Joshua Tree

[Originally posted on Monday, September 30]
We arrived for a vacation week at Palm Springs on separate flights, amazingly well coordinated considering that Arn was coming from Las Vegas and Jane from Los Angeles. The last leg for both of us was in small propeller-driven aircraft flying at relatively low altitude over desert terrain. So we got a good look at the unique topography of the Southern California deserts. Palm Springs sits in the Coachella Valley, whose springs have been a source of life for indigenous peoples and indeed pre-human life, including a specific species of palm tree.


Palm Springs sunset, from our balcony

The Oasis Resort turned out to be about five minutes away from the airport, a straight shot down East Palm Canyon Drive. It is a quiet gated condo community, and it does not appear to be very busy in this in-between season. Palm Springs’ peak season is winter, but by now the sizzling three-digit temperatures of summer are gone, the weather ideal.  Our one-bedroom condo unit is on the second floor, with a garage and a outside balcony (where we are sitting now). It has morning and late afternoon shade, so it’s a nice place for breakfasts and evening appetizers. We have great views of the mountains, the landscaping and palm trees. We’ve sighted several kinds of hummingbirds, a Red-tailed Hawk and several other birds, some related to our familiar eastern species. We have our choice of nearby swimming pools, some with hot tubs. The pools are sparsely populated, so there’s no fighting over saved lounge chairs. Although the temperatures are in the 90s, it does not feel that hot because of the low humidity. And the morning temperatures are in the mid-60s. We discovered a grocery store five minutes away, and are finding it liberating to eat what and when we want, in our own home away from home.


Joshua Tree

Yesterday (September 29) we decided to visit Joshua Tree National Park, knowing that it might be closed if the House of Representatives shuts down the government on Tuesday. The park is part of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Its entrance is about 40 miles from Palm Springs. On the drive we were happy to see huge wind farms, with hundreds of windmills and fields full of solar panels generating needed energy. As we neared the park entrance to the we began to see Joshua Trees, unique to this area. The Visitor Center ranger explained that they are a type of yucca. She showed us a cross section of a Joshua Tree trunk; they have no growth rings and feature a sponge-like center, where moisture is kept in reserve. These trees may be hundreds of years old, but are not easy to date without rings; they grow a modest 1″ a year.


Typical pile of boulders in Joshua Tree National Park

Once inside the park, we drove through areas with large loose-boulder rock formations. The shapes were rounded and fantastic, the product of a complicated subterranean erosion process. Some of the boulders were balanced precariously on top of others, some had features like “Skull Rock,” “Jumbo Rocks,” etc. What makes these rocky desert outcroppings, like the surrounding mountains, different from Eastern topography is that there is virtually no vegetation. The ground itself is desert sand, and only a few hardy forms, such as sagebrush, cacti, mesquite, creosote bushes, and small scrub vegetation grow there. Only 2 to 5 inches of rain fall annually. Most blooming is erratic, following rare rainy periods. Only a few blooms were visible during our visit, through recent heavy rains had washed out one of the park roads and covered others with sand. One bloom we did see was a yellow ground cover that was widespread in a few areas. The only wildlife we saw, except for some ravens and small birds, was a Antelope Ground Squirrel and a lizard with an amputated tail. (We had hoped to see a roadrunner going “beep-beep.”)  We learned that there were seven kinds of rattlesnakes as well as killer bees in the park, which certainly discouraged off-trail adventures.


Ocotillo in the desert

We stopped at various viewpoints and hiking trails, but did not venture off on any of the hikes, though we did one quarter-mile jaunt in the Cholla Cactus Garden. Another large flora grouping we stopped to see were the Ocotillo patch. They’re tall shrubs that form leaves whenever it’s wet and drop them whenever it’s droughty. Their long spindly shape reminds one of aquarium grass, through they’re 20 feet tall. We did not see Prickly Pear or Saguaro cacti here.

One of the highlights was the Keys View overlook, which provided a sweeping vista from 5185 feet. We could see a mountain on the Mexican border, the Salton Sea, San Jacinto mountain (10,861 ft.) with Palm Springs nestled under it, and most of all the San Andreas Fault, very visible at this point, running up the middle of the Coachella Valley. Our side of the fault is moving south at 2″ a year, while the coastal side is moving north at the same rate. The atmosphere in this area is perpetually hazy because of the dust and natural and man-made pollution, despite the low humidity. Heading for the southern “Cottonwood” park entrance, we noted the climate and temperature change as we approached the valley. We drove through a huge wash area typical of a region where it seldom rains but has deluges when it does. We also learned of amateur archaeologists who discovered an early Native American culture that thrived 9000 years ago along a long-gone river bed. In the 19th century this desert had pioneer prospectors searching for gold and other minerals; several active mines were in production in the area then.

We were thrilled to see something so different from anything we had ever seen before. The vastness of this wilderness, and the scale and forms of the geology, were amazing. We felt the thinness of the air as we walked in the highlands; it took its toll.

