We left the wide open spaces and sweeping vistas of our last couple of camps, and drove farther south towards Joshua Tree National Park. Along the way we passed through the Lucerne Valley, Palm Springs, and Coachella. Finally we arrived in Mecca. Mecca is a very small town, and also home to one of the big Medjool date growing areas in the US. Not exactly sure why people turn towards it to pray, didn’t seem that important! 😉 Huge groves of date palms are scattered around the dry, dusty desert, along with lemon, grapefruit, romaine lettuce, and pepper crops.
About 3 miles outside of town was an awesome maze of canyons on BLM land along Box Canyon Road. This road leads to the southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. The canyon has numerous places to camp between the light tan walls, and offers excellent opportunities to explore the maze-like slot canyons and the wider box canyons that seem to go on forever. Because the canyon is essentially a giant river after the rare downpours that happen, it is covered in extremely loose sand. This makes it tricky to find a spot that is firm enough to park the camper without getting bogged down in the sand. More on this later. After a few trips up and down the canyon we finally found a spot that was ideal. It offered a little shade due to the nearby canyon wall on one side, and a few trees on the other. The trees even had two cute swings hanging from the branches. It was perfect!
The next day looked like it was going to be a bit of a bust. The exhaust system on the GMC seemed to have developed another leak and it needed to be attended to. Up early, I left Cate at the traytray well stocked with supplies (but no cell service) and headed into Cathedral City to have Meineke take a look. Luckily it wasn’t, it was merely a blown manifold gasket that only took a couple of hours to replace. I was back at camp by 1 PM, leaving us enough time to have a lunch date at the date farm, complete with a date milk shake.
It was getting late in the day and we had a lot of ground to cover. Our destination was Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and East Jesus, far across the Salton Sea.
Just outside of Niland, we passed signs saying “the Last Free Place!”, and the “Last Outpost” in front of us rose Salvation Mountain. It really wasn’t a mountain however, just a small hill. But it was spectacular, an explosion of color in the wasteland. One man’s incredible creation showing and sharing his faith. Tunnels and domed chambers were built around the few trees. Almost impossible to describe, so it is a good thing we remembered our camera.
Frankie Rae was mightily impressed as well. Remembering that the day was short, we dashed through Slab City, a post apolcalyptic collection of old rv’s, busses, campers, strange “yard” art, junk, and signs. It was surreal, and then there was East Jesus. Greeted at the little parking area by the canopy of an attack helicopter, we stumbled upon a fenced area containg incredible post modern sculptures. Once again, the pictures speak louder than words.
The sun was getting low in the west, and we wanted to catch the sunset halfway back to camp on the beach of the Salton Sea in Bombay Beach. Once a thriving beachside resort community, it was now practically a ghost town. Dilapidated trailers and RVs lined the streets. Here and there, evidence of it’s charming past peeked through. We made it just in time to watch the sea and sky grow orange as the sun slid behind the clouds and the Vallecito Mountains. When the show was over, we drove up the street to a tiny old bar called the Ski Inn. Aside from the small corner convenience store, it is likely the only business in town. Inside were 6 people, from the looks of it, perhaps half the local population. We drank a beer, laughed along with, and listened to the locals and the bartender telling stories. Sometimes I wonder how you we can manage to fit so much in a day, and those are always the best ones.
Sunrise came early and it was finally time to go to Joshua Tree National Park.
So it is certainly not our intention to denigrate anyone’s favorite park, but we were a little underwhelmed at Joshua Tree. A large part of this is due in part because pets are not allowed on the trails, so we were stuck to the roads and overlooks scattered around the park. In the last two weeks we had camped in places that had all the beauty of Joshua Tree without the restrictions. Alas… The Joshua Tree forests were incredible however.
On the North side of the park was Joshua Tree the town. It is an artsy little tourist town, with such roadside america attractions as the International Crochet Museum (all 80 sq feet of it!) And the Salon and Beauty Museum. We also dropped in and split a burger at the “world famous” Joshua Tree Saloon.
To top it all off we took the animals on a long hike through the box and slot canyons near our camp. The rocks and clouds worked beautifully together, and the temperature was perfect for hiking in a place that can be known for it’s heat!
It seemed after 3 days that we had scratched our itch to explore and it was time to head to Anzo Borrega. Rain was in the forecast, and we certainly didn’t want to be in the canyons when it happened. Pulling the camper out started just as I thought it would. Over time and with us moving about inside traytray, the wheels had settled some in the soft sand, and when we tried to pull away, the truck started to dig itself into the riverbed sand. Cate suggested using tarps and blankets under our tires. This worked brilliantly and we were able to get our momentum up and pull the camper to the safety of the asphalt. We certainly didn’t want to end up like the family that had suddenly appeared out of the darkness at our campsite last night, asking for a ride to town because they were stuck! Of course I took them, but Cate was a little uneasy being left at the campsite alone.. .On the way out, we passed another camper who’s 4wd had sunk down to nearly the tops of his wheels the day before… we silently wished him luck and passed out of the canyon in the bright morning sun towards Borrego.