Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Joshua Tree Hunt

At first, there's just the suggestion that you may have seen a couple of them along the road. Likely it was just that you wanted to so much, and they were supposed to be out there somewhere. You were still wondering if they'd be close enough to the road to actually see, or better yet, a chance to pull off the road (safely!) and get a good picture. Or seven. Dozen.

Nobody needed to set an alarm. We just all got up at our usual time, trying not to dawdle over breakfast too much since this close after winter solstice there's still so little daylight. For the record, we have an hour ten minutes more here than back in Minnesota, but the days are still short. In not leaving immediately, we avoided the coldest morning temperatures too, both for ourselves and for the dogs. This trip they were not coming along, now that Paul had fixed what we hope is the last spot where Ellie can dig out of the yard. We were planning on leaving them outside for the day with plenty of water and winter sunshine. The museum we were also going to see in Wickenburg, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, didn't even open until 10:00 anyway. It was the reason we had packed (when I say "we" I of course mean Paul) both scooters in the car, leaving no room for dogs but just enough room for elbows and knees. Or at least Paul said he had enough room.

Then again, he's pretty easy going.

Filling the tank for $16 was a treat too. It's been a long time since gas was under $3/gal., not to mention under $2!

The museum was relatively inexpensive, and the exhibits were interesting enough to keep us absorbed for a couple hours. That's even before checking out the gift shops. I wouldn't have appreciated the Old Wickenburg exhibit as much had it not been for my years working for Doug as an auction clerk, getting an on-the-fly education in antiques. My southwestern pottery hobby left me in better position to identify pottery types and origins, apparently, than the folks who had labeled the  pots in the exhibits. Paul especially enjoyed the minerals on display, though he also thought several of those were mislabeled. Steve's favorites were the Remington bronzes and the western paintings. He definitely wants to visit again.

For future reference, I will have to keep an eye on their website for upcoming events. This last fall they had a Mata Ortiz potter make and fire a pot at the museum, and plan to repeat that with several potters next year. They also have a nice little selection of Mata Ortiz pottery for sale, plus - new to me - jewelry utilizing  some of their distinctive pottery patterns, and their prices are nowhere near as outlandish as many other museums and tourist sites I've checked out.

Eventually we were back on the road, having spent way more time in the gift shops than they warranted. Not much money, just time. Hwy. 60 for us goes from a mile from the house straight up to Wickenburg, and now we were heading up Hwy. 93 to Wickieup. That's the stretch where the internet claimed we'd see Joshua trees. Everybody else, including whoever is responsible for signage, seems to think of it as the route to Vegas.

If you are new to the idea of Joshua trees, they look like yuccas, only branched and grown to tree height once mature. And like yuccas, they are members of the lily family, which includes those potfuls sold by the millions every Easter. These are just adapted for desert, the Mohave to be specific, and there are three stands of them in Arizona, plus a national park full in California. The spot we would be driving through is where Mohave meets Sonoran Desert, and there are places where you can see saguaros and Joshua trees in the same place.

I spent so much time looking, first for them and then at them, that I came home that night with sore neck and shoulders. I did manage to keep the car on the road, however. Within a mile of the spot where they first appear as you  head northward, there is a nice wide shoulder making a safe pullout, likely because there are three huge specimens there with mountains behind, otherwise known as a photo op. A word to the wise, however: this is also a great spot to regret that you chose tennies rather than leather boots. It looks innocuous, but the dried grasses are brittle and shatter into hundreds of little spikes that worm their way through your shoes and socks and into your tender feet. If you stay on the shoulder you don't find that out, but some of us go searching for that perfect angle....

In just a few more miles the trees become so thickly abundant that even a jaded Minnesotan can appreciate the idea that somebody attached the word "forest" to them. We do know up there what a real forest is, and it's not any of those things down here that have a 6' tall something every 100 feet, even if they do call themselves forests. The ponderosa pines up near Flagstaff, now they qualify as a forest. But scatterings of mesquite or junipers - never!

These, finally, were a forest!

Even better, they were plunked right in the middle of some very scenic country in its own right: mountains, cliff, and canyons. Occasionally one of the things that the highway bridges passed over claiming to be rivers actually had, if not water, at least traces of muddy spots meandering down the middle.

We had plans for lunch at Luchia's Restaurant, just north of town, known for homemade pies and peacocks. No, the peacocks were not on the menu, just wandering around the back yard showing off. Well, theoretically. A large "CLOSED" sign greeted us instead, no information on whether it was temporary or permanent, so we headed back into Wickieup. There was a trading post selling not-so-cheap gas and souvenirs, and food could be had in a little sit-down restauruant. The food wasn't spectacular, but adequate, particularly since we had now waited until 3:30 to eat lunch.

I think next time we'll hit McDonalds in Wickenburg. "Adequate" is a whole lot cheaper there. We can revisit the museum and hit the Joshua tree forest for spring blooming. Maybe my mysteriously-vanished camera will reappear by then, since the library shelves are now installed, needing only a bit of trim and paint touch-up, and we can unpack stacks of boxes.

Next year.

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