Monday, July 10, 2017

Route 66 Round 2 and Joshua Tree National Park: A National Park OdysseyDays 14 ½ and 15

Grand Canyon to Anaheim, CA via Kingman, AZ and Joshua Tree National Park
As we sat eating our post-mule-ride ice cream, several of the rim-to-rim hikers who had been at Phantom Ranch with us walked (staggered?) by.  They had just finished their epic journey and looked far worse for the wear than I felt.  
       
After saying goodbye to my Sheldon (my assigned mule on our Grand Canyon overnight), Josh, the kids, and I treated ourselves to some ice cream at Bright Angel Lodge before loading our trail-weary, dust-covered selves into the Volvo and headed to Kingman, AZ for the night.  Kingman is another stop on what used to be Route 66, and so we were expecting the same adorable, nostalgia-evoking feel of Holbrook, AZ.  Kingman did not live up to the bar set by Holbrook.
 
I had to get a picture of these tourists on the way out of the Grand Canyon.  They apparently missed all of the signs instructing visitors to stay at least 50 feet away from wildlife.  They're lucky that elk didn't decide to use those antlers.
Mule riding is hard work, people.

We ate dinner at a restaurant in a converted gas station called Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner that was supposed to be a hot stop on the modern Route 66, and it was less than awesome.  The décor was cute, but the food was only average.  To be fair, it was a Sunday evening when we arrived in town, but the place just looked dead.  There were many vacant businesses, and the motels looked more dilapidated than historic.  We were happy to move on the next morning.
 
Oprah Winfrey evidently ate here, but we were underwhelmed.
The next day proved to be yet another scorcher, so we knew that our visit to park #8 of our journey, Joshua Tree National Park, wouldn’t be a thorough one.  We wouldn’t be able to hike very far since we’d end up arriving in the middle of the day after our drive from Kingman. 

This park was a special one; it’s the only park on our whole itinerary that was a repeat for all four of us.  In 2013, our family took a Spring Break trip that included stops at Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Disneyland, and Knox had fallen in love with the rocky landscape and Dr. Seussian yuccas of Joshua Tree.  As a result, he’d chosen that park as the subject of his national park research project when he was in fourth grade in my class.  He had created a diorama of the tallest Joshua Tree, and now he wanted to see it for himself.
 
Knox and Kinley earned their Junior Ranger badges for this park in 2013.
Joshua Tree has two entrances, and we weren’t sure which one was closer to the tallest tree.  A Google search wasn’t helpful, so I tried a phone call to the visitors’ center.  Each call resulted in an assurance from an answering machine that my call would be returned within 24 hours.  Since we were only two hours away at this point, that wasn’t helpful either.  I decided to try tweeting my question to the park on Twitter since I’d seen that many of the parks have very active Twitter accounts.  Unfortunately, even my tweet wasn’t answered by the park until three days later, and the answer given wasn’t even related to the tree we wanted to see.


We ended up choosing poorly (I always hear the voice of the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when I write that), and choosing the south entrance near the Cottonwood Visitors’ Center instead of the 29 Palms entrance.  We made the best of it and enjoyed the interactive exhibits in the air-conditioned visitors’ center after getting directions to the tallest tree from the rangers.  (To be honest, even they gave us slightly incorrect directions, but we found it anyway.)
 
Just stopping long enough to take this picture was almost more heat than we could handle.
Knox was excited to find the tallest tree which he had represented in his diorama in 4th grade.  The tree is 43 feet tall.
Family picture at the Cholla Cactus Garden

Note:  If you want to find the tree from the Cottonwood Visitors’ Center, take the Pinto Basin Road past the Cholla Cactus Garden (which is worth a stop if you have time and it’s not a million degrees outside).  Continue on past the Belle camping area and take the next road to your left, Queen Valley Road.  You will pass Jumbo Rocks on the left (which is Knox’s favorite place to get out and climb on the rocks – again when it’s not a million degrees).  Continue on Queen Valley Road and look for an informational placard on the right side of the road.  It’s titled “The Adventurous Yucca.”  The tallest tree will be a few feet further on your left, just beside the road.  It doesn’t have a placard or anything.  If you get to the turn for Sheep Pass on your left, you’ve gone too far.  (The rangers told us it was between Sheep Pass and Ryan Mountain, but it wasn’t.  We had to turn around and go back.)


This is the placard that is on the right just before the tallest tree is on your left.

The park was nearly empty because of the high temperatures.

Further down the road, Knox just couldn’t resist an opportunity to do a few minutes’ worth of climbing over the enormous, rust-colored boulders, so he and Josh ventured out into the heat while Kinley and I stayed in the relative coolness of the Volvo.  On their way to Hemingway Buttress, neither of them could resist an opportunity for some boy humor.
Boy humor
 
KNox got to do a little bit of climbing and reported that the rocks weren't as hot to the touch as he expected.
On our way out of the park, we tried a couple of other local candy bars we’d picked up along the way.  The Rocky Road was disappointing.  It didn’t have enough nuts and was 98% marshmallow.  (That may be a slight exaggeration, but the proportions were definitely off.)  



The CupOGold (apart from the obviously missing apostrophe in its name) was delicious and we would like to try it in an environment where it is not a million degrees outside since the marshmallow part of the filling melted and made quite a mess.  The ratio of chocolate to filling was much better on this one.


We continued on to the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance and arrived by late afternoon.  This is a Marriott property, so we stayed for free with our points, and it was perfect for us.  There are only three Disney hotel options in Anaheim, and they are all prohibitively expensive.  This hotel was still easily walkable to the parks, and we had two queen sized beds, two bunk beds, a small fridge, a full bath, and an extra shower.  The kids were thrilled to get their own beds for the night!  Knox took the top bunk while Kinley snagged the second queen.

We only bought two-day tickets to the park, so we decided to check out the Downtown Disney area for dinner.  There was live music, a huge World of Disney store, a build-your-own radio controlled carstore (kind of like Build-A-Bear for bigger kids), and a wide variety of food options.  We noticed that while churros are available only in Frontierland at Disney World, they are everywhere at Disneyland.  We saw two carts selling them at Downtown Disney, and there were multiple flavor options as well.  (Fruity Pebbles is apparently their best-selling flavor, but that wasn’t a temptation for me.)  We passed on the churros and instead grabbed dinner before heading back to the hotel.  Nothing about the way we do Disney is slow-paced and relaxing, so we needed to rest up to be ready for days 16-17!

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