Ominous black clouds banks threatened our caravan of cars loaded with Living Desert volunteers as we drove up Highway 62 from Palm Springs for a day hike in Joshua Tree National Park. Dave and Sue Valentine had announced the first hike of the season a few weeks prior without the slightest idea that an October rain would challenge our excitement. Over the long hot summer only mad dogs and Englishmen and intrepid Germans – brave the blaze to hike in the California Desert. Weekly the T.V. news relates the rescues and shows beet-red faces recounting tales of frying alive. But now the temp is sublime, the rattlers are in retreat and hikers are readying their fanny packs raring to get on the trails.
At the gate to the Park the clouds unloaded a torrent. Sheets of rain pelted our cars and us as we dashed for the restrooms and a group meeting under the eves about what to do. And then as fast as it started, the rain clouds parted, the downpour ceased and without moments hesitation we all voted to HIKE. Motored a couple more miles into the Park to Barker Dam Loop hike. Now grey skies with an occasional patch of blue made the recently washed scape vivid to behold. Yellow Brittlebush and red Choparosa scattered as far as the eye could see flanked the multitude of Joshua Trees that leaped like aliens out of the desert floor. Lime green trucked Pala Verde’s and spidery Ocotillos reached for the water-laden clouds scudding overhead. Rain in this corner of the world is horded in ingenious ways. When desert plants and animals can get it not a drop is wasted.
Miners and cattle rustlers roamed these parts 100 years ago and evidence of their presence can be found in Barkers Dam, now a gathering spot for animals. Scat is every where – coyotes, kit foxes, big horn sheep, ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, desert tortoises, jack rabbits and a multitude of birds all call these parts home. But most evident to the first time visitor to Joshua Tree National Park is the wonderland of rock formations that surround the paths and populate the vistas. This is one of America’s top destinations for rock climbers and a few were at it even on this sodden day.
We called it quits earlier than planned. Rain was threatening as we headed back to the Palm Springs Valley. This first time visitor to Joshua Tree resolved to come back again and again.