a February in Carpinteria, California (near Santa Barbara), we head east to Joshua Tree National Park, thanks to the recommendation of our California friend Justin Kyker (For those of you keeping score at home, that is Big Steve and Amelia’s kid).  Aided by our pickleball friend Mark’s advice to delay our morning departure so as to avoid the LA metro snarl, we leave at 9A and cruise along the LA freeways and beyond for the 230-mile drive to the Mojave Desert, albeit among more cars than there are in the entire state of Maine.

Lost 6 JT forest

Heading to Joshua Tree National Park, which is quite literally in the middle of Nowhere, even though it is just two and a half hours and 150 miles from Los Angeles, we exit off I-10 onto route 62.  As we travel through the towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms, we see terrain that is parched and barren, something like the land the federal government traded (read: swindled) Native Americans with in the 19th century treaties.

Lost 3 JT itself

Arriving early afternoon at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, we learn of the four-mile out and back trail to the Lost Horse Mine among the Joshua trees.  Passing through the West Entrance to the national park, we weave down Park Boulevard among roadside boulders on the first of March on a windy day of sun in the upper 50s.

Lost 2B another JT

By the way, the Joshua trees of the Mojave Desert are not really trees but a species of yuccas.  Like other desert plants, their waxy leaves expose little surface area, cleverly conserving moisture.  Growing to over 40’ at one inch per year, Joshua trees are home to orioles, hawks, and woodpeckers.

Lost 3A start of Lost Horse Mine Trail

At 4384’ above sea level, the trailhead is appropriately found off the dirt Lost Horse Mine Road, which is barely wide enough for two cars.  At the trailhead parking for ten cars, we see others, making parking spaces where there are none, in this case on the access road to the trailhead.

Lost 3C H on trail again

Fortunately, the moderate-rated trail is straight forward.  At nearly 2P on a day the sun sets before 6P, we opt for the four-mile up and back trail to the one-time Lost Horse Mine.  We leave the 6.2-mile loop trail for the younger set.

Lost 3D D on trail

Rocky and sadly lacking in Joshua trees due to the 1999 burn in the area, the trail rises steadily but never in a heart pounding way with only a 400’ elevation gain.  As one of the two most popular trails in Joshua Tree National Park, it is happy with hikers; which thankfully means we are unlikely to get lost.

Lost 4 H at mine

The Lost Horse Mine

In the distance, we see the Lost Horse Mine structure, which produced 10,000 ounces of gold in the early 1900s.  A chain link fence surrounds the mine to protect visitors from the dangerous, open mine shaft.  Click here for more information about the history of gold mining at Joshua Tree.

Lost 5 H at JT

As an easy hour there, and fifty minutes in return, the hike is enjoyable walk in the desert; after a month of pickleball in Ventura and Santa Barbara, for this day, we return to our hiking roots.

And our desert hiking adventure is all thanks to Nancy being real with us.


Eight days after this hike, we were home in Maine.

March snow 1

March 8, 2018


Nine days after this hike, all hell broke loose

March snow 2

March 9, 2018