A little day trip to Joshua Tree National Park

JT map

Park Map

At the end of May I decided to head out to Joshua Tree National Park to visit the Old Dale Mining District on BLM land that is located just outside the northeast portion of the park. Joshua Tree National Park is an environmental melting pot where 2 desert ecosystems meet, the Mojave Desert to the north and west and the Colorado Desert to the south and east. The Mojave Desert ecosystem consists of boulder stacks with pinyon pines, junipers and scrub oaks and the famous joshua tree. The Colorado Desert ecosystem in contrast consists of creosote, spidery ocotillo and jumping cholla cactus. Jumping cactus or teddy bear cactus got its name from the fact it tends to stick to anything within its range and is very painful to remove from the skin.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the area a National Monument in 1936 at the urging of Minerva Hoyt to protect the area from miners. And in 1994 Joshua Tree was dedicated as a National Park under the California Desert Protection Act by Congress. This park consists of 792,510 acres of which more than 80 percent is dedicated wilderness.

With only 2 paved roads in the park access is limited, luckily there are some backcountry dirt roads that are open for explores to get into the backcountry and enjoy the desert serenity away from the many visitors of the park, although camping in non-designated campsites is limited. Be very careful in this environment, as these dirt roads are sandy, rocky and have some treacherous locations; they are not made for standard passenger cars and should be accessed only by 4-wheel drive vehicles with experienced drivers carrying extra food and water if you should become stranded. There is no cell service in 99% parts of the park so help is not readily available.

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Old Dale Road Map

Heading up paved Pinto Basin Road from the Cottonwood Spring Ranger Station located at the south entrance, I started my off pavement adventure out Old Dale Road. This 23-mile dirt road leads north to Highway 62 and starts at the same junction as Black Eagle Mine Road. The first 11 miles across Pinto Basin is a flat and sandy. Leaving the basin and the Colorado Desert behind you enter the Mojave Desert as the road climbs a steep hill into the Pinto Mountains where you exit the park boundary onto Bureau of Land Management land. A number of side roads veer off toward old mines and residences throughout the Pinto Mountains.

But first stopping at Mission and Sunrise Wells located within the park, I explored this area of interesting mining remnants.  Mission Well was drilled in 1934 to a depth of 449 feet to provide water to the local mines, mills and arrastas in the area.

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Brooklyn Mine Road on the way to the mines

Leaving Mission Well and continuing up Old Dale Road, I got to the fork with Brooklyn Mine Road and decided to see what is out the in these mountains to the east of Old Dale Road. I was amazed at the capability of my modified Outback with the more aggressive tires, I passed several obstacles that were not made for a stock Subaru and it passed with flying colors. Stopping at the top of a hill I walked down to Moose Mine, Rose of Peru Mine, and Gold Standard Mine to see the buildings and diggings in the valley. I did not drive down into the valley being all by myself, 95 degrees and still trying to verify the capabilities of this rig, I thought better than to push the limits too far on this rocky, steep, narrow shelf trail which might cause me to walkout 11 miles back to the paved road.

 

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One pair of boots at the end of the trail

It was on the walk down into the valley that I noticed my foot felt funny on all the rocks and sand on the trail. Looking down I noticed my right boot looked like it had something stuck to it. Well noting was stuck to it I had walked right out of the sole of the boot. It was sitting 20 feet back behind me. At least it still had the inner sole to continue my walk into the valley and continue exploring. It was different walking as one foot felt like a moccasin and the other a normal boot. I picked the sole up on the way home and threw these 15 year old boots in the trach. I feel I got my use out of them.

After making my way back to Old Dale Road I continued north to see if I could make it to Highway 62.

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OOPS

One washout made me rethink the possibility of getting stuck out here as I ground the front air dam a little, wishing I had someone with me to help me navigate and to video this obstacle. On the second attempt, with a better angle at the ditch, the lower range AWD engaged and a little more momentum I made it through.

Stopping at Sunset Mine I explored this area and on foot investigated Old Dale Road leading north. Again there were some larger loose rocks on the narrow uphill road north that might have been managed with the help of someone watching my tire placement, but having no one and leaving my valor at home I returned back Old Dale Road to head north into the park along Pinto Basin Road.

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Pinto Basin from Pinto Basin Road

An older culture of people lived in the Pinto Basin along an extinct river that once flowed for 6 miles in this area. A wetter climate attracted wildlife and settlements along its shallow riverbanks.  In this area the most common plant in both desert regions is the creosote bush that will crowd itself where conditions are favorable but spread itself very thin in areas of dryness. This bush sends deep roots into the ground searching for water and has a root system that is also right below the surface catching any tiny bit of moisture that the skies will provide.

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Lunch

It was getting along lunch time so I pulled off at an information sign and a trail head for a bite to eat.

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Ocotillo

On the road north you pass through an area in the Colorado Desert system where you find an Ocotillo patch, a thorny deciduous plant that can drop its leaves many times during the year as it is very dependent on the rains.

Further along Pinto Basin Road you enter an area of cholla cactus and a wonderful short loop hike in the Cholla Cactus Garden. Please stay on the trails and walkways as this plant has a tendency to jump out and attach itself to shoes, cloths and skin. This is a plant that seems to have no redeeming value to us as it is very painful to remove its spines but to a desert woodrat and the cactus wren it provides shelter and protection from other predators in the desert.

In the northern section of the park there are numerous other sites to visit that I did not have time for on this daytrip. That leaves me with another reason to come back here when the weather is more favorable for camping and to explore the beauties of this National Park.

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