Taking Cover at Joshua Tree

Posted March 20, 2020 – Narrated by Carmen
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“The shock of the real.” 

      ― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Wow. Slab City seems like months ago. So much has happened in the last few weeks.

I almost titled this one, “When The Shit Hits The Fan In Beauty” but decided against because I don’t want to pile on any more media stress. Strange and uncertain times call for agility, clear-headedness, beer and corn chips … and we have all those things, including toilet paper.

We’re flush with the essentials way out here on the Colorado River.

On February 18th, as news broke about the coronavirus’ reach into California, we pulled out of Slab City. Heading north on Highway 111 after the brutal morning commute (haha).

We needed a place to stop and think this thing through. But the first priority was to find the necessary desert luxuries: a dump station, fuel, potable water and fresh produce.

The dump station on the east shore of the Salton Sea Recreation Area was open and, hopefully, still is. To contain the spread of COVID-19, state and national campgrounds are closing nationwide and now people who are isolating in RVs face unnessesary difficulties accessing facilities to properly manage their tanks.

With more people living mobile these days, it’s in the public interest to keep all existing RV service stations open. After all, social distancing in an RV is not only an effective solution to control the spread of alien viruses, it is the American Way.

Leaving the Salton Sea, we pulled into La Quinta – a resort town in Palm Desert with comforting snow-capped mountains swaddling the posh easy-going retiree community.

We found a rather tight place to park the rig at a bustling mall. Jim put a note on The Beast, “Please don’t tow. We’re shopping” and included our phone number. Then, we grabbed a bottle of hand sanitizer and walked to Soup Plantation where we grazed like a pair of starving borrego.

Almost seems like the good old days now, but after lunch we walked over to the fully stocked Costco and loaded up on supplies – and then we fueled up The Beast. All, in the same parking lot. Score!

La Quinta had plenty of fabulous RV resorts. After two weeks of dry camping we were tempted to stop and treat ourselves. But, with all of the virus news coming in, remote dry-camping would be more prudent.

Before retirement, Jim was a member of the “Group Eradicating Resilient Microorganisms (GERM) Commission” in San Diego, so he he had an idea about how swiftly this emergency could develop. To stay informed, we needed a place with a dependable Verizon signal and there’s little chance of adequate connectivity in a national park.

Like most SoCal residents, we’d never been to Joshua Tree. At lunch we read reviews and found a remote, free campground at Chiriaco Summit, just a couple of miles from the National Park’s South entrance (Cottonwood Visitor’s Center) behind the General Patton Memorial Museum.

Cool. Let’s check it out.

We took the historic Interstate 10 into the Orocopia Mountains Wilderness.

Chiriaco Summit

Between 1862 and 1877, The Bradshaw Trail was the main stagecoach and wagon route through Shaver Pass between SoCal and western Arizona. The historic and now extinct Hwy 60 crossed this pass (now called Chiriaco Summit) and Interstate 10 now absorbs this history.

In 1933, desert pioneers Joe and Ruth Chiriaco established a gas station and store on the pass and opened it the day Highway 60 was paved. It instantly became a destination and over the years, the family-owned compound has added a cafe and a few other concessions.

Today, Chiriaco Summit is an iconic Old California rest stop for travelers, truckers and desert day-trippers from the Los Angeles area.

Following signs, we passed the museum …

… and pulled into the campground which is about a half mile from the highway. After checking in, our camp host offered us any empty site of our choice. We snagged a nice spot backed up to the Eagle Mountains, a Joshua Tree National Park boundary.

The campground is small with only about twenty-five spacious and tidy primitive sites. They are evenly spaced along both sides of the unpaved road with a turn-around at the end. The road runs parallel to I-10 between the mountains along the gently sloping valley, or bajada, from the Eagle Mountains.

The south-facing natural landscape is rich with brittle bush, palo verde, ironwood and indigo. Joshua Trees do not grow on this side of the park, but that’s why there are so few tourists trampling this stunning landscape.

Joshua Tree National park does not allow dogs on any of the trails. But, with the full-time campground host at Chiriaco Summit, we felt safe leaving Pico in the trailer.

In the early mornings after Pico’s walk along the unpaved road that leads straight into Joshua Tree …

… we filled our day-pack with water and drove to the official park entrance, about five miles from Chiriaco Summit. General Patton, we learned, was an animal lover. Pico would be fine.

The hikes were rugged and long, and so beautiful that we forgot all the troubles of the world at …

Mastodon Peak

Lost Palms Oasis

Skull Rock

But we always managed to be home before dark – just in time for a spectacular sunset …

a hearty home-cooked meal …

and more distressing news.

Midweek, we had a thunderstorm so we went to the museum.

The Patton museum rewarded us with several lessons in California and Mexico history. It was an enlightening tribute to the kind of leadership the world so desperately needs …

… but the elevated map of the desert alone was worth the visit. We spent an hour studying this amazing project called, The Big Map.

While we toured the museum the storm abated, the clouds parted, and the sun broke through.

Then, later that night, from our mountainside hermitage, we observed the glittering flow of traffic on the I-10. The steady stream of headlights slithered down the mountain and curled behind a mesa – seemingly to penetrate a black hole – and, then remerged.

No. Not everyone will be fine, but life will move on.

Forces of nature will momentarily – and sometimes permanently – obscure the path, but the continuum is unbreakable and the journey is worth it.

All we can do is try to be the kind of soldiers who hold up a light in the darkness so others can find the way.

Just to clarify, we left the Joshua Tree area on February 25th and are now self-isolating in a dry-camping area in the Arizona desert, where our nearest neighbor is 100 yards away.

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.