Charlie and Flora have been tasked with keeping up with homework while away on our trip. Their teachers at Chatuauqua Elementary school have been AMAZING, compiling lots of math worksheets to do, plus some guided reading and writing activities. AND…it was suggested that the kids start blogging as a way to practice their writing skills and as a way to keep in touch with family and friends while away.
SO…HERE are Charlie and Flora’s first blogs!
To us, the Mojave desert seems a bit bleak, sparse, desolate, and harsh. But it feels like lush jungle rainforest compared to the Colorado Desert. We crossed over the transition zone while driving south, and all of a sudden were were faced with what looked like Mordor: a huge barren plain stretched out before us, seemly devoid of life, with only sparse vegetation and absolutely no shelter or shade for miles and miles. Surrounded on all sides by rust colored mountains, it felt hot, dry, and desolate. But here and there, there were colorful plants growing, supporting bird and insect and rodent life. It is definitely unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
We camped at the Cottonwood Springs campground near the southern edge of the park. The day we arrived was the day after the government shutdown, so our reservation meant nothing, and it was every man for themselves…but we were lucky and found a site.
The kids got a little homework in…
And we had a beautiful sunset.
That night we were awoken in the night by coyotes howling and yipping to each other. It was amazing to hear.
The following morning, we packed up and headed for Palm Springs, where we would spend Christmas. On our way out of the park, we stopped and walked through a short nature trail, outlining the various plants that grow in the Colorado Desert and their amazing adaptations.
Joshua Tree National Park is remarkable for many reasons…one of which is the fact that in the park the desert transitions from the Mojave, where the Joshua Trees grow, to the lower, hotter, drier Colorado (part of the Sonoran). We started our visit in the northwestern section of the park, solidly in the Mojave Desert, and in an area full of boulders and crazy fantastical rock formations, caused by rising magma in a subduction zone. We were hiking very near the San Andreas fault.
First up: Hidden Valley. A popular place for rock climbers. This is where cattle rustlers would hide herds…although how they got the cattle into this place, we never quite figured out…
Our next trail was a loop to Barker Dam, a reservoir that was used for cattle and a nearby mine. The trails are so fun because you get to scramble over rocks in many places, and the kids love climbing over and through the piles of boulders. Luckily, we never met a snake or scorpion or tarantula…
Toward the end of the trail, a highlight was a cave with ancient petroglyphs.
We visited “Skull Rock”…
and picnicked at the Split Rock trailhead. This was a remarkable 2-mile loop through varied terrain, with absolutely amazing rock formations throughout. I think this hike was my favorite.
We wore out the kids…
After a full day of hiking, we headed south toward the Colorado Desert.
We spent 2 nights camping in Joshua Tree National Park. (we had originally planned on 5, but, well, the van needed TLC)
The first night, we camped at Black Rock Canyon Campground, near the town of Yucca Valley. The campground was covered in sand…SO different from the verdant, tree-filled campgrounds we are used to in Olympic National Park and the rest of Western WA. It was like being in another world.
This was the winter solstice, and we enjoyed our traditional solstice meal: baked potatoes made in the coals of the fire. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light by night, and we would have had a quiet sleep if it hadn’t been for the loud group of young campers in the site across from us…but they were enjoying themselves, and I don’t begrudge them that.
The temperature went from a high of 70+ when we arrived that afternoon to a low of around 40 during the night. The desert is a place of extremes.
After a hearty breakfast, we headed out for our first hike of the day.
After Brad brilliantly repaired the front axles of the beloved campervan, we were ready to set off and drive south….AS FAST AS POSSIBLE! We left Sequim at 6am on December 20, and by 10:30pm, we had made it 892 miles to Livingston, CA, a little south of Modesto. A nasty storm blew in off the Pacific that day, and affected basically the whole coast from the tip of WA down to San Fransisco, so we were treated with strong winds and rain for almost the entire drive. Some of the many mountain passes through Oregon and Northern California were quite stressful! But we made good time, and the van did great. Good ol’ van! And the kids even managed to get in some homework…
After a quiet night in a motel 6 in Livingston, we set off for Joshua Tree NP. Thankfully, the weather was much better for driving, and the temperatures were warmer down here!
After passing mile after mile of citrus and almond tree farms, we stopped to buy some local produce. HOLY COW, the citrus here is AMAZING!!!
We arrived in Joshua Tree National Park just in time to check-in at our campsite and visit the main visitor center.