Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Going For A Walk With Potato Chips: The Kaibab Trail {Grand Canyon National Park}

When we were at the Grand Canyon, Scott and I walked on part of the Kaibab Trail on both the North and South Rims. At first, when Scott suggested we go for a walk "below the rim" on the Kaibab Trail, I thought he said the Kebab Trail. Turns out I misheard him. Which is a shame, as the Kebab Trail is wonderful. It's a short hike along flat terrain and, if you find yourself getting tired, there is a moving sidewalk you can hop on and off as needed. At the end of the trail, a man dressed in a bright green apron emblazoned with "Mr Kebab" on it, smiles at you and hands you a lamb kebab wrapped in pita bread complete with hummous, sliced onion, tomato and feta cheese. Delicious.

Turns out the Kaibab Trail is a completely different proposition. The trail is anything but flat, you work up a sweat and you're at a very high elevation which makes it hard to catch your breath. Which is why the National Park Service advises that you take salty snacks with you and eat them constantly. Finally, someone has exercise advice that makes sense - they're basically telling you that hiking and eating potato chips go hand in hand. The Kaibab Trail was sounding almost as good as the Kebab Trail!

North Kaibab Trail & Polar Bear Spotting

Do you want to go for a guilt-free walk while eating potato chips, then check out the Kaibab Trail. We started off on the North Kaibab Trail - described as the least visited, but most difficult of the three maintained Grand Canyon trails. You start off 1,000 feet higher than any of the South Rim trails - that's your first clue as to why it is hard. If you're really keen, you can hike all the way down to the Colorado River, but that's 14 miles long with an elevation change of 5,761 feet. Sound almost doable when you're going downhill, but as they warn you, "going downhill is optional, coming back up is mandatory." Needless to say, we just opted to do a small portion of the trail, from the trail head to the Supai Tunnel. A measly 1.7 miles one way and elevation change of only 1,441 feet. 

Sounds easy enough, but going down is always the easy part. I skipped down the trail bundled up in a fleece, hat and mittens while clutching a bag of potato chips.

 We made a brief stop at Coconino Point where we spotted some polar bears. 

After offering the polar bears a few potato chips, I continued skipping down the trail. We met a few people coming up the trail. They all seemed to be sweating and more than a little out of breath. I started to worry a little about the return trip, but quickly put it out of my mind as I had some more potato chips and took in the views.

Finally, we got to the Supai Tunnel. It is pretty much as advertised - a tunnel. After a quick peek through the tunnel, we turned around and headed back up.

And that's when I ran out of potato chips. Walking back up 1,441 feet is such a drag without potato chips. I stopped a lot to catch my breath. And I mean a lot! But I made it. I looked around for Mr Kebab at the trail head for my lamb kebab, but he was nowhere to be found. Very disappointing.

South Kaibab Trail & Mule Spotting

A day or so later, we decided to "go below the rim" again on the South Rim. But this time, it was much, much easier. Four reasons - we started off at a lower elevation, it was a pretty short hike, the elevation change was much smaller and the mule trains were a great excuse to stop and catch your breath. 

We started off at 7,260 feet and hiked down only 0.9 mile to Ooh Aah Point (elevation of 6,660 feet). I thought the views were much better on this portion of the Kaibab Trail, although there were a lot more people on the trail.

The mule trains were so much fun to watch. They use mules to transport supplies, baggage and people up and down from the canyon bottom. The trail is kind of small, so when the mule trains come by, you have to step off on the uphill side and wait for the mules to pass by.

It wasn't long before we made it down to Ooh Aah Point. We spent a few minutes "oohing" and "aahing" before heading back up. I only had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath!

Still no sign of Mr Kebab, but it turns out you can get a really mean baked enchilada pie at the Bright Angel Lodge restaurant. Almost makes you forget about how delicious lamb kebabs are. Almost.

We walked the Kaibab Trail while eating plenty of salty snacks on 9 and 11 November 2014.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Okay Grand Canyon, You've Redeemed Yourself

Grand Canyon North Rim

The Grand Canyon really disappointed me when I first saw it. I'm not sure what was wrong with me - tiredness, insufficient supply of chocolate chip cookies or just plain grumpiness? Fortunately, the place redeemed itself by Day 2. Which is a good thing, otherwise I was going to have to write some sort of complaint letter to the National Park Service. 

