Joshua Tree Back Roads - Easter Weekend 2003

Camping in the desert has never interested me much. I've had great experiences at Lake Powell and Havasu Falls, but the close proximity of cool bodies of water made the heat manageable. Camping out in Joshua Tree National Park, out in the middle of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts, seemed a dubious prospect. As it turned out, clouds and rain passed through the area the day before we arrived, providing mild temperatures for the weekend. More importantly, the group of people with whom I traveled would have made even a blistering weekend in Hades fun.

And fun it was. After 115,000 miles, I finally took my Ford Explorer off the cushy asphalt and put it through its paces (with expert advice from a pro riding shotgun). Over the course of the weekend, our caravan of four SUVs (all but one of which were 2WDs) traversed approximately 25 miles of gnarly back roads marked "4-Wheel-Drive Only." I would have found some spots challenging on foot, but my old hoss clambered over the rocks and through the sand with but an occasional spinning wheel and clunk on the undercarriage (notwithstanding all the loving caresses from the creosote bushes along the sides of the road).

It all started on Good Friday, and that's exactly what it was. I left San Diego with two lovely ladies in my truck; could it have been better? We forsook the interstate concrete in favor of the scenic route: through Poway, Ramona and Julian... over the mountains and down into the Anza-Borrego Desert... past the Salton Sea and Ocotillo Wells, through Box Canyon... till we crossed over the I-10 and pulled into Joshua Tree National Park. We met our fellow Total Escapers at the Cottonwood campground and set up camp. That evening, we watched the nearly-full moon rise over the desert and sipped the last of my limoncello. The fellowship was as warm as the fire.

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