Life List: Patag­o­nia, Chile

Backpacker - - CONTENTS - BY RYAN WICHELNS

A new air­port makes for eas­ier travel to the south­ern­most tip of the Amer­i­cas. Ex­plore the rugged land of alpine and sea.

Gran­ite domes, long-limbed cacti, pre­his­toric wildlife, and leg­endary night skies should land this park on ev­ery hiker’s bucket list, so beat the spring rush by go­ing now. We bet mild temps, quiet trails, and late blooms will leave you think­ing Novem­ber is the sleeper sea­son, after all.

The in­sider

In more than a decade liv­ing in the area, Ethan Peck has probed ev­ery inch of J-Tree, a national park larger than Rhode Is­land. His guide ser­vice, Joshua Tree Ad­ven­tures, spe­cial­izes in tak­ing vis­i­tors hik­ing in the less pop­u­lar parts of the park. Sign us up.

Choose-your- own ad­ven­ture

The trails in Joshua Tree sel­dom in­ter­sect in ways that are con­ducive to mak­ing loops. Thank­fully, the desert doesn’t al­ways re­quire a trail. Ac­cess Peck’s fa­vorite route from the Ge­ol­ogy Tour trail­head. The 10-miler re­quires a bit of ba­sic routefi nd­ing, but you won’t have to re­trace your steps. Fol­low the Cal­i­for­nia Rid­ing and Hik­ing Trail 3 miles among gran­ite for­ma­tions be­fore meet­ing the Squaw Tank Trail and head­ing an­other 3 miles to the vol­canic mound called Mala­pai Hill. There are no des­ig­nated camp­sites, so “ex­plore near the rocks to find a flat, perfect place to pitch a tent,” Peck says. From here, it’s 4 cross- coun­try miles due north to the trail­head, but the open ter­rain of the Mo­jave Desert and the al­ways-vis­i­ble ref­er­ence of Mala­pai make it easy go­ing. ( Pack in all wa­ter.)

Base­camp

Camp­sites are eas­ier to find in fall than win­ter or spring, but no guar­an­tee. Since most don’t ac­cept reser­va­tions, Peck rec­om­mends aim­ing for In­dian Cove, which you can snag on­line ($20; recre­ation.gov). From there, set out to ex­plore a slew of small canyons and rocks, or, if you have some nav­i­ga­tional chops, day­hike into the north side of the Won­der­land of Rocks for more play time (see “Big kids’ jun­gle gym,” be­low). If you’re feel­ing lucky, head to pop­u­lar Hid­den Val­ley for drive-up sites among the spiny Joshua Trees ( best chances mid­week).

Big kids’ jun­gle gym

What­ever your climb­ing am­bi­tions, no Joshua Tree visit is com­plete with­out a trip to Won­der­land of Rocks, a maze of

stone that juts out of the ground in the north­west­ern cor­ner of the park. To take the back door to the climb­ing mecca, Peck rec­om­mends fol­low­ing the Boy Scout and Wil­low Hole Trails 3.5 miles to Wil­low Hole, a tree-shrouded pool tucked be­hind the rock jumble. Bud­get a few hours for ex­plor­ing the pinyon-ju­niper woods and low, beginner-friendly climb­ing routes, then re­turn the way you came.

See more

J-Tree is big: You won’t see it all on one trip, or even a dozen. But you can get a taste of the park’s di­ver­sity with a few strate­gic side trips. Peck rec­om­mends tack­ing on the park’s short walk­ing tours as a “cool down” after longer treks. His fa­vorite: the .3-mile Cholla Gar­den Loop (pic­tured). At the foot of the Hexie Moun­tains, the oa­sis is lush with short and prickly sil­ver cholla cacti, which bloom with small yel­low-green flow­ers in late spring. If you’re more in­ter­ested in fauna, head to In­dian Cove to poke around the washes for desert tor­toises (abun­dant after rain).

Trip plan­ner

SEA­SON Oc­to­ber to May EN­TRANCE $25/ ve­hi­cle PER­MIT Re­quired for overnight­ing ( free); regis­ter at one of 13 regis­tra­tion boards. CON­TACT nps.gov/jotr

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