Of course, I'm kidding, but did you know people actually try to demand their money back if they don't get a great view of the canyon due to cloud cover, rain etc.? I think these are the same people who think it is okay to run screaming up to an elk and stick their cell phone in its face in order to get a selfie. Or the people who think the signs saying "stay on the path" don't apply to them. It is probably a good thing we visited the Grand Canyon during the off-season when the park was less crowded. If there had been too many more obnoxious and inconsiderate people around, I think I might have snapped.

Gosh, I'm a little cranky, aren't I? Hang on while I go grab my emergency chocolate bar and find some kittens to play with.

{pause for a snack break - go ahead fix yourself one too}

Ok, I'm back. Things are much better now. So here's what we got up to during the rest of our time at the Grand Canyon.

1 - We went back to the North Rim after a night boondocking in the Kaibab National Forest. (Boondocking = Free Camping = More Money For Chocolate)

2 - We took in the morning views at Bright Angel Point, Scott made scrumptious breakfast burritos for us and then we went for a scenic drive to Imperial Point. Finally, I had one of those "wow" moments that everyone talks about. My belly was full. That might have helped.

3 - We hiked "below the rim" on the Kaibab Trail. Not to be confused with the Kebab Trail. Completely different things. One involves lamb kebabs, the other involves shortness of breath from the altitude. More on that on Wednesday. I bet you can't wait :-)

4 - We called it a day and headed on out towards the South Rim. It is a super long drive between the North Rim and South Rim so we stopped for the night at the Cameron Trading Post in the Navajo Nation. If you ever go there, word of warning, the Navajo Tacos are bigger than your head. Share one. Or if you plan on eating the whole thing yourself, make sure your jeans have plenty of stretch in them. Better yet, wear sweat pants.

5 - The next day we headed to the South Rim. We took Highway 64 into the park. Wonderful scenic drive. Some more "wow" moments. Some great walks along the rim.

6 - We decided to splurge a little and stayed at the historic Bright Angel Lodge in the park. So nice to be right there on the edge of the canyon and even better once all the day trippers cleared out that night. Scott had an amazing baked enchillada pie at the restaurant there. I wished I had ordered one too. Don't you hate it when someone else's meal is better than yours?

7 - We woke up early the next day and took the shuttle bus out to some of the viewpoints towards Hermits Rest. One of our shuttle bus drivers said he saw a bobcat earlier. Another bus driver said the other driver was old and blind and that they were really feral cats. I'm not sure bus drivers should be telling people that their colleagues can't see very well. Doesn't really inspire confidence in the whole letting someone else drive you around thing. Just a thought.

8 - We hiked some more of the Kaibab Trail on the North Rim side. Still no lamb kebabs.

9 - Got up our courage and took another shuttle out to Yaki Point. More views, more walking. 

10 - Said goodbye to the Grand Canyon. It really did redeem itself in the end. I got my "wow" moments. Who knows, I might even come back one day.

And now a note about computers. Or a rant really. Why can't they last longer than three years without imploding? I've had to type this on our iPad without a keyboard and I can't access any of the great pictures of the Grand Canyon that Scott took. okay, rant over. 

See you next time for an exciting post about lamb kebabs and hiking. 

(Exciting might be misleading. It will be more along the lines of a so-so post. But at least there will be pictures as I wrote it before the computer implosion.)

We visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on 8-9 November 2014 and the South Rim on 10-11 November 2014.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Oh Grand Canyon, You've Disappointed Me

Grand Canyon - North Rim, Bright Angel Point
View from trail to Bright Angel Point, North Rim, Grand Canyon
I'm not sure if I'm going to get hate mail for saying this, but the Grand Canyon really disappointed me. It almost seems sacrilegious to badmouth the Grand Canyon. The place is on so many people's bucket lists, so it has to be amazing doesn't it? But, honestly, when we first got to the North Rim late in the afternoon and walked out to to the Bright Angel viewpoint, I felt nothing. I waited and waited and waited for that feeling of awe. That "Oh, my God" moment. It never came. And all I could think was, "What's wrong with me?" Scott seemed enthralled, so I really started to wonder what was wrong with me. Probably nothing a chocolate chip cookie couldn't fix, but I didn't have any of those with me.

We puttered around for a while looking at the views and figuring out what to do the next day, Scott took his usual hundreds of pictures and then we headed off to find a camping spot for the night. Have you done dispersed camping? Maybe you know it better as freedom camping, wild camping or boondocking. Essentially, it means you pitch your tent outside of a developed campground. The upsides are that you have utter solitude and its free. The downside - no shower/toilet block, picnic table and often no fire ring. 

