Best of Joshua Tree National Park – 50miles/920m
(Feb 13, 2022 – written by Dave)
REI has a name for every day of the ride. Today we started with a ride called “The Best of Joshua Tree”. There’s no sense in saving the best parts until the end I guess. With the trip’s best ride on our minds we met the rest of our gang in the hotel lobby at 8AM.
There are two guides – Jerry and Jason. They are both rugged outdoorsy types with clearly a lot of experience. So far they have lifted/loaded our luggage and bikes two times each so we have no complaints. Early on they shared their good humour as well, and it’s clear we are in for a fun week.
The clients on the ride are Lyon (a solo rider Cincinnati), Asha and Rick (a couple from back east), Charlie and Bruce (brothers-in-law from back east and Nancy and I. Three of the riders are on e-bikes, 4 of us (including Nancy and I) are on road bikes. One of the guides rides with us every day, the other drives and sets up all the stops. The riding guide plays tail-end-Charlie making sure that everyone gets home safe.
If today was any indication of how we are going to be spoiled on this trip, boy we are in for a treat. And I’m talking more than just help with our bags. Jason, the driver today drove ahead of us and set-up lunch and some rest stops. To be honest, I’m not sure how many times there was a rest stop with cool drinks and snacks. I think we could do the ride without carrying any food and probably no water. Just about every convenient stoping point today became a chance for us to refuel. Jason was there, with a linen table cloth, snacks and drinks at the ready. We could get used to this.
As for the ride, it was basically 25 miles up to the highpoint at Keys View and 25 miles back to the finish. There were obviously some flat bits but that’s the basic idea. We started in Yucca and finished in Twenty-nine Palms. They aren’t far from each other on the highway but by using the park entrances in these two towns, you can loop 50 miles of “The Best of Joshua”. Today we got a good dose of the best.
The ride out of town was not super pretty but it wasn’t long before we were in the park and the Joshua Tree/rock gardens started. The scenery was just amazing. I’ve got a stack of photos but here is only a sample and my camera is limited. And we were in the park with bright sun – at dawn or dusk, I’m sure it would be even more amazing.
The twisted Joshua trees and mounded jumbo gumdrop rocks give the impression that the park could have been ripped from a Dr. Seuss book. You can’t help but smile as you ride, as if you’re in your own life-size animated cartoon. No cats with hats or green eggs were spotted but they would not have been out of place.
The park was settled many thousands of years ago by the Serrano Indians, living mostly in the small oasis dotted around the park. Prospectors overflowing from the 1849 California gold rush brought fortune seekers the like in so many places, the slow demise to Native Americans. The prospectors cut down many of the trees for their boom towns and mines. Following the miners, the grazers with their cattle came for the highland grasses. By 1913, there were no Native Americans left in the park. The park was made a national monument in 1936 and a national park in 1994.
The park is named for the famous Joshua Tree, technically a “Yucca brevifolia”, a member of the Agave family. They use agave to make tequila so there is something else for us to research later in the trip. Years ago, the Joshua tree was recognized by native people for its useful properties: tough leaves were worked into baskets and sandals, and flower buds and raw or roasted seeds made a healthy addition to the diet.
Legend has it that pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua from the book of Mormon. The limbs were supposed to represent outstretched arms that guided travellers westward. Another telling says that the branches resembled outstretched arms in prayer, with the tree’s sharp, blade-like leaves bringing to mind Joshua’s army. Our guides told us that none of the surviving early settler diaries mentioned the trees so it’s really an open question. Me, I think I’ll stick with the tequila story – gives us a project for later in the trip.
If you want to see Joshua Trees in the flesh, you’d better get here in the next 50 years. They have a very narrow range and with climate change that range is shrinking. Some scientists say that 50 years from now the tree won’t exist here. If true, that makes us sad, but doubly happy with our ride today.
We had dinner at a great local restaurant called Kitchen in the Desert. The food and conversation were great. As I mentioned, we’re in for a good week.
Tomorrow we get more Joshua Tree NP and more climbing. We ride from here to the Cochella Valley. Jerry is on sag duty and promises to outdo Jason and the rest stops so really, we couldn’t be happier.