With the snow-capped San Bernardino mountains in the distance, we started our trip (for the third time, thanks to unclear parking directions) from the Boy Scout Trail parking lot. Strangely, no boy scouts were anywhere to be seen. Joshua trees on the other hand... This place was loaded with ‘em!

We had to hoof it from the parking lot to the trailhead since the lot at the trailhead was day-use only. Here, a national park cliché swerves to avoid curbside Sarah, Devo, and Ed.

The main valley was loaded with these incredible rock formations that jut up from the otherwise flat landscape. Pretty neat! Oh... and there's another joshua tree!

Remembering that he hadn't put his parking permit on his dash fifteen minutes into the trip, Wren brings up the rear. (Are those joshua trees in the background?)

Andre demonstrates to Wren his inability to resist artsy fartsy photo opportunities.

Despite my mental predictions, nobody fell on one of these desert urchins the entire trip.

We decided to ignore the directions in our guidebook right off the bat. It doesn't look like it in this picture, but down below there was a pretty treacherous little canyon. There was plenty of boulder hopping and even a couple of small pools of water. (Thanks to the guidebooks and everything we read online, however, we knew that there wasn't any water in the park and that it wouldn't be worth bringing a water filter.)

Apparently, there was dust on my lens.

California sure does love its fires.

Invasive cactus close-up with weird white cactus puss.

Devo pretending he has binoculars. (He doesn't. And I can tell he's not drinking water, because I can see his bottle in the top side pocket. Who knows what he's doing?!)

Sarah bought a nifty hat at the thrift store just outside the park entrance. But it didn't have any elastic and once the wind picked up, it proved to be kind of difficult to keep on one's head. That is, unless you don't mind looking like a super dork!

Chollo skeletons.

Coming down Johnny Lang Canyon, where we thought we had finally found a trail (turns out there aren't any real trails in J.T.), Devo spotted a sinister pair of eyes.

Group shot.

From L to R: Wren (in green), Matt (in red), Ed (in shadows), Andre (in unnecessarily short shorts).

Background: Sarah.

Primitive Joshua Tree lean-to. I don't know much about desert weather, but that thing doesn't look like it would provide much shelter.

At the bottom of Johnny Lang Canyon, we found a small pump house with a well. Our map said the well was dry...

It wasn't.

The water tasted a little salty, but we didn't really want to drink it anyway seeing as how there was a dead coyote right next to it with no visible wounds. (Ed, Wren, and Sarah lean in for a closer look at progressively more horizontal angles, while Devo exits stage left.)

Poor fella. Actually, it was pretty neat to see an animal like this up close. It was surprisingly peaceful looking and didn't seem all that different from a pet dog.

Finally! A joshua tree!

I wonder why all these weird dead plants are bowing down in the same direction...

Everything took on a healthy golden glow as the sun set.

We spied a pile of boulders in the distance and thought they'd make a good camp site for the night. When we got closer and dropped our packs, our first priority (of course) was king of the mountain. But to our surprise, one of said boulders had a paragraph chiseled into it:

“MOTHER TIME. NEITHER WEALTH LAW'S NOR ARMY'S CAN STOP THE HUMAN MIND FROM CREATING NEW OR EMPROVE UP ON THE PRESENT DAY RELIGION AND GOVERMENT. WATER IS SAFT ONLEY HARD IN THE CHEMICALL'S BUT WITH TIME THE OCEAN CAN GRIEND THE HARDEST GRANIT TO A POWDERED SAND. SO WITH TIME WILL THE HUMAN RACE GRIEND OUT IT'S OWN DESTINY'S REGARDLESS OF THE OPPOSITION OR PARTY IN POWER.”

Then we started noticing other rocks with writing:

“JUDGE BEN LINDSEY A.MAN THAT UNDERSTANDS HUMANETY AND BIG ANOUGH TO.LIVE.IT. STUDY NATURE OBEY THE LAWS OF IT YOU CANT GO WRONG IT PAYES COMPOUNDENTEREST FOR LIFE AND NOT ONE PENNY ENVESTED?”