Because we were at the North Rim in November, everything was shut down in the park and outside of the park including the visitor center, restaurants, lodge, campsites etc. You can visit the North Rim during the day, usually through the end of November, or until the first major snowfall when they close the roads for the season. (FYI - the South Rim, which most people visit, stays open all year.) So, unless we wanted to drive a million miles back to "civilization", our options were pretty limited. And that's where dispersed camping comes in. 

Did you know that you can camp pretty much anywhere in US Forest Service land as long as you're 100 feet away from a water source and 150 feet away from a roadway. We found a great spot in the Kaibab National Forest, just a few miles away from the entrance to the North Rim, and pitched out tent. Only problem - it was freezing outside! So instead of sleeping in our tent, we put all of the stuff in our vehicle into the tent and slept in the back of our trusty Pathfinder. While we were warm, we weren't all that comfortable. Kind of reminded me of sharing the v-berth back on our sailboat. I just kept reminding myself that it was free and in close proximity to the park.

I drifted off to sleep wondering if the Grand Canyon would lift its game the next day and finally wow me. Stay tuned to see what happened...

Grand Canyon, North Rim, Lodge
The lodge at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Everything was shut at the lodge while we were there, except the gift shop. Go figure.
Bright Angel Point Trail, Grand Canyon, North Rim
Trail to Bright Angel Point. It's short - only .25 miles - but they warn you to take it easy if you have heart or respiratory conditions as you climb 200 feet up to the point, which is at an elevation of 8,148 feet. You can read more about the trail and point here.
View of Grand Canyon from North Rim
I waited to be impressed by views like this, but for some reason it didn't happen.

Have you ever been disappointed by a place as iconic as the Grand Canyon? 

We visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on 8-9 November 2014.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Star Wars Geeks In The Desert {Death Valley National Park}

Sunset in Death Valley
Sunset in Death Valley. Or is that one of  Tatooine's suns setting?
If Scott reads this post, he's probably going to make a big fuss over the fact that I used the plural when it comes to Star Wars geeks in the title. He would want to make sure that everyone knows that he is in no way, shape or form a Star Wars geek, a Star Trek geek, a Babylon 5 geek or a Farscape geek. But, you have to ask yourself, how come he knows what a Ferengi is? 

If you're a Star Wars geek, then Death Valley needs to be bumped up to the very top of your bucket list. Because, guess what, they filmed the first two Star Wars movies there! I actually didn't know this until I read our guidebook. Just goes to show you that I'm not as much of a Star Wars geek as Scott thinks I am.

If you've seen Star Wars (and really who hasn't, even if they don't admit it), then you'll recognize this scenery. If might help to imagine little Jawas lurking about with their red eyes glowing. And if your inner Star Wars geek is screaming to be let out to play, then be sure to check out this site which maps out all of the filming locations in Death Valley.

If you're not all that into Star Wars, not to fear, there is lots more to see and do in Death Valley which doesn't require a light saber or spaceship. Here are some of the highlights that we managed to check out.

1 - Taking in the view of the badlands.

After entering the park, our first stop was at Zabriskie Point to have a look at the badlands at Furnace Creek. I think they should call them "weirdlands" instead. Because they're just weird. If you spend too much time looking at them, you start to think you're on some other planet. So different from the landscape I grew up in.

Zabriskie Point is closed now for repairs, so you're out of luck if you want to visit. But, it's a good thing. The edges of the viewpoint and support walls are eroding away. I kept a good distance back from the edge. Scott, of course, walked right up to the edge to take pictures.

2 - Driving through the Artist's Palette.

There really isn't a point in trying to include a picture of the Artist's Palette. No camera can adequately capture the amazing colors that the minerals give to the hills. So instead, the picture above is of the moonrise on our way to the Artist's Palette. Scott got slightly obsessed trying to get the perfect moon shot (and he would say this isn't it), so we never actually got to the Artist's Palette the first time were there until after the sun went down (it's best seen in the afternoon light). So, we headed out the next afternoon for another look and had a wander among the hills. The colors are pretty spectacular, although I think you can find better painted hills in the Gower Gulch. But if you aren't very mobile, or you're running short of time, the scenic 9-mile Artist's Drive out to the Artist's Palette viewpoint is a a great option.

3 - Ogling the Mesquite Flat Dunes.

Nearby Stovepipe Wells you can find the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. They're pretty much what you expect from sand dunes. They're dune shaped and made out of sand.

4 - Not spending money at Scotty's Castle.

