Tunes, trails and blooms at Joshua Tree

Namesake trees in Joshua Tree National Park, on the Barker Dam Trail

A little late with this post, so maybe file away the info for next spring, because before long it’ll be baking in Joshua Tree National Park — a wonderland of boulders, namesake J-trees and wildlife in the transition zone of the Mojave and Colorado deserts about 140 miles east of Los Angeles and 50 miles beyond Palm Springs. And keep in mind, if you do decide to go this summer and want to camp, some campgrounds at the park are closed until October.

Pappy sign

A show at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown was all the excuse we needed to visit the desert in mid-April — lucky for us also the start of wildflower season. Jenny Lewis put on a fabulous show under the stars at Pappy’s — for SoCal music fans, this is a must-visit destination — and we combined that with some R&R at Rimrock Ranch and hiking and photography at J-Tree.

The entrance to Rimrock Ranch.

If you’re a music fan, a bit of a desert rat AND love funky, eclectic places to hang your hat, Rimrock Ranch is the place for you. We rented one of the dog-friendly cabins and had the place pretty much to ourselves for a couple days. The owner, Jim, is an accomplished bass player and occasionally holds impromptu concerts with some pretty big names at the ranch. He’s also a big-time repurposer of found objects, and nothing seems to go to waste:

A wall of old bottles.
A barbed wire heart at the entrance.
The swimming pool!

Built in 1947, Rimrock Ranch once housed actors filming westerns at nearby Pioneertown. Jim Austin, who co-owned a surfwear company, eventually bought the rundown 10-acre property and has been renovating it ever since. There are several small cabins, and he also rents out Hatch House, an eco-friendly modern structure he built with recycled materials.

License plate wall in Hatch House.
License plate wall in Hatch House.
Ocotillo outside Hatch House.
Ocotillo outside Hatch House.

Oh, and for those on a budget, there’s a funky Airstream trailer (the purple-fur-lined interior is a must-see) that rents for about $62 a night:


Larger groups can rent The Lodge for about $230 a night:


But back to the real reason we were there (other than music): the desert, hiking and wildflowers. It’s only about a 15-minute drive to Joshua Tree from Rimrock and we entered at the park’s West Entrance, off Highway 62.

With not a lot of time, and a dog in tow (they’re not allowed on park trails and have to stay within 100 feet of picnic areas, roads and campgrounds), we kept the hiking to a minimum for this trip, but still managed to stretch our legs and take in some of the desert beauty that J-Tree is known for:

The view from Keys View.
The, um, view from Keys View.

Climbers love Joshua Tree, and for good reason. Ever wonder why the boulders there are so fractured and blocky? Chalk that one up to volcanic activity. A form of magma called monzo-granite (yup) rose from deep within the Earth, and as it cooled, horizontal and vertical cracks formed. Voila — a climber’s paradise:

Joshua Tree National Park
See the climber?



Joshua Tree National Park
A perfect climber cubbiehole.

It was cool enough to leave our pooch Blue in the car, so we decided on the one-mile Barker Dam loop trail, which passes through classic J-Tree habitat and is a perfect quick and easy hike. There’s usually a reservoir about halfway through the loop, but it’s completely dried up — thanks a LOT, drought.

Barker Dam Trail

Along the way, we passed numerous beavertail cactus in full fluorescent-pink bloom:


We saw some rock art, but I have a feeling it was of recent vintage:

Joshua Tree pictographs

After our not-so-grueling hike, it was time for lunch, and we ate at the Hidden Valley picnic area, one of the only spots where dogs are allowed:

Blue, Joshua Tree

On our way out of town, we finally stopped at Pioneertown, the old movie set where westerns were filmed back in the day. There’s not much to it, but it’s fun to poke around the old buildings…


…and try the camera’s sepia filter…yikes, not sure that works:

Pioneertown sepia

And, being the land of found objects (things do seem to preserve well in the desert’s dry heat), we came across some funky art installations:

Pioneertown typewriters

And with that, we rode into the sunset…

Pioneertown sign



Why did another mountain lion cross the road….?

P-32 in mid-February captured by a remote camera in the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.
P-32 in mid-February captured by a remote camera at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.              Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Why, to join his sister, of course. In March, I wrote about P-33’s risky crossing of Highway 101 from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Camarillo area in Ventura County. And now brother P-32 has made it, crossing on April 3 about one mile east of where P-33 traveled.

Both of the 17-month-old big cats are tagged and monitored by the National Park Service, which oversees the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and has been tracking mountain lions there since 2002 in order to study how they manage to survive in such a fragmented habitat.

