Ranger Pritchett has a lot to smile about. After twenty years as an enforcement officer at Joshua Tree National Park, he’s recently transitioned to a new position inside the visitor center as a naturalist and he couldn’t be happier. When asked about the park’s attractions and variety of activities, he gets very excited about all the prospects that Joshua Tree has to offer, especially during the off-season, when it’s not “crazy busy”.
He highly recommends a visit to Cottonwood Spring—located three miles behind the Cottonwood Spring Visitor Center—where, miraculously, an underground spring feeds a Babylonian-style garden of large growth trees that frame the azure sky.
He draws a circle around Barker Dam on our trail map, and encourages us to hike the loop trail that passes Barker Dam, where the water offers a window to the sky;
and continues through a thick forest of Joshua trees created to frame the rocks and blue sky;
and finishes with an introspection of ancient Indian petroglyphs carved on a sacred rock that vandals thoughtlessly outlined in paint.
But Pritchett was reticent about suggesting a visit to White Tank campground. When asked why, he allowed, “In my old job, I got called and cornered there all the time. There were just too many people for the area, and once I got in there to control traffic, it was almost impossible to get out.”
But what made it so crowded?” I continued.
That’s when Pritchett criticized the parkitects. “They should never have designated a trailhead through camp site #9.
“A trailhead to what?” I persisted.
“Oh, it’s just the only natural arch in the park,” he mentioned casually. “But I don’t like to tell a lot of people about it. In fact, it’s not even recorded on the park map.”
But he highlighted the area for us on our trail map.
Leah and I were as excited to discover the arch as a Republican repealing ObamaCare. But when we arrived at Site #9, we weren’t alone. A few other couples were also in on the secret, although the trail was not an easy one to follow; the rock path was too easily camouflaged by the desert terrain.
After some unauthorized trailblazing, we located the source of wonder, and scrambled through a crop of coarse granite for a closer look. Looking through a window of the last 80 million years, the endless erosion of wind and water has molded a mini mound of molten magma into a masterpiece.
However, the biggest window was waiting for us at the top of Keys View. The small crowd began assembling at 6:15 pm. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the hazy glow of San Gorgonio Mountain to the north,
and a mirage of a distant Salton Sea to the south– the two connected by the San Andreas Fault…
all in preparation for a salute to the sunset over Mount San Jacinto, and the promise of a better day tomorrow.