We drove up to Scotty's Castle up in the northern part of Death Valley. It's kind of a mind numbing drive - mile upon mile upon mile of desert. But eventually, you get to an oasis in the middle of the desert complete with a Spanish style mansion. The mansion's namesake, Walter Scott, was a gold prospector and scam artist who duped people into investing in non-existent gold mines. One of the people he conned, Albert Johnson, came out to Death Valley and fell in love with the desert. He and his wife ended up building the mansion as a vacation home. Strangely enough, Johnson and Scott became good friends and Scott lived on the property and was buried up on a nearby hill.

You can take a guided tour of the interior of Scotty's Castle, but it will cost you $15 per person. We just weren't that intrigued by the whole thing to shell out $30 for a tour, so we just wandered the grounds instead, walked up to Scott's grave and did some general poking around. Sometimes you just have to choose where you spend your money.

5 - Eating fudgsicles.

With all that money we saved not spending money at Scotty's Castle, we splurged on a couple of fudgsicles at the Furnace Creek general store. I actually wanted a Dove ice cream bar, but I thought the price was ridiculous, so I satisfied my sweet tooth with a $1 fudgsicle. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice premium chocolate covered ice cream so that you have enough money leftover for beer. This was one of those days. I hadn't had a fudgsicle in ages. They're actually pretty tasty and it reminded me of my mom. She likes fudgsicles. Sorry mom, I didn't get a picture of them.

6 - Hiking around Ubehebe Crater.

A few miles from Scotty's Castle is Ubehebe Crater. It's 600 feet feet deep and one mile across. You can get some good views of the crater from the parking lot, but if you're feeling feisty and fired up from your fudgsicle, then you can take a 1/2 mile walk along the western rim of Ubehebe Crater and check out Little Hebe Crater. If you're feeling particularly feisty (maybe you splurged and had a Dove ice cream bar), then you can continue around the eastern rim of Ubehebe Crater to complete the loop trail back to the parking lot.

7 - Checking out weird salt formations at the Devil's Golf Course.

Salt does weird things in Death Valley, like at the Devil's Golf Course where the salt formations are so big that "only the devil could play golf on its surface." If you're traveling around with a golf fanatic, drive down the 1.3 mile gravel road and check it out. If you're traveling around with someone who could care less about golf, check it out anyway. It's still pretty neat.

8 - Walking out on the Badwater Basin.

The Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America lying 282 feet below sea level. You can walk 1/2 mile out to the edge of the salt flats.

9 - Finding the chute at Natural Bridge.

It is just a short hike out to see the Natural Bridge at Death Valley - you'll find it about 1/2 mile from the trail head. The 50 foot bridge spans the canyon and is pretty impressive. But keep walking past the bridge and you'll find a really interesting dry water chute. It is hard to imagine what the place was like when water poured down the chutes and filled the canyons.

10 - Exploring the unknown at Gower Gulch. 

Perhaps the best experience we had was hiking through the Gower Gulch. You get to the Gower Gulch from the popular Golden Canyon (and site of many Star Wars scenes!). Other than the rather vague sort of map we saw about the trail at the Golden Canyon parking lot, we really didn't know what to expect. And that's what made it such an adventure! Painted hills, climbing along a ridge, wandering through the gulch itself and scrambling down dry falls. What's not to love?

As a parting gift, I'll leave you with some more proof about the havoc that global warming is creating. Polar bears have been spotted living in the desert at Death Valley! What can we expect next? Camels living in Antarctica? 

We embraced our Star Wars geekiness at Death Valley on 2-4 November 2014.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chasing After Tarantulas {Mojave National Preserve}

Does your husband ever slam on the car brakes and scream, "Tarantula!!!"

No? Well, count yourself lucky.

Here's what all the fuss was about. Cute and cuddly, just like a kitten, except with way too many legs.

Tarantula, Mojave National Preserve

Scott was positively giddy when he saw this guy scooting across the road in the Mojave National Preserve. The tires screeched as he pulled the car off the side of the road, he grabbed his camera and ran out to capture the little critter on film. I waited in the car and reassured myself that, while my husband can be a bit of an obsessive nutter-butter at times, at least he doesn't want to have any pet tarantulas aboard our boat. At least, I hope so. The minute he says we're getting a pet tarantula, I'll be getting a wallaby. I'm pretty sure you can litter box train them. (See here, if you need convincing.)

