It was our last full day at our Hipcamp yurt in Desert Hot Springs, California, and as I lazily sipped coffee, Mike helped me understand the lunar orbit…
Eventually we got around to discussing more pertinent issues… like what we were going to do that day…
Exploring Joshua Tree National Park again seemed like a great idea since our pass was still valid and there was so much of the park yet to see.
I noodled around on All Trails and the National Park Service App and decided we would explore the southeast corner of the park near Cottonwood Spring. The vegetation and trails looked interesting, and we’d have the opportunity to drive through Indio – where, apparently, there are copious amounts of dates.
We prepped and loaded the car, but as we drove, I noticed the wind picking up and sand clouds forming in the distance. Checking the weather app, I realized that if we kept our current course, we’d be driving directly into a wind storm – and that the entire area was under a wind advisory until the next morning – up to 60 mph gusts!
I didn’t exactly feel like fighting against the wind and swallowing mouthfuls of sand, so we searched the radar to locate an area with more reasonable weather.
The northwest corner of Joshua Tree looked clear, and even though we already visited this portion of the park on our first day, I knew there would be plenty left to explore.
About twenty minutes later, we arrived at the West Entrance Visitors Center. Mike perused the hiking trail maps until he found one that piqued his interest: The Contact Mine Trail. It was listed as a reasonable distance (3.7 miles), moderately difficult, and promised relics of old mining equipment – an added bonus for my engineer husband.
Before our excursion, we popped into The Roadrunner Grab + Go so I could find protein. At home, I have a daily regimen of scrambled tofu and smoothies which provide plenty of lean protein to start my day, especially if I’m planning to work out.
It’s pretty tricky to find similar options on my traveling adventures, and I usually end up feeling sluggish and bloated from a constant rotation of protein bars, oatmeal, bacon and hash browns.
You can imagine my excitement when the owner of the café offered to make a tofu scramble bowl customized to my dietary needs. Such a rare and appreciated gesture.
As I wolfed down my breakfast, I asked her if she had any recommendations for sights we should see while we were in Joshua Tree. She advised us to visit Ryan’s Ranch and the Native American ruins – where she usually takes her out-of-town guests. I made a mental note to head there after our hike at the Contact Mine.
We thanked her profusely for her kindness and headed on our way. I felt energetic after my hearty breakfast and ready to explore more of beautiful Joshua Tree!
The Contact Mine trailhead was mostly deserted with only a couple other cars in the lot. We slathered ourselves in sunscreen and ventured out into the sandy field – the sun shining brightly from above.
Hiking on the trail felt more like walking on a beach. I even considered ditching my hiking boots and trekking barefoot.
I broke into a goofy grin each time we happened upon cute cacti shrubs that were dotted throughout. They are such happy little plants!
Stopping several times to capture the teddy-bear chollas and red barrel cacti, I cursed myself for not bringing a sketch book. I could’ve spent hours doodling the adorableness around me.
Aren’t they adorable?!? Ugh.
After a long winding jaunt through the sand, we began an upward ascent. Our brief elevation gain rewarded us handsomely with views of the Pinto Mountain Wilderness. Though the 700 ft. incline wasn’t terrible, we still needed to stop frequently to catch our breath. I was tiring quickly and struggling again with a headache and nausea.
About halfway to the top, we encountered the first signs of life – a retired couple from Seattle. We gladly stopped to chat and learned that they had recently sold their house to travel the country in a 400 sq. ft. Airstream RV. They had been on the road for two months already, and seemed extremely happy with their decision.
I enjoyed talking with them, and thinking about the possibilities that lay ahead of us. I’m not sure our marriage would thrive in such a teeny-tiny living space…
The short breather was nice, however we had some old mining equipment to explore – so we headed on our way.
As we neared the top, the trail became more difficult to follow. One great thing about the desert is that you can typically see your destination from a distance – no trees or underbrush to confuse things. We did our best to follow the path, but mostly forged our own. From the footprints in the sand, it looked like others had taken similar approaches.
Finally, the mining artifacts came into view.
I enjoyed watching Mike’s fascination with the century old relics: mining shafts, rail tracks, and several other pieces of gear I couldn’t identify. He’s an engineer to his core, and it really shines when he has the opportunity to try and figure out how something works. He crafted scenarios of how the equipment was used and how the miners must have transported gold and silver to the communities below.
Our curiosities satisfied, we began our descent – a welcome task after exerting ourselves up the mountainside. This time, with no slippery ice to negotiate, we breathed in the gorgeous view: layered mountain range, hues of grays and blues fading away into the horizon.
We returned once more through the sandy field toward the trailhead, and I stole a few more pictures of my adorable cacti friends. Plopping down in the car, I was thankful to be out of the blazing sun and to slip my tired feet into some comfy sandals.
Following the map on the NPS app, we drove through the park toward Ryan’s Ranch and parked near a pile of boulders at the Ryan Mountain Trailhead.
Once we scoped out the area, we realized that to get to the ranch and see the ruins, we’d need to do some strenuous hiking. I was hot and exhausted, and Mike wasn’t faring much better, so we settled for a lower impact exploration of the giant boulder piles.
Even though we didn’t see actual ruins, it was fun to speculate how the Native Americans who inhabited this area for thousands of years may have used the oddly stacked boulders in their daily lives.
I enjoyed meandering around the rocks and conjuring up images of a family cooking their food – rearing their children – all of it. “Wow!” and “woah!” were frequent utterances as we turned corners to observe something new.
The big rounded surfaces of the boulders was such a contrast to the sharp edges of our hike just an hour before. The vast differences in the terrains we experienced in just three days of hiking amazed me. Our planet – our country, even – is so incredibly diverse and seemingly “other worldly” when you’ve been confined to the Midwest most of your life.
Returning to our car, we continued to drive through the vast landscape of the park: Joshua trees for days, the pink and lavender sunset and mountain ranges providing the perfect backdrop.
When we finally exited the park, I wanted to shop for souvenirs. We poked around at a nearby gift shop and picked up a few things to remember our trip – plus some items I knew my daughter would enjoy.
I was very tempted to purchase these cheeky candles, but I just couldn’t justify the price tag. A picture would have to suffice.
We returned to our yurt to change into fresh clothes and head to dinner at South of the Border in Desert Hot Springs. Our Hipcamp host told us the owner is a real-life matador, so we figured the food would be legit.
Relaxing into our booth, I realized how sore my throat was and how lethargic I felt. I blamed my worsening condition on the elevation changes, traveling, and our physical activity that day – but a nagging voice in my head told me I was probably getting sick.
Seriously, what the fucculent?
We only had a half day left to adventure before our flight the following afternoon, so I told that voice to shut up and convinced myself to push through. The hot tea and chicken tortilla soup may not have been the tastiest (the matador apparently had the night off), but it did soothe my throat and help me to feel a little better.
Returning to our yurt for the night, we crawled into bed. I knew I needed to rest my ailing body, but instead laid in terror as the winds picked up – beating up the canvas walls of our yurt.
Oh yes… the wind advisory. It was still alive and well, and by the looks of the hole forming at the top of the yurt and the forceful whipping of the poles, I was worried we wouldn’t live to see another day.
Mike reassured me that everything would be fine…. and after about two hours of not wanting to believe him, I eventually took solace in his engineer logic.
If he thought our yurt was structurally sound in the ridiculous wind, I could trust that it was too.
Inserting my earplugs, I surrendered myself to the windy night.
Hopefully everything would sort itself out in the morning.
Orrr… the dang wind would murder us in our sleep.