Wondering and Wandering in the Desert, Part II

I could go on and on about hiking in the desert. John and I discovered a gem this trip. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is about half an hour from Palm Springs on Highway 62. It is nestled in the mountains above the tiny town of Morongo. Here, water runs year ’round, so there is more varied wildlife.

After doing a perimeter hike and eating a picnic lunch, we decided to do the shorter loop around the oasis. The buzz of insects and birdsong accompany you when you hike here. As we rounded a curve on the path, I saw a bobcat disappearing quickly into the dense brush. In all my hiking, this is third one I have seen. What a blessing! As we exited the park, we passed the ranger station, and I told them about the bobcat. They were excited, since they had not seen a bobcat this season. Last year, they told us, the bobcats were being trapped for their pelts, but a recent change in state law now prohibits that. But John and I wonder why would people hunt these beautiful, elusive creatures for $300 a pelt.

One of the most wonderful places on this planet is Joshua Tree National Park. You could spend days and nights here. It is one of the dark places of the earth where the night sky is displayed in all its glory, and that is definitely on our bucket list. This year, ours was a day trip. Throughout the park, there are fantastic rock formations that trigger your imagination, as the unusual shapes turn into fantasy creatures and landscapes. I could swear that there was a monster peeping at me at one point …

Midpoint on our journey through the park, we came to Keys View. In winter, at almost 5,200 feet, it is cool with a chilly wind that goes right to the skin. From here, the entire Coachella Valley is spread below. The Salton Sea is a pale-blue slash in the distance. You can see the surrounding desert and mountain ranges, and look down on the San Andreas Fault. 

What you don’t expect to see is a wedding party, complete with a bride in a diaphanous white dress clutching a bouquet. We tried not to stare. But as we were leaving, I had to have one last glance at the bride. The small group had made their way to the central part of the viewing area. Pictures were being taken, and suddenly, the bride turned, bent over the edge, and vomited. You didn’t expect that, did you? Neither did we. I looked around for the groom. He was headed back to the van, eating a bag of “burn your guts out” chips, and seemed completely unconcerned. I wondered why she was sick and why on earth anyone would come to this frigid wild spot for wedding photos in winter. 

Speaking of wondering—I’m thinking of the palm-to-pines Palm Spring Aerial Tramway. This rotating tramline zips you up the side of Mount San Jacinto from the desert to 8,516 feet, where it is 30 degrees cooler. Snow had fallen about a week before we took our trip and covered the ground, but had melted on the steep, concrete one-fourth-mile path down to the forest. It is a point of pride to go down and up this path without pausing to catch my breath. No matter that my heart is doing double time. This time, we did not venture onto the crusted snow at the bottom, since it looked like a perfect way to break a hip or dislocate something.

After returning to the top of the path, we watched the sun set over the mountains and then had a delightful dinner at the gourmet restaurant as darkness descended. 

But what was magical was the trip from the mountain station to the desert floor. As the tram rotated, the entire Coachella Valley was illuminated before us. In the eastern sky, a full moon brightened the landscape and millions of electric lights outlined the desert communities—the darker patches between indicating undeveloped American Indian land. Mellowed by good wine and food and our high-altitude mini hike, I savored every moment of this journey. There were two birthday celebrants in the car, and everyone sang to them, and even though we were strangers, for that moment in time we were traveling companions. After the song, couples and friends fell silent, wrapped in the beauty of these ephemeral moments.

Today is our last day here, and while I will miss the stillness and solitude of our desert hikes, I am ready to return to home. We have had so many adventures, but I have to tell you readers, I have missed sharing with you. Thank you for reading this travelogue. The book is coming along slowly. Marcy threw in with Blackie and Blondie and spent a lot of her time lying on the grass, greeting golfers, eating treats, and barking at the Canada geese with her new friends.

And now back to our real lives. I believe I see a weight-reduction diet (and a rough reentry) in our collective future. Ugh! 

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