Desert hiking was on the agenda for 2 days in Joshua Tree National Park.
I headed out early to grab a few peaks on the first day. The park was crowded and all reservable campgrounds were full. I found the last first-come-first-served site in Belle Campground. The rules have changed, and you no longer find your site and return to the kiosk to pay and tag your site. Now you are asked to leave your stuff at the site and the ranger comes by the next day to collect the fee. (More on this later)
After leaving my chair, a tarp and a fire pit I headed to the first hike, Lela Benchmark. I could see the peak ~2 miles distant, but I needed to circumnavigate a small mountain in between. Once inside a wash, I lost sight of the mountain, but as I climbed, I saw a lava outcrop thinking that was the summit. No, then I saw another boulder outcrop. No, finally I saw a very large cairn which was finally the top. Too many false summits for a simple mountain. I returned to the trailhead, which was also the start for the next hike, Malapai Hill and Malapai Benchmark. These were two 500 foot bumps made of loose lava. Someone left a metal violin on the summit. I was very much ahead of my schedule, so I drove to Key’s viewpoint and hiked the very steep South Inspiration and Inspiration Points It was very windy.
Time to return to camp. When I got there, someone had parked their car and left their stuff in addition to mine. From behind the rocks crept a heavily bearded, rather scruffy guy. He wanted to know if he could pitch his old Russian army tent (yes, a canvas tent) behind the rock. He offered to pay for the site and to provide the firewood. That was a deal for me. I knew his tent was out of my sight and I would be snug in my truck early; however, I did lock the truck and sleep with my hiking poles. During the night a pack of coyotes came running and howling through the campsite, making all the campers spring awake. Have no idea what they were after.
I was up early and left my co-camper without even seeing him the next morning. I headed to Hidden Valley picnic area for the Quail Mountain trailhead. This was to be a long day. The first 2 miles or so was straight across the desert to the old, abandoned Randolph Ranch. It looked interesting but was all fenced off. I could not find anything about its history. I made my way through a boulder pass, and saw what I thought was Quail Mtn. I headed up a wash and about halfway up the mountain I found I was overshooting the peak and veering toward Peak 5787. Since I was almost there, and it was kinda on the way, I bagged it then headed over to Quail. On the way back I detoured over Mount Minerva Hoyt and then Peak 5215, also kinda on the way. Overall, 12.5 miles and 2,406 vertical. Made it home by dinner. (click any picture for the slides)