Every time my wife and I go on vacation I try to find something car-related to do. This year we took eight days to relax in Palm Springs over Thanksgiving as a a way to unwind. When searching for activities in the area I dug up the site for Adventure Hummer Tours and booked a guided trip into Joshua Tree National Park. Sure, I would have preferred to drive the Hummer myself, but it was still a great experience.
Our tour guide pulled up to pick us up in this ridiculously over-the-top radical Quigley-converted 4-wheel drive 7.3 Powerstroke Ford 10-passenger. The Coachella valley had just been hit with a hefty snow storm and they weren’t sure we would be able to take the open-top Hummers out for fear of the cold weather.
This van/truck was certainly capable of hauling seven people out into the park, but it was not exactly the most comfortable place to spend a few hours. Being a tall guy my head was in the roof the whole time, and sitting over the rear axle was equal parts bouncy, stiff, and extremely loud. On the run out from Palm Desert to the entrance to the park in Yucca Valley, I found myself fatigued and slightly sick to my stomach.
We were scheduled to stop at the Thousand Palms Preserve on our way north, but the park was closed for the day. There are tons of little oasis pockets all around the area. The tour guide, a well-traveled fellow with a penchant for tall tales, talked us through the tectonic reasoning behind such outcroppings. I still believe that around 20% of his stories were complete bullshit. It was great.
Instead of Thousand Palms we stopped off at a nature trail for a brief hike of a mile or so.
Thankfully the sun came out and warmed us up a bit, so we decided to swap out vehicles for the trek into the park. Our guide dropped us off for a warm cup of coffee while he ran to the nearby HQ to pick up the Hummer.
Personally, I was very glad for the change in vehicle, not only because the Ford van and I didn’t get along, but because the park is really best viewed through unimpeded eyes. The roof and side windows of the van would have shrouded too much. Not to mention the sounds and smells.
Sporting a ridiculously beefy suspension, portal axles, and tires taller than my torso, I knew that we wouldn’t have any issues with slushy trails. I popped on my down jacket and faux fur trapper hat, grabbed a pair of tour company-issued gloves, and took my perch at the very top of the Hummer’s stadium seating. The auxiliary roll cage didn’t exactly instill rollover-worthiness in my heart, but life is a series of calculated risks, and I was pretty sure we wouldn’t tip over on this ride.
Once aboard the civvie-spec H1 we only had about three miles to go to get on the trails. On the open road at 45 miles per hour the wind was biting and cut to the bone, but once we were down below 15 mph on the dirt, all was good again. The sunny day kept my fingers from freezing, and I had a pleasant afternoon.
The Joshua tree, or yucca brevifolia, is attributed to Mormon settlers naming them after the biblical Joshua. Personally, I prefer the Spanish name for them, izote de desierto, or desert dagger. And the park is named for the not-actually-a-tree tree because there are lots of them in the area. In fact, they don’t really exist anywhere in the world outside of southern California, southern Nevada, and small segments of Arizona. Climate change is predicted to drastically change the Joshua’s range in the coming years.
More evidence of why we can’t have nice things. I can’t believe I have to say this, but don’t shoot signs, dickwads.
Declared a national monument in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the park encompasses an area a little larger than Rhode Island at almost 800,000 acres. The area was reclassified a national park in 1994, which protected another 234,000 acres, and a further 4500 acres were added to the park this year. The park’s annual average high temperature is about 78 degrees, which made our seeing the park all snowy an even greater treat.
Most of the trails that we drove were similar to the one pictured above, a wide dirt two-track with plenty of space and not much in the way of obstacles. I’m pretty sure our Buick Regal TourX could have traversed most of the way into the park, but as we got closer to our end point at the top of Eureka Peak the snow and ice got heavier and the incline got steeper, which is where the Hummer and its off-road tires excelled.
I truly enjoyed the wind in my face as we crossed the gorgeous views of the park. Our national parks are one of the few things that still make me proud to be an American right now. Standing at the top of a mountain in the middle of a Joshua grove without a trace of another human in sight, it’s like another world.
Of course, being human, I had an overwhelming desire to stake my claim on a little piece of it and build a lasting (even for a short while) reminder that I had been there. At the top of Eureka I found a small patch of snow and built this little snowperson. It wears a pair of stones for eyes, a dried red flower for a nose, and a little sprig for a hat.
The Hummer itself was an interesting tool for the job. The thing had clearly seen better days, and served a hard life as a tour machine. The bolted connections of the roll cage rattled like a pissed off snake. The driver-side mirror had been replaced at some point with a generic piece from Tractor Supply that vibrated enough to render any rearward view impossible. For communicating with passengers a set of sorta functional home audio speakers had been screwed into wood enclosures and tacked onto existing flat surfaces. It was exactly the kind of sketchy I adore.
For the $170 price, it was a pleasant way to spend about 7 hours talking, learning, seeing, and reflecting while riding in a big badass old shitty Hummer. The crisp winter air did me a lot of good physically. And the big lumbering yellow beast emblazoned with Kokopele, the Hopi village storyteller, did me a lot of good psychologically. We take our November vacation to unwind from a year of stress and turmoil, and this year was worse than most.
If you’re in the area, I recommend it.