On Hwy 62 (29 Palms Hwy) in Joshua Tree, I turn south on Park Blvd. and take an immediate right into the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. After buying a map and a plant guide, I swing over to Circle K and grab a couple hot dogs. Back on Park Blvd. I head into the park. As I approach the park entrance, I’m somewhat disconcerted about a long line of cars. I’m not fond of waiting in lines, but to wait in line to go hiking is just stupid. I reflect on the National Monument status that was recently imposed on the Angeles National Forest. I can’t help but to wonder if it will eventually lead to congestion and blockages.
The route steadily climbs to a saddle. A thin layer of patchy snow lingers on the shaded mountainside. Plants are anything but the story on this barren landscape…unless you get stabbed by one. Nothing is in bloom. I’m really enjoying myself and taking lots of pictures as I try to capture the remarkably strange beauty of the desert.
To the southeast, the black mound of Malapai Hill rises distinctly from the valley floor, the only feature in this vast landscape that I recognize (by book knowledge at this point). The trail cuts back southwest and heads to the broad summit ridge. Patches of snow glisten in the sun. A man poses next to a Joshua tree while his woman companion snaps his picture. I’m feeling anticipation as I approach the ridge. The trail bypasses a couple mild bumps as it heads south to the summit. I now have some views west.
you choose*). Wow, what a splendid 360-dergree panorama! And what strange landscape! Tan desert with rocky formations stretches into the distant haze as far as the eye can see. It’s so very different from my San Gabriels, where a 5,000-foot peak would be covered with pine trees and/or thick chaparral. This feels more like the broad, barren summit of Mount Baldy (10,064’), only dotted with desert plants. And unlike Baldy, there is virtually no trace of human habitation anywhere aside from the highway cutting across the desert floor. And like Baldy, both San Jacinto and San Gorgonio are in view, only from the opposite direction.
There are 15 people here on the summit, in parties of one through five. I’m thankful there’s virtually no wind and I’m comfortable in a t-shirt. A large cairn (a man-made pile of rocks as a memorial or marker) stands on the summit. I stand on it to fully realize the panorama.
The late afternoon sun creates warm light across the desert and adds definition to the rock formations. Looking at the map and I can identify Queen Mountain (5677’) to the northeast and Quall Mountain (5814’) to the northwest. To the southwest is Keys View (5193’) and Mount Inspiration (5560+). This is a huge park to explore.
As I round the north flank of the mountain, the near-full moon comes into view rising in the east. My pace is intent now to ensure line-of sight with the setting sun and I’m rewarded with a superb Kodak moment (4:39). Instantly the lighting changes from vibrant gold to muted gray. I now focus on the rising lunar globe framed by massive boulders and lanky Joshua trees. Rock climbers are still perched on the gigantic monoliths and balancing on high wires. I saunter at a crawl as I savor the beauty of desert dusk.
*Elevation Note: Usually a peak has a standard published elevation. For a peak as popular as Ryan Mountain, it’s surprising that there are at least four different elevations attributed to this peak:
5457’ - Sign on summit, USGS topo map, Sierra Club Hundred Peaks
5458’ - Official park map
5460’ - Peakbagger.com
5461’ - Park map (online and kiosk) and National Geographic map (rev. 2005)
|FUN FACT: The Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is not really a tree. It has no tree rings. It’s a member of the yucca family. Joshua trees have shallow roots and grow slowly, taking hundreds of years to reach a mature height of 30 feet.
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