All in all, this was one of the most unusual anniversary days ever for us. it far exceeded our expectations.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.



Thursday was a beautiful day!  The sky was blue, the air was cool, the variable wind not very strong, just a breeze.  Having ridden on the exercise bike the day before, I was really ready to go out on the trail.

I’d have ridden the trail on the day before too, except that I’d gotten a 24-hour heart monitor attached Tuesday morning.  The doctor said I could and should be able to do all normal activities during the 24-hour period; frankly, I’d hoped to get a ride in then, at least indoors.  But the device came with a lot of intimidating instructions.  Couldn’t get near any electronic signals that might interfere, so I’d have to avoid the exercise bike, and not use my usual bike computer if I went on a ride.  In fact, the bike setup would have a signal generator whether the computer was mounted or not, so I might have to remove it to take the ride.  Further, the instructions said not to shower, take a bath, swim, “etc.”  I wondered if the “etc.” included sweat heavily, which I would do if I rode.  And finally, the technicians who installed the monitor did not, in my view, do the right thing when attaching the monitor’s electrodes.  They could have shaven my chest hair to give the thing a good connection, but they didn’t.  They swabbed the area to remove skin oils, and attached the electrodes over the hair.  They used tape to secure the electrodes better, as well as the adhesive on the device itself.  The central of the five electrodes was so loose that I thought that it wouldn’t take much at all to dislodge it, and the instruction sheet spoke in dire terms of having to re-do the test if that happened.

By Wednesday morning I was unhitched from the monitor and I guess I could have ridden.  My legs were aching the way they paradoxically do when I do not get enough exercise in them.  But I was feeling still a bit out of sorts with my cold, and decided an indoor ride would be a better fit for my degree of health and fitness.  Did 30 minutes, and noted afterwards that my weight was down by 4.5 lbs. from when I last rode indoors about 10 days ago.  I chalked it up to an anomaly based on all the variables of time-of-day, last meals eaten, and the like, that can account for daily weight variance.

Beautiful Thursday was the ideal day.  With an indoor ride in my legs I could extend my range to Ashburn, enjoy the great weather and early autumn sights, and improve my conditioning.  So off I started, feeling most of the symptoms mentioned in “Riding Ill,” but generally OK.  I’d eaten half a Clif Bar for a little extra energy, just in case the light breakfast of Wheat Chex and milk ran out before my need for energy did.   Rolling out to Ashburn felt fine.  I was deliberately holding back a bit, thinking of the distance and the few recent miles in my legs.

My “Ashburn” turnaround point refers to a barbecue restaurant and general store right where the W&OD crosses Ashburn Road.  On the north side of the trail, opposite the store, are benches to rest and soak in a few rays of sun before heading home.  It’s about 18 ½ miles from Academy St.  I remounted for the return, a little surprised that I was heading into the prevailing wind.  It felt like it had been in my face coming out, though sometimes it’s hard to tell when the breezes are light and variable.  As I hit the checkpoints homeward—the Route 28 overpass, Sterling Boulevard, Elden Street—my legs were getting heavier and heavier, and I was craving another rest.  That was unusual, I thought.  I’d managed for several years to ride my range of regular rides with set pauses, usually about halfway along.  The rides under 25 miles long didn’t usually require any rest stops at all, unless it was very hot or very windy.  But somewhere east of Herndon I began to lose the energy to travel on.  I was drinking more liquid, but I was also fantasizing about crawling into bed and sleeping once I got home.  My neck and shoulders hurt.  I stopped at the bench at the top of the hill down to Hunter Mill Road.  I considered calling Jane for a ride, but since I was about 5 miles from home I thought I would soldier on, even at a reduced pace.  This after all was not a race (I have to remind myself of that frequently, since I tend to race against my own sense of how I “should be” performing).  Once down the hill (where I only hit about 26 mph instead of my usual 31 or 32) the trail is an uphill false flat most of the way to Vienna.  Going forward was quite an effort; if one could assume the fetal position on the bike I would have.  Hot baths and warm beds floated through my mind.  I considered another rest at the Vienna Community Center, but decided that I could more easily take the last two miles right now than get going again after a rest.  On the uphill after Vienna I could only give minimal effort, and surprisingly it went well.  Usually I really push it here, and the climb seems like a monster.  Lesson learned: if you don’t attack the gradient, it will not try to hurt you.

When I got to the foot of Academy, my usual all-out charge to the top of the street was out of the question.  I meekly wheeled around the dump truck and flatbed that have adorned our street ever since our driveway/retaining wall project began, and slowly up the drive.  Home at last!

Whether this “bonk” was just running out of energy, or dehydration, or an event triggered by my erratic heartbeat I am not sure.  I did not have the symptoms that accompanied the earlier erratic-heart episodes: sudden sweating and short-term loss of breath.  But aching neck and shoulders were the same.  And I had lost 3 or 4 more pounds.  At any rate, it was one of the rare times that I have felt worse after a bike ride, and I’d rather never go there again.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.