Adam organized a backpacking trip over new years to Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park. Tina wasn’t sure about the difficulty and Steph didn’t have the PTO so it was just Adam and myself.

I started by walking to Caltrain, and taking that to San Jose where the Amtrak also stops. I got there about 45 minutes early to find Adam there as well. The train was running about 45 minutes behind so we had a good bit of time to kill.

When the train got in we headed to the back car on the top level where our seats were assigned. We ate a late lunch from our stores and then got a seat in the observation car. The landscape was gorgeous and we got to see a great sunset. We played a few card games in the observation car until they closed it down. We made it to LA but not Union station, someone had been hot by the train in front of us so we were stopped. The train sat at Van Nuys for 30 minutes with no estimate for when we would get moving again. Once the initial surge for rideshare died down we grabbed a car to the apartment we were renting. I grabbed the couch and passed out.

We had breakfast nearby the next day before heading to Union Station. We grabbed the rental car and found out that the coastal starlight had made it into Union station at 1:30am the night before. We had left it for the rideshare at 9:20 and were at the apartment by 9:50.

We headed out of LA, passing a number of wind farms and made it to Joshua Tree around noon.

We stopped by the visitor center and got the advice to do the planned loop the other way as the planned direction had us sleeping in mountain lion territory. We headed out along the California Riding and Hiking Trail until it started getting dark around 4:30pm. For the first third of the day we had small piles of snow and mush on the trail, but as we got higher the trail turned to ankle deep, then shin deep snow. We had another person’s footsteps to follow so we couldn’t get lost. At close to dark we headed up a small gully to find a spot to camp. We packed down the snow and set up the tents. It was getting a lot colder than we had budgeted for so we got into the tents as quickly as possible. It was a miserably cold 16 hours until sunlight in the morning, but 16 hours of half good rest almost makes for a full night of rest. Thankfully our water didn’t freeze alp the way and we were able to hike to the nearby service road to continue. We had to forge our own way through the snow for about a half mile, which got tiring. We did spot a great story written in the snow of a bobcat chasing a rabbit. I’m pretty sure the rabbit was able to hide in a bush and got away.

We went up the road for some much needed easy hiking before reaching the trail to Eureka Peak. We went up to the peak and got a lovely view.

We headed down the other side and got right back into some shin deep snow. We went down a solid white Black Rock Canyon Trail, which eventually lightened up to ankle deep snow with some tracks to follow. We made it back to the trailhead and relaxed a bit at the visitor center. The hike was about 11.5 miles, at least 8 of which were through snow.

We filled up on water and went into town for a texmex lunch. Afterwards we stopped by the grocery store for frozen dinner and breakfast as the next hotel had a small kitchen. It turned out that the hotel was an RV, and surprisingly nice. They also had a hot spring that we took good advantage of.

We got a good night’s rest and struck out for Death Valley the following morning. A short stop at the visitor center and we headed into the wilderness along a poorly maintained “road.” After a few miles of really rough driving we pulled the car over and started the hike. The first seven or so miles were along the “road.” Then we got to the actual trail. At first it was easy to follow as it went along a small streambed. We camped on a small plateau next to the streambed the first night, and got another 14 hours in the tent. This time it was much warmer if not wholly warm.

The next morning we continued down the rivulet. We passed the cottonwood spring and emerged into a large valley that was ruled by a herd of wild horses. They were right along the trail and didn’t like us getting near. The valley was wide open so we snuck around them. After a small mistep following horse paths instead of human paths we found a great lunch spot. We took a longer break before heading to the highest point along the trail. We made the summit in good time, then continued down the other side. We missed a turn, as did a number of people before us. We followed the tracks of someone into a hard to pass valley before deciding we needed to find the trail again. It was getting late so we hiked to a nearby mountain peak and camped for the night, this time only 12 hours.

In the morning the trail was close, and we scuttled down the slope to it. We made our way through the gorgeous Marble Canyon.

We got to the road and had about 4 miles left to the car. We dropped our packs there and decided to drive back for the rest. We got to the car and found the drive back to be more perilous than expected. I got out to grab the bags and Adam turned around. We stopped of for a somewhat civilizing lunch in Stovepipe Wells before heading to the Luxor.

We got into Vegas around 6pm and grabbed an easy dinner at the Public House. I had a pretty decent impossible burger. We relaxed for the evening and did a four seasons breakfast the next morning. After turning in the rental car we had an easy time at the airport before getting home.