Twentynine Palms, CA Saturday Nov. 22
Joshua Tree National Park. Back in the desert today. This desert looks different from the others, there is more fractured rock piles than we have seen elsewhere, and along with the Joshua trees, makes for an interesting visit.
Joshua Tree was made a National Monument in the 1930s and upgraded to a National Park in the 1990s. Those pesky Californians were taking plants from the desert for their homes and a wealthy woman from LA began the successful push to make this area into a National Monument. Joshua Tree NP, like the other deserts we have seen lately, has low (below 3,000 feet elevation) and high (above 3,000 feet elevation) desert. The Joshua tree (actually a species of yucca plant) thrives more at the high desert elevation. We saw one species of Joshua tree in the Mojave Desert, the ones here are not the same. I will spare the details of the differences.
We left Escondido by 9:15, expecting a three-hour drive. It only took two, all freeway type driving. We had a 1:45 p.m. deadline to attend a two-hour ranger led tour of Keys Ranch. Only 25 people per tour, only 3 tours per week. Our first choice for Friday was already filled, thus necessitating our change in plans, spending two nights around Joshua Tree, and skipping El Centro and Yuma. Some have said skipping those two results in no real loss.
Given the drive, early sunsets, and tour, we had no major other goals for the day. Arriving early allowed us to stop in the visitor center and see their film. Then we headed to Cap Rock picnic area for a short hike and lunch (yup, PBJ sandwiches). At Cap Rock, and elsewhere, fault lines and weathering over millennia have created these rock piles, in the midst of otherwise flat landscapes. We saw numerous rock climbers, this is a destination site for rock climbing with climbing schools and guides in the area.
Our tour was at Keys Ranch. Bill and Frances Keys were among the few successful homesteaders in the area. The ranch is preserved and only accessible through docent or ranger led tours. The ranch’s history dates back to mining days in the 1800s when prospectors dug numerous mines in this expanse of wilderness. For a time, two brothers ran a cattle operation here that was supposedly more rustling than ranching.
For a while, ranching became a big business also. We were told that in the early 1900s, rainfall averaged 10 inches a year, enough to provide abundant grassland. Overgrazing and a series of droughts pretty much killed off the grass and the cattle ranching. Current annual rainfall is in the 2-4 inches per year range.
Before buying the ranch, Bill Keys began as the manager of the ranch and a prospector. Frances married him when she was 31 and came to his “beautiful” desert ranch sight unseen. They had 8 children, four survived to adulthood, 3 of them still living. The Keys survived by acquiring water rights and damming up pools of water; creating fertile gardens with manure,etc; leasing out prospecting rights (gold) to other miners; renting cabins to miners and WWI vets; and running a gold processing mill for the other miners.
Being a goodly distance from civilization, Bill learned multiple trades and kept a home-made salvage yard for necessary parts. He built part of his dams and retaining walls with granite, making the granite fit by manually drilling holes and inserting water-soaked burlap and wood (which would expand in the heat) into the holes to fracture the rock along the lines he needed. Frances “bribed” other parents to send their kids (otherwise busy doing chores around their own ranches) with fresh fruit and vegetables so there would be enough school children to justify a county paid school teacher.
The tour did not last the entire two hours so we had time to drive down to Keys View, at an elevation of 5100 feet providing an almost 360 degree view. We could observe the smog rolling in from L.A. through the pass in the mountains that Interstate 10 takes. We were able to view the Salton Sea (more on that in a day or two) to the south. We could view San Jacinto Mountain to the west, site of our hiking from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway a few days ago. And, we were able to view large numbers of people who had also gathered here to watch the sunset and take pictures.
Dinner was at a nice restaurant attached to a local inn. It was refreshing to have a relaxing, fancy dinner for a change.
Ed and Chris Sunday Nov. 22 7 AM