26-Jan-2008 -- As Tom Baker and I had been in the area to do some work before meeting with our education team during the following week, we thought it appropriate to practice what we preach, namely, to venture into the surrounding countryside. It would also give us a break before some fairly long workdays ahead. The entire region had been receiving quite a bit of rain over the past few days, with snows so heavy that some of our colleagues could not make it in to work in Redlands the previous day. More snows were forecast, and thus we kept an eye on the online weather conditions, deciding to make a break for it in the late morning on Saturday. We left the headquarters of ESRI at 10:40am, and by 11:10am, were near the massive wind turbine farms along Interstate Highway 10, west of Palm Springs. We turned north on State Highway 62, crossed the San Andreas Fault, and dropped into the Morongo Valley.
We were amazed to see how long the communities of Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, and Joshua Tree were, miles and miles of commercial and residential development strung out along the highway, in the middle of the desert. One has to wonder how many people could live here without air conditioning. It must be beastly hot here in a few months' time. As we passed through these communities, Tom asked if there were any latitude-longitude confluence points in the area. "As a matter of fact..." I began, and showed him the maps and GPS units that I had brought for that very purpose. I considered it my solemn duty to take one of my favorite geospatial experts, Dr. Baker, to a confluence point.
We stopped for a snack and a bottle of water at a grocery store in Twentynine Palms, a community that often holds the high temperature record in the nation during the summer. Winter was definitely the preferred hiking season, and before heading south out of town, we stopped at the Joshua Tree National Park visitor center. Naturally, we were excited to see the three-dimensional map of the region displayed there, but tore ourselves away after a few minutes. After driving due south out of Twentynine Palms, we stopped for the required nerdy photographs of ourselves at the Joshua Tree National Park entrance sign. Fortunately, I still had a parks pass from last summer's Southwest Parks Tour, which we proudly displayed at the fee station. Then, we proceeded south to Eden Campground.
The park is named for the Joshua Tree, Yucca brevifolia, which we learned is really a giant member of the lily family. It is a monocot, in the group of flowering plants which also includes grasses and orchids. Eden Campground is quite scenic, set amongst large blocks of sandstone. A few campers and people picnicking were about, but not many. Tom talked with a dad who had taken his kids up here to watch the snowfall that was predicted for the evening. This is apparently a big event in this part of the desert. We parked at the campground's east edge, parked, and scanned the eastern horizon. "But I'm sure that it isn't as far as that far ridge," I assured Tom. As the reader might expect, these words were soon eaten as we climbed up out of the valley, not only to the top of the ridge, but a few hundred meters over the top.
We gathered supplies and quickly set off, with just over 1 mile (1.6 km) showing to the confluence. We traversed a gully and began climbing, slowly at first, and then more steeply until the slope was over 35 degrees. We kept looking for the trail identified by previous visitors, but saw nothing. We both stepped on at least one cactus and slipped a few times on the loose boulders, but the climb was affording us a magnificent vista of the surrounding countryside, particularly to the west. The temperature held at approximately 45 degrees F (7 C) but the wind made it a bit brisk and the layers we wore came in handy. The skies gradually clouded over as the afternoon wore on.
After we crested the ridge, we noticed an observation station off the ridge to the north, but no other buildings. Before we had to descend a steep gully to the east, we found the confluence. With wide open skies and no trees, we were consistently under 11 or 12 satellites the entire afternoon. The confluence lies on ground sloping 15 degrees to the east, strewn with cholla and other thorny bushes, rocks, and bare soil.
This was my fourth confluence point in southern California, the third along 34 North. I had also been to 34 North before in Oklahoma, Georgia, and North Carolina. I had never been to 116 West before. This was my first confluence of 2008. In reviewing my travel schedule, I doubt that I will be able to visit many confluences this year, so I will make 10 points my goal. We spent about 15 minutes on the point, and then descended a little way to the north of our approach, to see some different terrain and to film some short movies for GPS tutorials that we plan to post to the web. Upon our descent, we found the trail that had been so elusive. We followed it to the valley, where it disappeared. We arrived back at the campground with a total round trip time of 2:20, including stops to take video.
After departing the campground, we drove south to the Cholla Garden. The cholla were blooming, and the new needles were so white that they looked like spiny icicles. Truly a magnificent spot. We then dropped from the Mojave Desert into the Colorado Desert, and drove back along I-10 back to Redlands. We didn't see the most scenic part of the park, but we needed to get back to where our list of tasks awaited us. Spending time in the desert provided a peaceful and scenic break, and now we were ready to get back to GIS in education.