We drove through the Mojave National Preserve on our way from Needles to Death Valley. Have you ever been to Needles? If you're planning on passing through there, here's a handy tip - always check where the railway is in relation to your motel room. If the room seems too cheap to be true, you can be sure its due to one of three things: (1) they're making porno movies there; (2) the majority of the clientele have warrants out for their arrest; or (3) the train tracks are right next to the motel. 

After leaving Joshua Tree National Park, our original plan was to stay somewhere near Amboy on the old Route 66, but all we found were tired old places which were shut for the season, or perhaps for eternity.

Roys Motel Route 66

After a night dreaming of trains chasing us through the desert, we backtracked from Needles and headed through the Mojave on Kelbaker Road.

The Virgin Galactic spaceship had crashed in the Mojave desert a couple of days before we were there, so of course we were on the lookout for the debris scattered about. What we found instead may shock you.

Yes, there are polar bears living in the desert! I just can't get my head wrapped around climate change - icebergs melting and polar bears in the Mojave desert. What's next?

The tarantulas were a welcome distraction from the mystery of the polar bears. Male tarantulas go out in search of a mate during the autumn months, crossing the roads in search of that someone special. Some of these guys might want to be more choosy when it comes to hooking up. After the romance is over, the ladies have been known to kill and eat their mates. Then they go on to have litters of 500 to 1,000 little tarantula babies! Probably more than you wanted to know, isn't it? I don't know about you, but my skin is crawling just now. That's what you get when you spend too much time thinking about spiders - you start to imagine little baby tarantulas are crawling over you. Ick.

Time for a distraction. Here's what you see as you're driving along the road, dodging tarantulas and polar bears.

About halfway along the road, you come across the old Kelso Depot.

Oases fascinate me. You're driving along in the desert and then, all of a sudden, you see green grass and palm trees. 

It's kind of strange to see a railroad running through the middle of a desert. Once upon a time, Union Pacific constructed the railway through the desert in order to access the ports around Los Angeles. Back in the day, trains needed help from extra engines to get across the steep grade west of Kelso, so a depot opened up at Kelso in 1905, along with a post office, housing for railway employees and an engine house. Later, a Spanish Mission style depot with a clubhouse and restaurant was built to cater to train passengers. I bet it was quite the chi-chi place in its day. Union Pacific eventually closed the depot in the 1980s, but it has since been restored and houses the Visitor Center and a museum. It was a great little stop along our drive.

Old Building at Kelso, Mojave

After visiting Kelso, we continued our drive past the cinder cones and lava fields before exiting the preserve at the town of Baker. Wow, that's a crazy little crossroads town. You come out of the barren desert and find yourself smack-dab in the middle of a fairly busy road with motels, gas stations and restaurants. We had gyros, Scott haggled for firewood with an 80-year old lady (she won) and off we went towards Death Valley.

We drove through the Mojave National Preserve in search of tarantulas on 2 November 2014.

Linking up with Bonnie for Travel Tuesday.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Life In North Dakota Lately

Old postcard of a deep test oil well in Ray, North Dakota
If you're a regular blog follower of ours, then you'll know that we've been on a road trip from Portland, Oregon to Ray, North Dakota via California and the Southwest. We finally arrived in North Dakota towards the end of November. Here's a little glimpse into what life has been like lately for us while we've been in North Dakota. {Spoiler alert - it is ridiculously cold!}

Eating turkey and lefse - I had my first Thanksgiving in 12 years with Scott's auntie and uncle in Bismarck. Wow, I can't believe it has been so long! I had forgotten how wonderful turkey with all the trimmings is! But because Scott's family is Norwegian-American, one of the key "trimmings" is lefse. If you haven't had lefse before, run out and get yourself some. The best way to describe it is as a sort of potato tortilla. Which sounds gross, but, trust me, it isn't. Of course, unless you live in North Dakota or Minnesota, you may find it hard to get a hold of. Normally, I would tell you to get in your car and drive to North Dakota or Minnesota to get some, but don't. It is absolutely freezing here! As in -16F/-26C. That's just plain ridiculous.

Hunting and sandals - Of course, being born and bred in North Dakota, Scott doesn't feel the cold. The morning it was -16F/-26C, Scott had on his Keen sandals. Without any socks. {Yes, socks with sandals would be a fashion crime, but losing your toes to frostbite is probably the greater of two evils here.} Amazingly, he still said his feet were hot and sweaty. While we've been in North Dakota, Scott has been out pheasant hunting. I think the only thing holding him back from wearing his sandals while hunting is the fact that it might hurt more in sandals if he accidentally shot himself in the foot then if he wore closed toe shoes. (Just kidding - he is an excellent shot and still has all of his toes.) 

