To Cottonwood Campground - Christmas in Joshua Tree - CycleBlaze

December 28, 2015

To Cottonwood Campground

Through the Mecca Hills Wilderness

Today was the beginning of our car-aided three day tour of Joshua Tree National Park.  After picking up our vehicle in Indio we drove down to Mecca at the north end of the Salton Sea to begin our ride: an out and back to Cottonwood Campground in the southern end of the park.  It's essentially an uphill ride all the way there, and a coast back.  

We got started a bit late because of an interminable delay at the rental agency, and didn't start biking until about 10 - perhaps just as well because it was very cold this morning, in the high 30's.  We almost froze on our brisk but short walk to breakfast.

The ride east on quiet Box Canyon Road begins with an all but flat four mile ride through the flat irregated crop lands east of Mecca, until we enter the Mecca Hills Wilderness, beginning with the badlands: a fascinating maze of intensely eroded canyons and washes.  As we climb through it we pass through a procession of beautifully exposed strata, from mudstone to clay to conglomerate to a glistening greeninsh metamorphic bed.

Leaving the badlands but still in the wilderness area, we cross about 10 miles of open but surprisingly green desert, with the rocky ground covered with colorful ground plants, palo verde, smoke tree, and ocotillo.  It is an austere but quite beautiful expanse.  To the north the mountains of southern Joshua Tree define the horizon, with busy Interstate 10 bisecting the picture.

Crossing the Interstate, we almost immediately enter the park and climb fairly steeply for another eight miles to Cottonwood Campground, where we stopped for lunch.  

Biking across the Imperial Valley, east of Mecca: a continuous parchwork quills of irrigated crop fields
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The Coachella Canal marks the eastern edge of the irrigated valley floor, and the transition into the Mecca Hills.
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Entering the Mecca Hills Wilderness Area on Box Canyon Road.
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Climbing through the arroyos, Box Canyon Road
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In the Mecca Hills
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In the Mecca Hills
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Palo Verde is one of the predominant species here. It has so many different appearances. Now that I know how to recognize it, it is becoming one of my favorite trees.
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At the southern entrance, enjoying the warmest time of the day.
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Climbing Cottonwood Springs Road, the southern approach into the park. It's a steady 6-7 percent grade most of the way to the campground.
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Christmas cholla
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Lunch stop in Cottonwood Campground. At 3000' and with the wind picking up a bit, it's time to layer up again.
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The Salton Sea and the Santa Rosa Mountains, from Joshua Tree National Park.
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We arrived about 1:30, and at this altitude it is starting to get cold.  We ate quickly and then raced back to the car, downhill and into the wind.  

The ride back across the eastern, open area of the Mecca Hills Wilderness was even more beautiful on the way back - it is almost a shock to see how much more colorful it is in the late afternoon light.  We whiz through a luminous matrix of greens, grays, creams and bright yellows for about half an hour - really beautiful, very exhilarating.  It pains me to pass through so quickly and not stop to look around; but it's too late in the day and Rachael is too cold.  Thanks to the delay at the rental agency we cut the day a bit too close, and got back to the car not long before sunset.  Rachael was pretty well chilled by the time we arrived.

Tonight we're in the town of Joshua Tree at the north end of the park, our base for the next two days

An update: I see that I forgot to mention our brief encounter on the way up to Cottonwood Springs with a biker traveling on a Citibike.  I asked why he was on one, and he said it was a long story.  We were behind schedule so we rode on, assuming we could hear the story when he arrived at camp, but we never hooked up again.  Here's his story: http://www.countribike.com

Overlooking what I think are the Chocolate Mountains, from Cottonwood Springs Road. This shot is in here mostly just because I like their name.
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Another colorful ocotillo tree
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The roadside vegetation is much lighter at the end of the day, and the desert floor has really come to life. It is all very beautiful as we whiz by it on our race to get back to the warmth of the car before sundown.
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And yet another ocotillo.
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Descending back into the badlands, into a steady headwind. It 's getting a bit late in the day and more than a bit cold.
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Near the end of the ride, before crossing the agricultural flats. We've lost the sun, and in another half hour or so will lose the day.
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Today's ride: 56 miles (90 km)
Total: 299 miles (481 km)

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