Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Joshua Tree National Park via the Salton Sea

Scott has 10 days off work.  On the bucket list of things to do this week we want to go to Yuma, Lake Havasu, Cabrillo Lighthouse at Point Loma in San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park, the Salton Sea and we wanted to go to Westmorland, CA for some yummy Medjool dates.  Today, we originally decided to go to Lake Havasu but realized we would have to do that another day since there wasn't enough time to get there and back before dark.  Instead, we just got home from a fun day exploring Joshua Tree National Park via the Salton Sea AND Westmorland Date Shake store.  We got 3 things done in 1 day!  How's that for smart planning?!
We left about 9:30 a.m. and heading north through Brawley and over to Westmorland to Date Shake.  Date Shake is a store that sells date shakes, all kinds of dates, including Medjool - my favorite - and other exotic items.  So, a date shake is a shake made with vanilla ice cream and then dates are added.  That's where the sweetness comes in.  A small shake is all you really need.  It's quite filling.  Just like eating a date, at first you don't notice the taste until the end and then it hits you.  It was yummy.  The northern area of Imperial Valley and Riverside County has thousands of date palm trees.  It's the "date mecca" of southern California.  Right along "date mecca" is also the Salton Sea, but more about that later...(All the Date Shake photos were found online...I forgot to take any but this is what I saw...)
After our date fix, we continued our journey up past Palm Springs toward Twentynine Palms, California to get to Joshua Tree.  Originally, I had Twentynine Palms as the destination, but Joshua Tree Village came first and there was a park entrance there so we went that route instead.  Along the road, you could see thousands of date palms.  Scott researched about the date palm trees as I drove.  They can grow up to 40 feet tall and the dates are grown in pods.  There are male and female date trees but bees don't pollinate them - the growers have to do this.  As the dates mature, they are grown in pods with sharp needles that can grow up to 5" long.  These have to be removed before the growers can scale the tree to recover the dates.  As you see, regular palm trees have a round ball at the top of the tree before the fronds, but date trees grow fronds without the ball.
Along the road before we got to the park entrance were houses hidden in the tops of the hills of the high desert.  Others are scattered on the plains - so plain and hard to see and others with brighter colors of stucco - perfect high desert construction for the 120 degree heat that accumulated in the summer months.
The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-1800s.  The trees reminded them of the Biblical story where Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.  Scott named the single tree without hand "Moses' Staff" which I thought was pretty creative.
There are two desert ecosystems in Joshua Tree National Park.  The western part of the park is in the Mojave Desert and the eastern and southern parts are in the Colorado Desert.  The Mojave Desert is actually higher in elevation and cooler and that is where the Joshua trees live.  The Colorado Desert is much hotter and drier.  Walking around Joshua Tree is almost surreal.  The sky, rocks, dirt and trees are so still and quiet - untouched, really, that you feel like you're walking in a photograph.  One of my favorite parts of the park was the north drive where we visited the Cholla Cactus Garden nature trail.  This was a simple 1/4 mile trail of beautiful cactus.  The cactus today were shades of yellow and gold with stems of varying shades of brown to black.  Simply stunning.   The needles are amazingly long and thin.  I really enjoyed the walk.  Scott stayed in the car the entire time at the park.  He really missed out.
Scott's favorite part of the day was sitting in the car watching the clouds and taking pictures with his iPad of me taking pictures.  He took a bunch of photos of the clouds and I do have to say they were impressive even though I wasn't paying any attention to them.  I was more transfixed on the trees, shrubs, and rock formations.
Unfortunately, there was no hiking allowed in Joshua Tree today due to the ecosystem and the number of people in the park.  I guess that was a factor in Scott not getting out of the car.  I found that interesting because it was so quiet everywhere I went today...while I passed people in cars, I rarely saw many people except at Cholla Cactus Gardens - and even then there weren't many and the walk was quite peaceful.  Christmas is a high attendance time for the park.  Since it's in the desert and the temps get so hot in the summer, there are few visitors during this time of year and December - April are peak times, especially Christmas and early January.  There are a number of drives to take in Joshua Tree and a good number of hiking trails as well.  If I were you, I'd plan a visit between January - April since the weather is great AND the blossoms will be on the cactus then as well.
After we left Joshua Tree National Park, I decided that I wanted to drive on the opposite side of the Salton Sea on the way home via Hwy 111.  I had assumed that the Salton Sea would be something like salt water - which it is - but as Scott told me about his Google search, while it's a State Park for camping, etc. it is also a contaminated water body.  That surprised me.  Why would there be a State Park at a contaminated body of water?!?  Apparently in during 1905 the Salton Sea was created when massive flooding caused the Colorado River to break through an irrigation canal and flowed freely into the Salton Basin for 18 months!  During the mid century, the Salton Sea was a thriving business area but in the 1970, the area was abandoned due to rising sea elevation in the city marina. By the 1980s, with no drainage outlet, zero rainfall and runoff from nearby farms, the sea was polluted with pesticides and was saltier than the Pacific Ocean.  Periodic flooding brought the poisoned water further to shore and the rest is history.
As we drove along Hwy 111, we only saw 3-4 public area access points along the northeast shoreline...the farthest away from agriculture for camping and walking or biking along the beach.  My favorite was Corvina Beach.  There were a lot of RVers there and people sitting on the shore.  There was an article written in 2015 entitled Toxic Dust from a California Dying Lake.  It's kind of scary to read...and sad since the Salton Sea is California's largest lake!
Despite the article, the scenery and photos I took tonight as the sun began to set were beautiful.  Time for bed so I'm ready for tomorrow's new adventure...!

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