It all changed when we caught a glimpse of the first Joshua tree. They are like drawings out of a Doctor Suess book, so twisted, hairy, weird, and unreal...
Our first stop was Hidden Valley, which was gorgeous beyond words, with massive boulders, dramatic cliff faces, ragged edges, smooth boulders, and a cornucopia of textures. Lots of drama, lots of opportunities to climb on rocks. The kids loved it. They have never seen anything like it.
We spent the whole day hiking, lugging a tired Eva around, drinking in the drama of the landscape, and soaking in the sun. The temperatures hovered above freezing all day, but once we got out of the wind into full sun, we actually took our coats and hats off. (The night before, it was so cold that the condensation on our RV windows froze, and Eva slept restlessly, because she kept kicking off her many layers of blankets. Hence the tiredness today.)
One of the highlights of this National Park is Cholla Cactus Garden, where a forest of amazing cholla cacti shoot out of the ground. They are called "Jumping cholla", because they have a tendency to attach themselves to innocent people walking by. A sign at the trailhead even warned of the viciousness of these plants. I smiled at it overbearingly, knowing that a seasoned wilderness girl like me would never be attacked by a stinking cactus. Twenty minutes later, I howled in pain, as I brushed against one of these cacti while taking an especially scenic picture of its neighbor. Its spikes immediately bored into my skin, through two layers of pants, and no matter how I tried to detach it out of my epidermis, it wouldn't budge. It didn't help that its needles were like... needles, and by grabbing them, I poked my fingers as well. Five minutes later, I managed to tear the damn thing away from me - with Kai's patient help. He mostly calmed me down and told me that the needles are not poisonous.
The two days before reaching Joshua Tree, we spent time in Newport Beach with Steve's brother and his family. They have kids who are Lukas and Kai's age, so they all had fun hanging out and playing in the pool. Guess who had fun hanging out in the hot tub?
His relatives are lovely and generous people, who let us park our dingy motorhome in front of their house, located in a gated community. Steve and I went grocery shopping in their Mercedes SUV, which Steve didn't even know how to turn on. His ten year old nephew Brady had to show him how to press a button to start the car. I assured Brady that we are, in fact, not as dumb as we look. Sweet Brady told us he was sure we just forgot how to do it. Right.
We all went to Crystal Cove, where we explored tide pools, chased each other, got insanely wet, and took lots of photos.
Incidentally, we picked our time to visit California when a cold front threatened frost every night (which didn't stop the kids from playing in the pool during the day). Steve's relatives assured us several times that usually, the weather is much warmer. We really don't care, as long as we get sun.
Talking about the weather, here is one interesting tidbit: We fled the Pacific Northwest, the corner of the world we call home that gets 100 inches of precipitation a year, to this desert we are camping in tonight, which gets 4 inches a year. And the best thing? There is lots of sun, so who gives a hoot about cold weather? Except when it keeps Eva from slumbering peacefully through the night. Wish us luck tonight - we all could use some sleep!