Great piles of boulders are strewn across the landscape, creosote and ocotillo reach toward the clear blue sky, and spiky Joshua Trees dominate the horizon. We’re in the Jumbo Rocks Campground for one night bound for Arizona by motorcycle.
California’s Joshua Tree National Park stretches over two of North America’s Deserts: the Mojave and Colorado.
The low Colorado fans out from the highway into cholla cactus gardens and miles of creosote. The Mojave high is on wetter higher ground where Joshua Trees reign over heaps of bare rock. Each of these deserts holds its own secrets of survival in the harsh climate of Southern California.
On the first night of our Arizona Loop from San Diego, Joshua Tree punched us with our first frigid desert sunset. We didn’t arrive early enough (or with enough layers on) to beat the evening chill.
We fled across the purple desert as the sun descended beyond the rocky hills, leaving us cold shadows against the blurring cactuses and creosote.
It was dark by the time we reached camp and pitched our tent between a juniper and a jumbo rock. We pulled out gloves and hats and had campfire coffee, cold pizza, and shivering sleep as it got down near freezing before dawn.
In the morning we climbed the rocks behind our camp into the sun.
I saw a coyote, but I startled him and we had a moment of staring each other down before he ran away.
Jesse and I packed up camp and toured the park as it warmed up. We followed roads through the piles of granite and pokey Joshua Trees. We climbed the mounds of granite around Skull Rock.
Then we sped through the bright desert towards Twentynine Palms and the Arizona state line.