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.
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…!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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!