Archive for December, 2015

Christmas in the deserts

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

On our vacation adventure in the California deserts, we keep finding parallels to our bicycle travels through the Middle East. In part it is being travelers over the holidays – this is the first year since our bike trip we’re away from family over Christmas. We are also still in the Northern Hemisphere, so traveling over the shortest day of the year poses its own challenges.

Immediately, we were struck by how the deserts (the driest ones) have similar tumble weed to that in Jordan – the biggest different being that in Jordan the desert is littered with the ubiquitous black plastic bags that are used to contain produce and any manner of things found at the markets. In most places we have been, the desert is not obviously dirty – some of that may be the difference in population density.

As we hiked through the Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley, the marble walls reminded us of our exploration in Little Petra (Siq al-Barid) in Jordan. There were no beautiful carved facades, but the narrow gorge felt similar, and Scott couldn’t pass up the chance to climb up the gorge walls.

Our time up at Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree was reminiscent of our time in Capadoccia. The spectacular rock formations reminded us of the pillars and minarets of Goreme. They look similar, but the rock in Goreme is volcanic, so it’s very soft. The granites of Joshua Tree are much harder, and eroded over much longer timescales. No manner of searching through Jumbo Rocks is going to find ancient human dwellings and churches – that is something that makes Capadoccia extra special. Being there over Christmas also brought back memories of the kindness of our Turkish friends, who invited us to stay with their parents and celebrate Bayram with them. Bayram (the Muslim Sacrifice Festival), is celebrated in Turkey with family visits and feasting – other than the exchange of gifts this felt very much like Christmas to us. This year, we had our Christmas feast in Joshua Tree overlooking the weather sculpted rocks.

We can’t forget the cold, a not-so-pleasant reminder of cycling in the Middle East. We froze our first night in Antakya Turkey (quite literally – there was a thick layer of frost on the windows when we got up). Then we moved to a slightly more expensive hotel that had heat after dark. The cold also hit us on our bike ride from Antakya to Aleppo Syria. We were clearly ill-prepared to be biking in winter in a desert. Not sure why we thought it would be warm? We clearly didn’t learn our lesson as it has been abnormally cold our entire trip through Southern California deserts. This time we are glad to be traveling in a van that has a heater, although we haven’t been using it enough.

It was the constant cold that had us running south to Aqaba as quickly as we could, in search of warmth. This time, we went south to Borrego Springs. A night in the RV park there prove to be much warmer than our -10ish night up in Joshua Tree national park (the campgrounds are up at 4,400 feet, which makes it even colder than reported at Joshua Tree town). Our hikes up to the palm oases in Anza Borrego State Park reminded us of Palmyra in Syria, without the ancient Roman ruins from the days of the Silk Road. Sadly, many of the ruins have since been destroyed by Daesh.

Unfortunately that warmth didn’t last. Becky now has the beginnings of a cold, so we are going to try to spend a couple of nights in RV parks were we can plug in. We’ll also turn on the propane furnace in the van. On the lowest setting it keeps the van at a minimum temperature which is still comfortable for sleeping but also doesn’t allow the temperature to drop too much. Amusingly, the park we are currently in has mineral springs. This reminds us of the mineral springs we visited in Turkey, when Becky was attempting to recover from a cold back then. Hopefully these springs will be more effective!

We’re thinking that the next time we decide to go camping over the winter holidays that it should be done someplace a little warmer, like Hawaii!

Thanks for joining us on our trip down memory lane. Here are some of our pictures of our California vacation. More will be added to the gallery when we have faster Internet!