It’s no secret that the trifecta of monochromatic monotony; first Quartzsite, then Yuma, then Anza Borrego all did a number on my mood this winter. I just couldn’t seem to overcome the austere bleakness of my surroundings on the heels of what was a difficult holiday season. So the prospect of heading back into a place called the “Mojave Desert” seemed a bit daunting. But Jim and Gayle were headed there to wait out the spring break and Easter holiday crowds, which seemed like a good idea after yielding to a human train of hikers coming down Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree.
The highway out of Joshua Tree North toward Kelso is a page out of Death Valley Days without the majestic vistas. It’s a long stretch of two-lane through abandoned homes, salt flats, and chloride factories. A landscape so void of vegetation, or even definition for that matter, that I feel like the Winnie could be swallowed up into the vast expanse of nothingness in front of me.
A bit apprehensive while rolling through these austere surroundings once again, I make my best attempt at giving myself a pep talk: ”It will be fun because Jim and Gayle will be there. You’ll be fine. You’ve had 17 days of scenic stimulation in Mexico, a few days of beige are not going to derail you unless you allow it. It will be a good exercise, you know…’Finding beauty in any surrounding?’ You’ve done it before. You can do it again!”
I arrive at Hole in the Wall Campground expecting to find a dry barren desert dust bowl. Instead, I am pleasantly surprised by the lush vegetation on the hillsides. The sites are well spaced apart, offering a phenomenal view of Barber Peak. The full moon sets right over the mountain out my bedroom window. The yuccas are all in bloom. Yellow Brittlebrush lines the pathways, as well as prolific Mojave Indigo Bush. Rounding out the primary color palette are tufts of crimson Indian Paintbrush.
The morning after a stunning sunset and “welcome cocktail,” we waste no time in heading off to hike the Barber Peak Loop trail, leaving right from the Hole in the Wall campground. This 6.5 mile loop has plenty of variety to keep the hike interesting. There is volcanic tufa, a cactus-filled wash, Juniper trees, Pinyon Pines, Opalite Cliffs crusted in black lava, and a saddle with a view worthy of a longer than usual lunch stop.
We have agreed we will stick to the Barber Peak loop trail and save the “Rings” trail for the next day. However, once we get to the back side of Barber Peak, it opens up into Banshee Canyon, towering sandstone walls that make me feel like Minnie Mouse scurrying through a cleft in a giant wheel of Swiss cheese. Banshee Canyon is named for the “screaming banshee,” the sound that the wind makes when whistling through the holes created by gas and ash of an ancient volcanic eruption. The little canyon is stunning, and there is no way we can save it for another day!
These two sets of ring-bolts are not as easy as they look! The chutes are narrow, making it difficult to raise one foot over the other. There is a bit of a concave to the rock, making it tough to see beneath you. And the final step is a killer, as you run out of “ring” before you reach level ground. Still, it was so much fun climbing on this “jungle gym” that Gayle and I would go back four times just to climb the rings, challenging Jim’s “Lord of the Rings” title!
Oh, it’s good to be back on the “playground” once again!