Joshua Tree National Park is renown for its signature tree, and for its rock climbing routes. Interspersed through the park, however, are some excellent hiking trails. Although a lot of “hiking” occurs within the confines of the campgrounds, and to and from climbing routes, the most popular trail is the park’s second highest mountain, Ryan Mountain. At a glance, the 5,456 foot tall mountain does not appear to be a challenging hike; especially as it is only one and a half miles to the summit, but with over one thousand feet of elevation gain, along with a number of other desert factors, this trail, and hike is not to be underestimated. But, for those hikers willing to brave the conditions, and at times, the crowds, the payoff for this hike is a desert summit with great three hundred and sixty degree views.
Prior to being National, State, and other protected public lands, California’s eastern deserts were honeycombed with a variety of mining claims. While some of these claims were more successful than others, all of these claims had a variety of unique structures, and methods to extracting minerals. Today, many of these structures have disappeared, or have been closed off by various governmental agencies. Those that remain, fall into a number of categories ranging from easily found and known about (such as Bodie State Park), or unknown and visited, to known or unknown and closed off (such as Carey’s Castle in Joshua Tree National Park). The first and third categories are easily dealt with, as they provide explorers and visitors with clear direction. The second category, however, provides writers with difficulty in both reporting, and describing them, but in general, my approach to such things is to provide information, as they are on public land, and the best way to preserve them is to allow people to appreciate them and experience them.
One of the most fascinating things about any desert region are the things that have been left behind, either unintentionally, or intentionally, along with the attendant legends that surround these modern or ancient historical artifacts. From the Mexican border up through the volcanic tablelands near Bishop, California is honeycombed with strange and unique spots, such as Ballarat and Corn Springs. In Joshua Tree National Park alone, however, there are numerous unique locations, both known - like the Desert Queen Mine - and unknown. Out of all of these spots within the park, Samuelson’s Rocks are one of the better preserved locations, and one of the more unique as they comprise the thoughts of a strange man who lived a very interesting life. For those visitors with a map or GPS, the rocks also present an “off-trail” adventure that, when prepared for properly, allows one to experience a side of the park that typical visitors may not see.
Let’s say you’re in California, or thinking about visiting California, and you’re looking for a National Park that you can hike in, camp at, climb at, and possibly do a little spelunking at. If you were seeking recommendations for such a place, chances are that you’d get the usual recommendations – Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, or even Joshua Tree National Park. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recommendations – these parks are known world-wide because they’re stunning. But there’s another National Park in California that’s a little bit off the beaten path, and not as well known that has all of these things, and is equally stunning in its own right. That park is none other than Pinnacles National Monument.
As I mentioned last week, Joshua Tree is mostly known for climbing, not hiking. But, as I also talked about when discussing Mastodon Peak, there are some great hikes in the park should climbing not be your cup of tea. Most of the hikes recommended by the National Park Service, like Mastodon Peak, are short and sweet – good for getting out into the desert, and seeing what is going on in the park, but also somewhat “bad” as they leave you, the hiker wanting more. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of longer hikes into the interior of the park – but most of these are multi-day backpacking trips. However, there is no reason to despair about finding a longer hike in the park: Joshua Tree is a big place, and there are plenty of options. The best, and most scenic of these options is the Lost Palms Oasis Hike.
Joshua Tree National Park is known for one thing, and one thing only: rock climbing. This is a good thing: there are many great routes in the park for climbing. As I have climbed there many times, and have recommended it to many people, there is no way I could complain about that association. However, there’s a lot more than just climbing going on at Joshua Tree. There’s excellent stargazing; excellent spring blooms; and excellent hikes, both day, and multi-day. One of the shortest and the most popular hikes in the park is the hike from Cottonwood Springs to Mastodon Peak. There are two ways to do this hike: first, as a loop trail from the Campground (“the Mastodon Peak Loop”) or as part of the longer hike to Lost Palms Oasis. The loop trail is 2.6 miles long roundtrip; and if you add the Mastodon Peak section of trail to the Lost Palms Oasis hike, you are left with a hike that is 8.2 miles roundtrip.
I’m a big fan of science fiction. Classic science fiction; bad science fiction; new science fiction, any kind of science fiction, really. Alright, I’ll draw the line at really bad science fiction, but I’ll be honest here: it’s hard to cross that line. That I like science fiction shouldn’t be surprising to anyone – after all, I made a reference to Morlocks just two posts back. (Quick! Name that novel….anyone? The Time Machine, of course!). Maybe I love science fiction so much because I spent my formative years reading classic science fiction stories from Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, among others. Or maybe it’s because I spent those same formative years watching lots of science fiction movies – Forbidden Planet, The Black Hole, 2001, and of course, Star Wars. Or maybe it’s the fanciful and imaginative aspects of science fiction that appeal to me and appealed to me all those years ago – of traveling to other dimensions, talking robots, space travel, and everything else in between with all of its adventure and associated perils.
These days on planet earth, there’s plenty of dystopian things going on, but not enough real-life science fiction going on, especially now that the Shuttle program was mothballed by NASA. However, if you know where to look, there are still some weird science fiction oddities out there. Case in point: the Integratron. First off, it’s got that weird, science fiction-y type of name for new and future technology. I mean, try working it into a sentence: “I have to go get rejuvenated at the Integraaaaaatron. Only twenty pieces of ore!”
Second, it was designed by a former aircraft mechanic and engineer, George van Tassel – who – wait for it – said he was telepathically contacted by – wait for it – Venusians. Alright, we’re in deep science fiction territory now! Third, Van Tassel said that they provided him with the instructions to design the machine, telepathically, and said that it would rejuvenate human tissue because it was above an “energy vortex”. And with those three pieces of evidence, I rest my case: the Integratron is straight out of some science fiction novel or movie, except it exists here, in real life!
Frankly, I don’t know if the machine actually works, or ever actually worked, what an energy vortex is, or where Van Tassel got name for it (aside from the telepathic Venusians). But what I do know is that it’s a cool place to visit; and that most impressively, the interior of the structure is made in a perfect dome, out of wood – with no nails or other metal objects! I also know what you’re saying now (the Venusians gave me mind reading powers since I’ve been there, see!): “This sounds cool and all, but what’s there to do there in the middle of the desert since you don’t know if the machine works?”. Right now, the Integratron is owned by a group of people who provide what are known as “sound baths” in the machine on quartz bowls, every Saturday and Sunday.
Now here’s where it gets weird: I’m a science fiction fan, but I’m an avowed skeptic. When I heard about the sound baths, I thought that it sounded downright strange and hokey. But…I’ve been there two times now, and I have to admit something is going on in that dome when the sound bath is going on. Whether its actual vortexenergy power or the rejuvenating properties of a good nap, something happens when you’re in that dome during that sound bath. So, if you’re ever out by Landers, California, I say, indulge your inner science fiction self, and go check it out, and if you do learn any of the mysteries I’ve touched upon above, report back to me!
Tips: Even if you miss the sound bath, you should check out the inside of the dome, it’s pretty spectacular. And if you do want to experience the sound bath, I recommend that you bring your own blanket or pad, just because you can – why not be as relaxed as possible?