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Posts Tagged ‘Hiking Black Rock Canyon

Adventures in the US: Mountain biking UFO country

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At the start of the Geology Road in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California is one of my favorite places on the planet. When I lived in Los Angeles in the 1990s, I made a point of visiting the park once every few months for camping, hiking, and cycling. Now that I live overseas, I still make sure to spend two or three days there whenever I make it back to the US.

There’s nothing like the wide-open spaces, big sky, and near-absolute silence of the desert to clear your head. It’s also a great place to spend time if you want to freak yourself out while camping alone in the backcountry.

As the Weird US website explains: “[T]he Joshua Tree region has long attracted eccentrics living on the farthest fringes of Southern California exurbia. UFO devotees have often insisted that there is a secret spaceship base hidden somewhere in the brush-dotted hills. They say that the strange lights regularly seen in the desert night sky are extraterrestrial craft visiting the base. UFO contactee and cult leader George Adamski claimed that he got a saucer ride from ‘long-haired Venusians’ aboard one of the ships cruising above Highway 177, just east of the park. Other desert residents tell of bizarre happenings in and around the park. They’ve seen camper trucks dematerialize on the Morongo Valley highway, furtive three-fingered aliens buy supplies in Joshua Tree drugstores, and glowing, robot-like humanoids wander across the National Park outback.”

I’ve never had the privilege of encountering such alien oddities in the park, but I can always dream.


Sunset in Joshua Tree NP.

Perhaps fear of extraterrestrials is one reason why the vast majority of visitors to Joshua Tree NP never venture more than a few feet from the main roads. For me, part of the attraction is the fact that getting away from the crowds requires only a small amount of effort and a nominal sense of adventure.

Case in point: During a three-day visit to the park last month, my first excursion was a mountain bike ride on the 29-kilometer (18-mile) Geology Road. I spent about two and a half hours exploring the area, during which I saw only one other vehicle: a slow-moving Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with three people inside. The rest of the time I had the terrain all to myself.


View across a dry lake bed along the Geology Road.

And the terrain is spectacular. Designed for self-guided tours in 4×4 vehicles, the dirt-and-sand Geology Road winds between odd rock formations and black basalt hills; down into an earthquake fault and a dry lake bed; and past manmade features like Native American petroglyphs and a concrete dam built by cattle ranchers in the late 1880s.


Down into Pleasant Valley, part of a local system of earthquake fault lines.


Concrete dam built in the 1880s by cattle ranchers.

On the second day I headed out for a longer ride on the significantly more challenging and less-frequently traveled Black Eagle Mine 4×4 Road, which took me into even more isolated areas of the park.

In fact, I rode so far that I eventually pedaled past the boundary of the national park and into a desolate valley administered by the Bureau of Land Management. During the three-plus hours I spent on my bike, I didn’t see a single other human, extraterrestrial, or vehicle of any description (UFO or otherwise).


All by my lonesome in the back of beyond on Black Eagle Mine Road.

On my last day, I left my bike in the car and enjoyed an early-morning hike in the Black Rock Canyon area on the northwestern edge of the park.

Again, I didn’t see a single other person during my 10km (6-mile) walk, which took me through sandy washes lined with the park’s namesake Joshua Trees, and over a low, rocky ridgeline supporting Piñon-Juniper forestland.


Half moon above Black Rock Canyon.

The lack of people on the trail certainly had more to do with my 5:30am starting time than the location, which was not particularly remote compared to the places I had cycled.


Hiking Black Rock Canyon.

But it was here, walking rather than mountain biking, that I was most able to enjoy the tranquility of the desert: The only sounds were the chirping of birds and the whisper of the brisk morning wind swirling through the trees and across the hilltops.

When I stopped walking, it seemed as if I could almost hear the soft crackling of the sun rising above the rocky horizon.


Cholla Cactus, Joshua Tree National Park.