I probably don't need to transcribe the text of this one, but for the sake of comprehensiveness:

“GOD MADE MAN BUT HE(N)RY FORD PUT WHEELS UNDER EM THO.A.MASTER OF THE GOLD'N RULE HE.MUST DIE TO.BE.APPRICIATED.”

So, we thought we had come across some crazy person's wilderness hideout. But it turns out it wasn't the wilderness at all! When we woke up the next morning, a tour guide had brought a group out to the rocks. He wasn't a park employee and was surprised when we told him that we came across the rocks by accident. He told us that there were eight total and that the park doesn't usually tell people about them. He also told us that they were carved by a Swedish gold miner named John Samuelson in 1927 who was trying to start a homestead here. Turns out he was a little crazy and when his homestead didn't work out, he moved to Compton and killed a couple people. (Dig.)

“RELIGION IS A CODE OF MORALLS FOR US TO LIVE BY NO MORE. HELL IS HERE ON THIS EARTH NO OTHER PLASE. MOAST OF IT WE MAKE OUR SELFE AS TO HAVEN FIND IT IN A LIFETIME NOTHING PROVEN AFTER DEATH BY PREAST OR SCIENTIST?”

Devo avoiding a J-Tree on the way down.

Wren said that rabbits prove the existence of God: “They're the perfect food! The skin just falls off of them!”

...

While the group is making dinner, Sarah whips her head (and crazy hair) around to see what Andre's doing, only to be blinded by the camera flash.

30 seconds of Ed at night...

And Sarah and Wren...

And Devo. Despite their friends' warnings, Andre and Sarah neglected to bring a sleeping bag atop the rock for warmth and had only a gift flask of almond tequila and each other to keep warm. (Turns out the joke was on Wren and Devo whose sleeping bags were not full of life-preserving down feathers...)

Setting out the next day, we made out way down a complex network of non-trails following Quail Wash. We took a break near this other pile of boulders and ate some cheese and crackers and jerky. (Andre was in charge of the food and doesn't mind admitting that he did a kick-ass job of bringing some tasty eats.)

This stink bug was probably having just as hard of a time finding a legitimate trail as we were.

So we came to a fence. Our book and map told us to turn right at the fence but our instincts told us to go a little past the fence and up a different wash. We trusted the book/map, but shouldn't have. Take a look at the map down below. The green is where we should have gone, the blue is where followed the book's lousy directions. (It wasn't too bad... just an unnecessary ridge-crossing via a couple of steep, bouldery scrambles.)

Here's what a chollo cactus looks like with it's skin still on.

The park was loaded with these seemingly-innocuous thorn bushes. The thorns are hard to see, so you don't even think to swerve. Wren bled the most.

Our mistake, though lengthy, did take us up a wash that gave us a beautiful view of the whole valley. Here's a picture of Quail Wash in all its natural splendor.

And here we find the North American Crested Devo in one of it's characteristic poses. (“Hey! Take a picture of me pointing at something majestic!!”)

Spirits started to sink as elevation rose. Ridge after ridge led to further disappointment as we realized we still weren't at the top. The trail (if you could call it that) was hard to follow and at times nonexistent. But we made it! We finally got to the top and spied the road in the distance (center of the picture).

Realizing this might be his last chance to photograph the elusive joshua tree, hitchhiker Andre whips out his camera for one last shot.

Day 1: from Boy Scout Trailhead, down Park Blvd., up side canyon to Johnny Lang Canyon, down Johnny Lang Canyon, past the well and dead coyote to Samuelson's Rock. (Route here.)

Stats:

Distance hiked: 5.32 miles
Ascent: 315 ft. (seemed like more)
Water sources found where there weren't supposed to be any: 2
Delicious food eaten: much
Crazy rock ramblings: 6/8

Day 2: from Samuelson's Rock, around Samuelson's Spur, down Quail Wash, up Panorama Trail, across mountains to Park Blvd., hitchhiked back to car. (My best guess as to the route here.)

Stats:

Distance hiked: 6.97 miles
Ascent: 733 ft.
Breaks taken: too many?
Wrong forks taken: 1 (big one)
Well-maintained trails found: 0
Water remaining: 0 gallons
Good time had by all: 1