Bertie and I are high-tailing it out of Vegas and Nevada. I, because Vegas is a pit, Bertie, because of some gentlemen who want to discuss his gambling debts. Even though I really wanted to settle that age old question – who would win in a fight between a (teddy) bear and a (loan) shark? – I was happy to get out of the state. We cross into California in darkness.
On an earlier itinerary I had thought of stopping off at Lake Havasu City, in nearby Arizona, as back in the late 60s, a chap from the US bought London Bridge and shipped it over there. Contrary to popular belief, he always knew he wasn’t buying That Bridge, but thought that having one of the many iterations of London Bridge would be a boon for tourism. Initially he wasn’t that successful, although I feel he would have been if he had rebuilt this kickass version of London Bridge:
And unfortunately for Lake Havasu, the London Bridge that spans its lake just didn’t grab enough of my interest. Onwards, then, to the place of palm trees. How many palm trees, you possibly ask? Twenty nine. Twentynine Palms.
I arrive there in the dead of night and by morning have devised a hilarious bit for this blog: to go around and photograph all twenty nine of the palms. Oh the joy that would have brought. Unfortunately, I can’t count that high and got confused and have subsequently ended up with zero photos of any palm trees. But don’t fear, horticulturalists, it is indeed something arboreal that brings me here: Joshua Tree National Park.
It’s a good day, warm without the scorching heat nor the cloying humidity; it’s crisp and dry and barren. Lovely. In my collection of photos from Joshua Tree, I keep coming across close ups of what appear to be nothing at all. It took a good study of the below to see why I took it:
I can only assume that there are hundreds – nay, thousands — of other lizards and critters in ever picture I take today. But you’re probably wondering, what is a Joshua Tree?
It was named in 1999 after Joshua Jackson, due to the National Park Service’s love of Dawson’s Creek. Now, that might sound like a stupid explanation, but I’m afraid the one that’s given is just as mad. They were named Joshua Trees by those plucky Mormons who thought that the tree looked like Joshua (they don’t specify which Joshua, so I’m going to assume they mean Josh Harnett) reaching his hands towards the sky in prayer.
Being a warm, pleasant Sunday in March, the park is pretty busy. It’s a concerted effort to find a place to ditch the car near one of the promising trails, with several other visitors awkwardly trying to mount the raised bank and, blocking most of the road, shrugging and thinking “close enough”. With the sun and the heat, I’m concerned that people will mistake the light glaring off my pasty white skin as some sort of miracle light near the Joshua trees. I don’t want to start off some religious brouhaha, but let’s face it, it doesn’t take much to get the Mormons going.
The Lost Horse Mine trail offers a good mix of terrain, from the well-worn sandy lows to the jagged, rocky slopes. Almost all of the plant life here seems both brittle and aggressive, spiky dry.
About midway along the trail it opens up to the huge, even more barren, expanse that takes up a lot of the park:
I’ll confess there’s another thrill for me in exploring this particular National Park. Back in North Carolina, I took a break from being terrorised by a small dog to watch Seven Psychopaths and for several of the last states I’ve been binging on the soundtrack, especially Josh T Pearson’s sublime “Country Dumb”. Much of the last act of Seven Psychopaths is set out here and, though sadly I am not joined on my trek by Christopher Walken, there are plenty of psychos out here indeed, if the driving is any indication. As we turn back from the bleak landscape, I spot the highlight of the trail, the Lost Horse Mine:
The gold mine was originally discovered by Dutch Frank Diebold, though he sold it to Johnny Lang, who came across it while looking for a lost horse. What Mr. Lang didn’t know was that Dutch originally named the mine “Good Place to Kidnap A Horse Mine”. Still it’s good that Johnny Lang has something to fall back on if the singing doesn’t work out. The signs around the mine warn you to stay on the outside of the chain-link fence as the mine is extremely hazardous and unstable. That didn’t deter this plucky… dog?
This part of the trail is, understandably, the busiest and I see it has attracted the attention of my rock-stacking friends from Connecticut:
Evidence of some past fire makes this particular area appear even more desolate than the others:
I get back to the end/beginning of the trial and, based on their behaviour, I’m pretty sure the couple who started from the car next to me have broken up from the stress of the walk. Trying to avoid making an awkward situation worse, I try to head back to the car as if nothing unusual is happening, so I whistle nonchalantly. Whistling nonchalantly is apparently very unusual. And turns out they didn’t break up. They do appear somewhat disturbed by the guy whistling and pointedly not making eye contact with them. Let’s just move on.
Joshua Tree National Park has another distinctive landscape to offer which reminds me equally of Galaxy Quest and The Flintstones:
Although, at a distance, these rocks look pretty gentle, even huggable, up close they’re as sharp as the rest of the place:
They’re pretty fun to scramble across, but I wouldn’t recommend slipping on one, unless you enjoyed running into pebbledashed houses as a kid.
Once I’ve had my fill of the park, I hit the road again, off to meet the ocean. I’m headed for San Diego for the night. Now, I’ve alluded to this in the past, but I find American drivers to be a little bit suspect. I find the drivers down here to be fucking mental. On a five lane highway, we’re all contentedly going along and we come to a gentle, gentle, curve. At least half of the cars will veer out of their lane. Are their steering wheels coated in molasses? Are they busy tweetgramming their latest fad diets? I have no idea, but it made me anxious as hell trying to decide if I should – like a damn sane driver – stay in my lane during a turn and risk someone ploughing into the side of me, or should I drift too and risk hitting the half of drivers who remember how to drive?
Anyway, we keep going and soon come across the enormous San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm. It sneaks up on you as you approach, you can see a few turbines, sure, but the scale of the thing needs to be driven along to appreciate. It’s appropriately placed as the valley feels more like a wind tunnel. As you come out of the shelter of the hills, the wind blasts into your car with considerable force (at this point you throw your hands up and hope Jesus is going to step in and help the driver in the next lane). I don’t reach San Diego before the sun has set, so my first glimpse of the Pacific will have to wait until tomorrow.