03 March 2016

Biking in Joshua Tree National Park

The Joshua Tree
I've ridden the roads of Joshua Tree National Park twice so far. My first visit to the park was several years ago with Chuck and a couple friends from Vancouver to view the wildflowers in late March. We entered the park from the southeast at the Cottonwood Springs/Box Canyon exit of Interstate 10. Our route took us gradually up from the Sonoran Desert (1700 ft above sea level) to the Mojave Desert (at 3650 ft), along which you can perceive several micro-climates that encourage varying groups of cactus and agave. This drive can take about six hours, and it is only in the last half of the drive that you begin to see the piles of weather-rounded boulders that are popular with rock climbers.

During that drive, I had begun to think of the national park as a destination for a cycling excursion, although the route we took promised several hours of unrelenting climbing. My next trip to the park was with a friend who is an avid hiker. We drove 20 minutes from the northwest park entrance on relatively flatter roads to hike up Ryan Mountain. My appetite for cycling in the park was tantalized with this closer access and less challenging climbs.

Getting there

We drove 45 minutes north from Palm Springs and entered the park at its northwest gate.
North from Palm Springs
North and east on Highway 62
  1. North from Palm Springs on North Indian Canyon Drive.
  2. Indian Canyon Drive crosses Interstate 10 and continues along the west side of Desert Hot Springs. 
  3. North Indian Canyon Drive curves west and ends at an intersection with Highway 62 (also signed as 29 Palms Highway).
  4. Turn right onto Highway 62, on which you continue north and northeast through a pass to the community Morongo Valley.

  5. Stay on Highway 62 through the communities of Palm Wells, Little Morongo Heights, and up a long pass to the town of Joshua Tree.
  6. Turn right at Park Road, for which there is one brown national parks sign on the right. 
  7. You can buy a Senior Pass at the Visitor Center, which is on the right about a block after your turn.
  8. Continue on Park Boulevard as its name changes to Quail Springs Road.
  9. After about 4 miles, stop at the Gatehouse to pay entrance or show your Senior Pass.
  10. The first opportunity for parking and unloading bikes is a gravel turnout, about 1.5 miles from the Gatehouse, on the left side of the road.
 From Los Angeles or other desert cities, use the Highway 62 exit from Interstate 10 to replace steps 1 through 4.

8 March 2015

My first return to the park for cycling was with a group of visiting cyclists from New York's OutCycling (Wallace, Graham, Conrad, and Mike). We each rode at our own pace and distance, and I was plagued with three flats. So I was on my own, riding Deep Forest, my Serotta Colorado 48x15 fixie.

I had a flat in the first mile, and I returned to the car to use a floor pump. I flatted again at about 14 miles, and flatted again shortly after replacing the tube. It was then that I found a cactus needle that had been flexible enough to bend and be undetected with finger movement inside the tire. My frame pump left my tire a bit soft, and I flagged down Mike and others as they passed, who supplied a CO2 cartridge for full pressure.

26-mile out-and-back road ride beyond Ryan Mountain
Although the flats were a letdown, I still rode about 27 miles over fairly flat terrain that included 1200 ft climbing.
Playback of the ride

10 February 2016

More recently I rode with John Sickel, who is living here for the winter. He seems to be game for any new location for a ride, and he's as willing as I to try something new. I rode Blue, my Lotus Legend 48x16 fixie.

We toured most of the turn-offs for attractions in the park, including a long slog uphill to view Keys' Point. But after about 25 miles, John turned back while I explored further toward the 29 Palms gatehouse. I hoped to bike a metric century, and I calculated my turnaround to achieve close to that.

61-mile road ride out-and-back Y
The view from Keys' Point
The leg to Keys' Point was a slight incline for the first few miles, which became gradually steeper and steeper. The leg starts at mile 12.7 : 4251 ft, reaches mile 15.6 : 4466 ft at Lost Horse Mine Road, becomes aggressive at mile 17.1 : 4908 ft, and then finishes with two extreme 16.9% grades at the end, mile 18.6 : 5126 ft. Of course, the descent back made for a quick and exhilarating ride.

John Sickel at the portion of Pleasant Valley
We headed around Ryan Mountain and came to a sand plain filled with Joshua trees of huge size. John decided to turn back, as he neared 27 miles. I continued on, and a couple miles later I turned into the Jumbo Rocks campground, which was packed with RVs and tent campers for its mile length. On returning to the road (mile 30.6 : 4417 ft), I continued ever downhill along Park Boulevard, past the intersection with Pinto Basin Road (mile 35.6 : 3685 ft), and to turn around at a distance that I thought would make for a 100-km ride (mile 37.8 : 3250 ft).

My return was dogged at best, though I arrived at the car only a few minutes after John. But my calculations were off, so I asked John to follow me with the car and to pick me up after surpassing 61 miles of riding. (As it was, my conversion from miles to kilometers was off, and my ride still was 2 km short of a metric century.)
Playback of the ride

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