Saturday, November 22, 2008

(1) Marching Trees

Never in my whole life could I have imagined a "traffic jam"
in the middle of a desert. That is until I reported to my new
assignment at the Joshua Tree National Park. Arriving in the
Spring, when the weather and temperature was still fairly
moderate, the park seemed utterly over-run with rock climbers
and campers. At least the park was big enough, consisting of
around 800,000 acres of land that included various mountain
ranges in the midst of two deserts: the Mojave Desert and the
Colorado Desert, which is an extension of the Sonoran Desert.
Located in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is
north of Palm Springs and south of Twentynine Palms, noted
for the U.S. Marine Base nearby.

Having put my trust in my ancient Indian guide, I was not
surprised having been accepted for the job as a park ranger
naturalist at Joshua Tree. As a historical-cultural interpreter at
Bandelier for such a long time, I was ready for a role change.
As a naturalist, I would be giving talks to groups on the trails.
Of course what I didn't know about desert plant and animal
life would fill a desert--to turn a pun.

But with the scorching summer season just ahead, when
temperatures could soar even beyond 110 degrees, we park
rangers would be mostly office bound. The traffic, the rock
climbers, and the campers disappear rapidly under these
conditions. So, I would have time putting in a lot of study in
my cooled office. And much to my surprise, I was informed
that I could look forward to a load of work!

However, with a couple of moderate months remaining before
the onset of Summer, I had the opportunity to familiarize myself
with the territory. And there I was--walking among the "Marching
Trees," the famous Joshua Trees that give this great national
park its name!

At the park there are groves of these tree-like yuccas that seem
almost like a battalion, ready to march forward in unison. From
a distance they do appear like warriors ready for battle. Still
there's a softening affect, when the Joshua tree's pale yellow
bloom appears anywhere between March and May.

Utterly fascinating, too, are the really strange-looking, oft twisted
rock formations at Joshua Tree National Park. Born more than a
million years ago, these geologic curiosities were created out of
molten liquid heated by the movement of the Earth's crust. These
geologic displays are mainly in the western part of the park, part
of the Mojave Desert that is situated in the higher elevations. This
area, too, is where one finds the Joshua Tree groves as well as
fan palm oases. And the Colorado Desert makes up the eastern
part of the park, where there are natural gardens of ocotillo, cactus,
and creosote bushes.

Just "eye-balling" this desert park, walking and driving in its vast
terrain, I realized that I surely would need more than one summer
to even grasp, much less master, the extensive bio-diversity in
this incredible park. Looks to be another long stay, but I was
comfortable with this thought. Oddly, I found that I quite liked
the desert.

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