There’s no evidence that P-32 has actually reunited with his sister. In fact, he’s ventured further into the Simi Hills, crossing State Route 23 and coming close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Who knows, maybe he’s a Republican. Sister P-33 meanwhile turned around at Route 23 and is believed to be ranging close to where she crossed the freeway, said the NPS.

The recent journeys of these two big cats into the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains is a critical step in the lion’s long-term genetic survival in SoCal, says the NPS. Providing a safe crossing of the major barrier that is the 101 may come in the form of a proposed wildlife crossing over the freeway at Liberty Canyon north of Malibu Creek State Park.

There’s been quite a bit of mountain lion news in the L.A. area recently, between the two cats crossing the 101 freeway, and another lion dubbed P-22 (even has his own Facebook page) who lives in Griffith Park and in mid-April was found holed up under a house in Los Feliz. He was eventually hazed out by wildlife officials and is being GPS-monitored once again in the nether reaches of Griffith Park.

P-22’s the famous cat whose photos were featured in National Geographic. He’s also on the second or third of nine lives, having survived a bout of mange contracted from ingesting rat poison. I had the dubious pleasure of researching an infographic on that topic:

rodent infographic041714

Shameless self-promotion for “Take A Hike L.A.”

Book cover:frontWell, somebody’s gotta do it.

If you’re a hiker in the L.A. area and totally bored on a Monday night, stop by Distant Lands travel bookstore in Pasadena tonight at 7:30 p.m. for a talk and slideshow by yours truly on Moon Handbooks’ “Take A Hike Los Angeles.” Hey, the digital version is cheaper….I didn’t realize that!

Anyway, it’s 86 hikes within two hours of the City of Angles and I know you’ll enjoy it cuz it’s a super high, high quality guidebook with lots of great info and fab photos.

End of self-promotion. Enjoy!

100 is alot of mules!


Yeee ha! After traveling 240 miles from the Owens Valley along the L.A. Aqueduct to commemorate the pipeline’s 100th anniversary, the 100-mule team did a march at the L.A. Equestrian Center’s Equidome on Veterans Day. There was quite a bit of whinnying and braying, but as you can see from this handsome fellow, the equines were in good spirits. No freakouts from all the flags waving around.


Wranglers and mules from four Eastern Sierra pack stations participated in the commemorative ride that began Oct. 18 in Independence: Reds Meadow, McGee Creek, Rainbow and Cottonwood pack outfits. There was one wrangler for every 10 mules. At the Equidome event, each string paraded around the arena, doing neatly choreographed circles.


I find it amazing that this whole operation appeared to go off without a hitch…so to speak. Just goes to show what can be accomplished with planning and professionals. Tho I did hear that the resident horses where the mules are being temporarily housed at the equestrian center have been a little jumpy. Who can blame them, with 100 mules milling about.

This is also great publicity for the Eastern Sierra packers. It’s never too early to start planning for next summer’s backcountry adventure….!

100 Mules arriving in L.A.


Here’s an update on the 100 Mules project celebrating the 100 anniversary of the opening of the L.A. Aqueduct. Mules were instrumental in getting the aqueduct built in the early 1900s. No, that mule above isn’t one of the traveling equines. That’s a shot from Mule Days in Bishop a few years ago.

The group of 100 mules and a couple dozen wranglers plus riders have traveled 240 miles along the pipeline’s route, and spent today traveling from Hansen Dam in Lakeview Terrace to Brand Park in Glendale. Tomorrow, the group makes its way to the Glendale Veterans Day parade down Western Avenue at 9 a.m. From there, they’ll take to the streets of Burbank’s Rancho neighborhood en route to the L.A. Equestrian Center at about 11 a.m. The moving art installment winds down with an event at the Equestrian Center’s Equidome at about 1 p.m. Yee ha.

Happy 100th to L.A. Aqueduct

Mule poster

Today marks 100 years since water started to flow through the L.A. Aqueduct from the Sierra Nevada, through the Owens Valley and Mojave Desert to the City of Angels. To commemorate the event, artist Lauren Bon of the Annenberg Foundation’s The Metabolic Studio and a team of supporters, riders and wranglers are traveling the 240 miles of aqueduct with 100 mules. A few off-season Eastern Sierra pack stations are also involved. The ride began on Oct. 18 and will end at Griffith Park in L.A.

Mule-lovers alert: The sign above is from the L.A. Equestrian Center, where there’ll be a celebration at the center’s Equidome upon the team’s arrival on Nov. 11.