Roughing it at Joshua Tree

By Glen Ochoa.

(11/21/05) At one point I began to wonder whether or not the group would enjoy this backpack or find it completely boring. I knew most of the folks in Perfect Pace were avid mountain scenery buffs and that this remote desert trail was not well traveled. I loved this trail when I did it solo last year, but I'm a desert rat and of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To my relief, everybody loved it I mean really loved it... It was one fun backpack trip.

This was a dry backpack, but water could be cached midway in the trail. Friday I went up early and drove on the 4X4 drive course up to Upper Covington Flats in my Jeep Wrangler. I felt like I was riding a bronco all the way to the flats. It was such a rush... Yee-haw. From there, I hiked in three miles with six gallons of water on my back. The weight wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I guess all the backpack trips over the last year has thrown in a few extra back muscles. When I found the perfect wilderness campsite and hid the water, I rushed back to meet Mike for the car drop off. Mike and I dropped his car off at the destination point at the Keys View Road trailhead and then later hooked up with Joe and Bill at Black Rock car campground.

It was a holiday weekend and all the campgrounds at Joshua Tree were full. After being exposed to wilderness camping, I now find car campgrounds to be loud, over-crowded, and lacking privacy. Black Rock campground that night certainly was no exception. It felt like a tent city. Joe and Bill decided to sleep without a tent that night which I found very intriguing. They convinced me to give it a shot the following evening. I was the only one with a down bag, but I figure it could probably handle a little bit of dew.

We started hiking the California Hiking and Riding Trail from its starting point at Black Rock campground 9am Saturday morning. The elevation gain was so gradual it was barely noticeable. The views were more beautiful than I remember from last year. We stopped off for a very relaxing lunch on top of an outcrop near Covington Flats. We bumped into one hiker with his dog near the Covington Flats backcountry board and he was the only person we ran into the entire trip. We could have easily hiked the trail naked if we wanted to. Joe actually dared me to hike naked, but I couldn't quite muster the courage. I always wondered what it would be like. Hehehe, maybe next time.

We reached our wilderness campsite in time for sundown. Although Mike and I planned to sleep without the tent that night, we set it up "just in case". We then relaxed the rest of the afternoon and evening perched on an overlook looking out over a long valley surrounded on both sides by the Little San Bernardino Mountains with a clear shot of the Salton Sea at the other end. It was odd that the car campgrounds were filled to the gills, yet we had this huge desert wilderness all to ourselves in this remote section of Joshua Tree. That in itself was worth the trip. We enjoyed a bottle of Carmenet Merlot, while I prepared dinner for us. I made peppered soy ginger albacore, with rice and peas, which was the first time I've prepared a gourmet group backpack dinner. It turned out awesome, although I mistakenly grabbed a package of green peas instead of grean beans. I did a quick Martha Stewart "I asked for merlot!", but quickly got over it. The moon was so bright we didn't need our headlamps or the candlelamp. After dinner we played a little game similar to truth or dare. The questions were pretty bold, and the responses were over the top. The game was so popular we continued it on our hike the following day. And of course, with all Perfect Pace backpack trips, what takes place on the mountain stays on the mountain.

That night I slept without a tent for the very first time. It was amazing. It was a little strange getting used to the glow of the moonlight through my eyelids. It felt like something was crawling on my face at one point in the night, but maybe it was just my cinche cord blowing in the wind. I woke up late in the evening after the moon disappeared over the horizon and gazed up at the stars. I will definitely sleep without a tent more often.

The best part of the trip was hiking with such an awesome group of guys. Mike, Joe, and Bill are all so laid back. It was so easy letting go with them. The trip was such a hit, we're planning to do the second segment of Joshua Tree's CHRT in late January. We'll have to think of even more outrageous questions for the next trip.

To learn more about Perfect Pace, visit their website at: http://www.perfectpace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=PerfectPaceApp.home

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