Joshua Tree and back
As part of my PhD, I have returned to San Diego to do research in pedestrian detection and intelligent cars. I’ll be here for six months, and apart from work I plan to spend some time practicing off road biking, but more on that in a later post. I will also exploit my chance to once again visit some of the beautiful nature the south west US has to offer, the concentration and quality of national parks around here is simply outstanding.
At UC San Diego I live in the International House – or Ihouse for short – which houses many people from all over the world. I share an apartment with Wolfgang, a math post-doc from Belgium and currently a Thai computer science student called Pong, but in a month or so he will move out.
This past weekend was three days long, due to Monday being President’s Day, so four of us decided take a mini road trip to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. Allow me to introduce this post’s cast: Wolfgang, math genius from Belgium. Knowledgeable about everything, especially what might kill you in any situation. While his theoretical survival skills may be strong, they have rarely been put to the test in practice, and in combination with his proneness for sunstroke, this makes for an unlikely desert adventurer. Julia, German business student with a penchant for selfies and the looks to support it. She leaves here by the end of March and is dead set on squeezing the last adventure out of her stay. Claudia from Italy – come to think of it, I don’t think I know what she does – is responsible for the prettiest smile in the group and a surprisingly British accent. She likes deserts and desserts and brought her GPS on the trip, which I reluctantly had to ask for help a couple of times – I prefer maps by far, but didn’t have one, so I relied on my memory and sense of direction, which, once in a while, I was not confident enough about. I can say with pride, though, that every time the GPS came into play, it confirmed what I was doing. Finally, of course we had myself as the designated driver and self-proclaimed guide, given that I had visited Joshua Tree 3-4 times before.
We set out on Friday night – Valentine’s Day – after I had delayed our departure a little bit, since I had to finish some code. But after frantically compiling and uploading for the last time, I left our lab/garage and our tricked out Audi A8 to go collect our rental car with Julia. We had ordered a “Toyota Corolla or similar” but was upgraded to a Dodge Charger for free, the first of many instances on this trip where we were luckier than we should have been. We picked up Wolfgang and Claudia, did some shopping, and hit the road.
Wolfgang entertained us with stories about whales and Dr. Joy Reidenberg, his great idol. We discussed which animal we’d prefer to eat, alive or extinct (Wolfgang: Galapagos tortoise, Claudia: The great white shark, Julia: Something boring I don’t remember, me: The dodo), and 3 hours later, we arrived at Motel 6 in Twentynine Palm, where we were to stay for two nights. We had a horrible late night Valentine’s Day snack from a Del Taco next door and went to sleep.
Saturday morning we had to reconcile our differences – my appetite for adventure was maybe a bit higher than that of the rest of the group – and we agreed to begin by going to the “must see” places of the park first, to get an idea of it all. First, though, we needed breakfast, and drove towards a Wal-Mart we had seen the day before, that was just nearby. “Nearby” turned out to mean 20 miles away, our sense of distance had been greatly distorted from the night driving the day before. We got breakfast, Wolfgang got a coffee and emptied no less than 12 small coffee creamer capsules into it, eliciting stares and a “he likes a drop of coffee in his cream, huh” from the friendly nearby cowboy in a star-spangled-banner-patterned button down shirt.
The Wal-Mart was just outside of the town Joshua Tree, which has one of three entrances to the park. We drove to Hidden Valley, which we managed to find due to all the signs pointing towards it, and took the short nature walk there. During the way we spotted some rock climbers and a large black lizard, but to Wolfgang’s disappointment no tarantulas ready to kill us.
We continued on to Key’s View and then Barker’s Dam, where we had a late lunch. We ended the afternoon by taking the 2.2 mile hike to the Wall Street Stamp Mill, the best preserved gold mining equipment in the park. We left the park through Joshua Tree, where we stopped by at Crossroads Café for dinner. I had the grilled Ahi tuna as usual (I’ve had that two times before at that place, and definitely recommend it).
On Sunday we did the longest hike of the trip, 3 miles labeled “moderately strenuous”, to the Fortynine Palm Oasis. I had not visited that before, and it was a pretty cool place. If only there had been fewer people. We then visited Oasis of Mara, which turned out to be artificial and a huge disappointment, and drove south through the park towards Palm Springs. Our hotel in Palm Springs had been overbooked, so we had been moved to Palm Springs Quality Inn, which we did not have the address for. By sheer luck we drove along the exact road it was on, and found it without even looking. We spent the afternoon the in pool and jacuzzi, before we went downtown for a pretty good dinner at a Mexican restaurant.
Monday morning we had breakfast at Café Lulu. I had a decent omelette, but so regretted not ordering French toast when I saw Julia’s. We took the Palm Spring Aerial Tramway halfway up Mt. San Jacinto, which my fried Johan and I had hiked to the top of two years ago. I sprained my ankle on the way down from the top, making for a very painful 4½ hour trip down, as opposed to the 2½ hours we spent going up. Such a trip was not in the cards this time, but we took a 1.5 mile loop trail from the mountain station and thoroughly enjoyed the views. I had forgotten how beautiful it is up there.
We got down and hurried home to San Diego, only stopping for a much needed restroom break for Wolfgang at a Carl’s Jr., where we also had a burger since we had stopped anyway. We made it home in the late afternoon after a great weekend.