Day 3 – On Top of the World

Since all work and no play makes Alternative Spring Break the dull boy, today our crew spent the day enjoying all that Joshua Tree National Park offers its 1.7 million annual guests. After splitting into two groups, half of our team went rock climbing, and half went on a tour of Key’s Ranch. Since I went rock-climbing, I’ll cover that end of things first.

After breakfast, we met up with our guides at the base of one of Joshua Tree’s many active climbing rocks. Following a brief explanation of how to use a safety harness, and climbing etiquette, we were shown to a top rope climbing site with four routes of varying difficulty. Since I’d never climbed before, I started the day with the easiest face. Though initially horrified at the prospect of scaling a near vertical rock-face with only a half inch cord to prevent a very painful fall, I, and my fellow group members, eventually warmed to the idea. After four hours on the rock, we left for lunch and planned our next move.

In keeping with the American, democratic tradition, the climbing group voted to spend the afternoon hiking up Ryan’s mountain. Stocked with water and snacks to fortify us on the 1.5 mile (1000 foot vertical) climb, we set out on the trail at a fast clip. Stopping only twice to catch our breath, the first 10 of us reached the summit after a 45 minute hike. With a clear 360 degree view, we were able to see miles of Joshua Trees and rock crags stretching into the distance. After snapping a group picture when the second half of our troop crested the peak, we turned back and headed to hear from our comrades about their day.

The non-climbing members of our group spent the morning touring Key’s Ranch and afternoon hiking the Lost Horse Trail. The staff at Key’s Ranch presented the history of Joshua Tree from its pre-history to the present, and explained the mechanics of running a cattle ranch in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s. Following this tour, the group struck out on the 4 mile roundtrip trail to the Lost Horse Mine where they saw the site’s derelict equipment. Their adventures eventually led them back to camp, and us, where we swapped stories of the day.

After a reunion at camp, we enjoyed another fine meal, and, as I write, are enjoying spirited conversation around a small campfire. Tomorrow we will return to work removing invasive plants along the Park’s southeastern border. In the meantime, we’ll watch our fire smolder and enjoy each other’s company, all the while remembering how privileged we are to spend spring break in such a unique place with such a unique group of people.