Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park

Driving south out of Death Valley, we stopped at a market. We were in line to buy a loaf of freshly baked date bread, and a couple of ladies told us that the date farm where the bread was made is in Tacopa, just a few miles away. They also suggested we may not want to take the trailer down the steep winding road to the farm.

We didn’t have any cell service, but were able to follow their directions and signs to China Ranch Date Farm. There was a gravel lot at the top of the hill, where we unhitched the trailer. We went to the gift shop and bought date milkshakes (that were more like date blizzards), a date cookie, and two pounds of assorted dates. It’s a good thing I discovered I like dates. Brian thought it was so cool to be able to buy so many varieties of dates!

We boondocked inside Mojave National Preserve. We knew there were some other campers nearby, but we couldn’t see anyone around! It was really peaceful and quiet.

Mojave National Preserve is a big place that has volcanos, desert, sand dunes, and Joshua Tree forests. We went to the volcanic area to see a lava tube. It was only a short walk from the car to the entrance of the tube, and we passed small openings in the earth. We peaked inside and tried to guess how far down they went. When we got to the largest opening, I was relieved to find a ladder!

We passed four other people getting into the lava tube, but when we were down there, we had it all to ourselves. There was a squeeze where we had to bend over to fit through, but then it opened into a big room.

We could see the openings in the ground that we looked into before. They let light stream into the lava tube in beams. We were lucky to see the light beams, they kept disappearing and reappearing as clouds went overhead, until it eventually disappeared for good. It was actually raining a little bit when we left the lava tube.

It rained off and on throughout the day, but cleared up enough for Brian to make a fire and cook steaks over it for dinner. It was nice to sit out by a fire with no one around.

The next day we drove to another area of the park (Mohave is pretty big), to the Teutonic Peak area, where there is the densest Joshua Tree Forest. Joshua Trees are funny looking, with different shapes and sizes and numbers of branches. Seeing all the trees together almost looked a little grotesque. It was fun to look at each one, they seem to have different personalities, like Saguaro cactuses.

We climbed up on some of the rocks, and avoided stink bugs that showed us their butts when we walked by.

Before we left the park we stopped at the visitors center, which is a converted train station and a beautiful building.

We moved a few hours to Joshua Tree National Park, and boondocked on BLM land on the north side of the park. The area was basically a big field where many other people were parked too, but it was a great option for us. Near the park and free! And all the campgrounds in the park were full.

We were surprised to find out that Joshua Tree is such a busy and popular park. We went to the visitor center just outside the park, and the ranger warned us how busy it is during the whole month of March, because of spring break. We asked if there were any ways to avoid the crowds, and he recommended arriving very early, before sunrise, and then recommended all the most popular hikes/areas in the park. Maybe, due to the park’s relatively small developed area, there aren’t better ways to avoid the crowds.

We visited the park two days, and each day arrived at sunrise and left by noon or 1 pm. In the mornings we heard and saw birds, and once heard a whole pack of coyotes going nuts. We aren’t morning people, but the colorful sunrise on the second day made getting up early worth it.

The two most popular attractions in the park are Joshua Trees and rocks, and we saw a lot of both. The Joshua Trees in this park looked healthier and fuller than the ones at Mohave.

The granite rock formations at Hidden Valley were fun to crawl up on. We thought we would just do the one mile hike pretty quickly, but it was so nice there, and pretty quiet so early in the morning, so we took our time.

We also did the Split Rock Trail and the Cap Rock Nature Trail, which were also pretty short easy hikes, but Hidden Valley was our favorite.

At the overlook at Keys View we could see down into the Coachella Valley.

Joshua Tree National Park includes both Colorado desert and Mohave desert, which are very different. The Colorado desert is lower and hotter than the Mohave Desert, and contains spikier plants. There is an area called the Cholla Cactus Garden, that is full of cactus.

While we were in Death Valley, our truck started going into limp mode. It had been happening more and more, so we wanted to get it fixed before we had to tow again. The Ford dealer in the area couldn’t get us in until the day after we were planning to leave, but they did have a throttle body in stock. Since this was the part that needed replaced last time we had this problem, Brian bought the part and installed it himself. So far, it seems to have fixed the problem!

Day 542| Mile 59,185

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