When we first started full-timing we were mere novices in the business of water conservation and our forty gallon fresh-water tank would last us four nights if we were really careful. Having just done six nights on a tank, I feel reassured that we have honed our skills in this department. Showering is always the biggest call on our reserves and at times like this is relegated to 'Type One' showers: quick wet, complete wash and short rinse, water off between each stage, of course! Eating food we like, and hence cooking, is a higher priority although choices are still influenced by the amount of washing-up generated by a meal. What's most amazing is that on the seventh morning our waste tanks are still not full nor our fresh tank empty. We could probably have lasted another day!
In the desert south-west water is a valuable commodity. Straddling the Colorado and Mojave deserts, Joshua Tree National Park has an average annual precipitation of just over four inches. Drinking water is unavailable in the majority of the park. The few campgrounds near the peripheries charge an extra five dollars simply because water is available and it's an extra five if you want to fill the RV tank. We don't have a problem with the latter, it just means we have to leave the centre of the park every time we want to dump and fill and to some extent this explains why we eked out the last tank load as long as we could.
Before leaving the central area of the park, we stay at White Tank campground. Its name arises from ranching days when a particular area amongst the boulders was dammed to collect water for livestock and became known as the white tank. The bedrock, the area and the campground have all been named for it. The boulder piles here are extensive, a short trail meandering through the varied formations, the light at both dusk and dawn making this a very special place. It's becoming obvious that choosing our favourite campsites of 2014 is going to be no easy task.
In a climate with such low humidity, staying hydrated is a must and we never skimp on water when out hiking, even in these cooler winter temperatures. We've had a couple of good walks over the last few days, the first to Fortynine Palms Oasis. It's rare that an oasis lives up to its name but this is definitely an exception. A cluster of California Fan Palms comes into view in the distance amidst the dry, sparsely vegetated slopes of the mountainside and as we gradually get closer it becomes obvious that only the dunes and camels are missing. The tall majestic palms with their grass skirts along with the small pools are the surface manifestation of water rising to the surface along a fault line. There's a Bladderpod in bloom and it's sweet fragrance wafts on the air. We read later that this fascinating plant uses the usual trick to attract its pollinators but then produces malodorous seed pods to deter the seeds being eaten, presumably preferring a different method of dispersal.
Plants in the desert have developed many cunning methods of survival. On the California Riding and Hiking Trail we come upon the remains of a whitish sphere, a little larger than a tennis ball. The outer casing is broken and our immediate reaction is to think it's an egg. Quickly reasoning that it would require a very large animal to lay an egg of this size we speculate that it must be a seed pod. A few days later we describe it to staff in one of the visitor centers who initially suggests that it's from a Joshua Tree. Not convinced, we pursue the matter and when she opens a specimen drawer, lying there is an intact white sphere. "What's that?" we ask in unison: it's the dried remains of a Coyote Melon. On the vine they are pale green with a bitter flesh that when eaten will thoroughly clean out the digestive system. Consequently they tend to dry on the stalk, the remains being a seed filled gourd-like container. They weigh very little by this stage and get carried down hill on flash floods breaking and dispersing seeds as they go. The Native Americans of the area roasted the seeds and named the fruit for its wiley method of protecting these tasty nibbles.
From Black Rock Campground, a couple of days later, we set off on the Panorama Loop Hike. It's moderately strenuous not least because of the momentum-draining sand in the Black Rock Canyon wash but also as a result of the overall climb. The wash initially crosses the open land of the lower slopes before narrowing into a low-sided interlocking rocky canyon, a small seeping spring at its mouth. The trail emerges into wider washes again before climbing the Small San Bernardino Mountains from where the view opens to the three hundred and sixty degrees promised in the trail name. Our lunch stop, complete with extremely squidgy statutory sandwiches, has a view far out to the south west, the Salton Sea visible forty plus miles away in spite of the bluish haze. We speculate that this might not be a trail for the summer months: partly due to the heat but also because of the danger of flash floods along the washes following summer showers. It's probably the most pleasurable and rewarding hike we've done in the park so far but then we're hoping to be here for a while yet.