Slow Route Home via Joshua Tree National Park

 Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park

We’re known for being slow travelers. After all, it took us nearly 90,000 nm and 18 years to complete our world circumnavigation; whatever would make us hurry to get back to Vegas from California? Once Cups was recommissioned and it was time to head back, we decided to detour a bit and instead of a direct route back on I-15, we headed east on I-10 about 140 miles to Joshua Tree National Park.

The I-10 route is chock-a-block full of wind turbines ... whirling blades turning and churning out kilowatts as far as the eye can see, all part of the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm.

 Wind turbines as far as the eye can see

Wind turbines as far as the eye can see

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Joshua Tree National Park straddles the line between the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts, the Colorado being part of the much larger Sonoran Desert. Proclaimed a national monument by Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, Congress renamed it a national park in 1994, protecting the 792,510 acres of primarily desert wilderness.

According to legend, Mormon settlers thought the tree resembled the biblical prophet, Joshua, raising his arms to the heavens, guiding travelers westward and they named the tree accordingly. In actuality, the “wild-armed” Joshua tree is not really a tree at all, but a species of yucca.

 Entering Joshua Tree National Park

Entering Joshua Tree National Park

We stopped at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center where we picked up brochures, checked out the exhibits and gathered information before heading out along Park Boulevard to the interior of the park. Our goal was to do a reconnaissance drive through to determine if we’d like to camp and hike here at a later date. Our National Parks Senior Pass allowed us to avoid the park entrance fee of $25. 

Amongst the Joshua trees, hearty trees well-adapted to the desert grew … palo verde, desert ironwood, smoketrees and ocotillo. The octotillo were just starting to show their orange flowers and they lent some color to the drab desertscape. Don’t get too close though - spiky thorns warned us away. Spring rain would be required for more of the desert to bloom. Desert USA provides current reports with updates on what wildflowers are in bloom.

 Skull Rock seems an appropriate name for this rock formation.

Skull Rock seems an appropriate name for this rock formation.

The landscape is rocky, with jumbles of stacked boulders and granite outcrops, weathered smoothed by centuries of wind, weather and groundwater chemicals. Some formations have very appropriate names like Skull Rock, for instance.

We stopped at the cholla cactus garden. Dominated by “jumping cholla”, we carefully made our way along the interpretative pathway, avoiding contact with the cholla that had a tendency to to attach itself to imprudent passersby.

 Cholla cactus garden

Cholla cactus garden

 Close-up of "jumping" cholla displays its tendency to attach itself to whatever comes within reach.

Close-up of "jumping" cholla displays its tendency to attach itself to whatever comes within reach.

It was hard not to notice the Bee Warning sign. When the chollas begin to blossom, the bees arrive in great numbers. It seems some of the campgrounds were closed in years past when swarms of bees arrived and visitors to the park were advised to shut off their A/C about 15 minutes before arrival to the cholla garden so it could dry out because the bees, in search of moisture, were attracted to dripping A/C units.

 Watch out for bees!

Watch out for bees!

Despite the fact it was a Monday in February, the park was quite busy with visitors. We did our recon through the campsites, made note of what we thought would be the best suited sites for us and meandered our way onto Pinto Basin Road and then back to I-10 and a hotel room in Blythe, CA for the night. We reckon we missed lots … 49 Palms Oasis, Keys Ranch, Barker Dam, Keys View and the desert night sky among other sights. We’ll be back.

Check out all the national parks and monuments we've visited here.

Morning was a leisurely hotel breakfast, then a McDonald’s McCafe to-go. We crossed the Colorado River and headed north on AZ-95 through tiny desert towns ... Ehrenberg and Poston, through Indian Reservation lands and finally into Lake Havasu City. I wanted to stop to see London Bridge … and we did.

 World famous London Bridge - second biggest tourist attraction in Arizona

World famous London Bridge - second biggest tourist attraction in Arizona

It’s a pretty impressive sight as you pass through the majestic Witley Court entrance gates, wander past a fountain flanked by lions and heraldic City of London dragons. We walked through the maze of English Village Shoppes and restaurants serving fish and chips to the water’s edge for views of the arched bridge. It’s now the second most visited tourist site in Arizona … Grand Canyon is the first.

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There have been several London Bridges over the years. In fact as early as 43AD, the Romans had constructed a pontoon bridge to span the Thames to move supplies. Through the years, newer bridges were built as previous ones crumbled with time and use, including the one built by Peter of Colechurch between 1176 and 1209 of nursery rhyme fame. In 1968, London’s Common Council determined a new bridge was required to replace the one designed and built by John Rennie in 1831. Robert McCullough, chainsaw magnate and real estate developer, purchased the bridge for $2.4 million, had it dismantled with each block meticulously numbered, moved to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, reconstructed and rededicated in 1971.

 

 A quick stop in Lake Havasu City to view London Bridge. This one ain't fallin' down.

A quick stop in Lake Havasu City to view London Bridge. This one ain't fallin' down.

After an hour’s wander, we returned to the highway and scooted back into California for a quick lunch in Needles, another small town stop on the Mother Road, Route 66.

 Needles, California ... a stop on the Mother Road.

Needles, California ... a stop on the Mother Road.

The clock was ticking into late afternoon as we crossed the state border into Nevada for the final stretch home. We’d only been gone six days, but it seemed like a month. Time to get back to upfitting Blue and building that backyard deck, but I’m going to keep my eye on those Desert USA wildflower bloom updates … just in case.