By the way, if you've never had pheasant, it is delicious. Especially with a sherry cream sauce. Lip smacking yummalicious. If you like pheasant, check out these recipes. Or just bread it in Shore Lunch, fry and enjoy.

Oil wells and man camps - I'm not sure if you've ever heard of the Bakken Formation, but it is transforming North Dakota. The Bakken Formation is huge oil field, which, until recently, people weren't able to exploit. With the advent of frakking technology, there has been a boom in North Dakota with an estimated 2.1 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken. North Dakota is now the 2nd biggest oil producing state in the US, surpassed by only Texas. When we were out in Ray, I couldn't believe how much the area has changed - there are oil wells and man camps everywhere. (Man camps are temporary housing for the oil workers - it is pretty much impossible to find a rental or home to buy these days in the Bakken.) 

Some people would say the oil boom has changed things for the better (often those with mineral rights or a vested interest in the oil industry), some people would say for the worse. And others say it has been both good and bad. All I know is that when you see a pick-up truck with North Dakota plates and a Confederate flag bumper sticker, you know things have changed considerably! (If you're interested in reading more about the oil boom in North Dakota, check out this National Geographic article.)

Looking at Christmas lights - Living for the past five years in New Zealand, where you have summer weather over the holidays, meant that it never really felt like Christmas. Although, don't get me wrong, having a picnic on the beach on Christmas Day isn't to be sneezed at. But, as much as I don't like the cold weather, I have been enjoying seeing all of the Christmas decorations and lights on people's houses in snow covered Bismarck. Nonetheless, we're heading down South in a few weeks in search of warmer weather for the holidays!

So that's the news from North Dakota. What's been happening where you are?

Update 1 December 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Evil Tribbles & Other Random Nonsense {Joshua Tree National Park}

You're probably familiar with tribbles. You know, those furry eggplant-shaped critters from Star Trek who purr like little adorable alien kittens. Unfortunately, they also breed like evil alien rabbits and, before you know it, they can take over your spaceship and eat up all of your food. Because I don't currently have a spaceship, I never actually thought I would get to see a tribble in real life. And I still haven't seen a real tribble, but I have seen their cousins at Joshua Tree National Park (located 140 miles east of LA). Turns out, they're pretty evil too.

Here, take a look. Same eggplant shape as their outer space cousins, but instead of soft fur, they're covered in spiky things. This should have been my first clue as to their evil nature.

Evil Tribbles - Joshua Tree National Park

Their official name is Cylindropuntia bigelovii, which of course is Latin for evil tribble. As tempting as it might be, you really don't want to touch one of these or even brush up against them. At the slightest touch, the spines will grab onto you and pierce your flesh. You'll be in pain. You'll scream. You'll cry. And you'll curse the evil tribbles as you try to remove them.

They even have warning signs about how dangerous these creatures are.

Their reproduction is a bit different than their furry tribble cousins. They grow on a type of cactus and then detach themselves and fall to the ground where they generate new plants.

They're pretty creepy looking. There are a lot of them breeding like crazy in the Cholla Cactus Garden on the western rim of the Pinto Basin. There is just enough water and drainage on this slope to keep them happy. Because even evil needs water.

But don't let the evil tribbles put you off from visiting Joshua Tree National Park. They're pretty well confined to one area of the park, so as long as you stay vigilant, you can safely visit the rest of the park and see neat things, like really big rocks. There are all sorts of boulders stacked everywhere, courtesy of volcanic activity ages ago.

And you can see cacti - after all, the park is located in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Don't worry, they're the kind that won't attack you, unlike the Cholla Cactus (aka evil tribble).

And of course, there are the Joshua trees. The trees got their name from Mormon pioneers who thought the trees, with their outstretched limbs, resembled the biblical Joshua beckoning them westward. We got to camp in the midst of Joshua Trees at the Black Rock Campground. Pretty spectacular. While we were sitting around the campfire, some creature ran past my foot. I have no idea what it was. It kind of freaked me out.

You can pretend you're a cattle rustler in Hidden Valley. It is an easy one mile loop trail which takes you through an enclosed hidden valley, where 19th century cattle rustlers were rumored to have hidden their cows. Nowadays, you can wander around and watch rock climbers scale the different formations.

That's me walking through Hidden Valley. It looks like I have a month's supply of chocolate chip cookies in that backpack.

And one final shot of some really big rocks.

We avoided the evil tribbles and played among the big rocks at Joshua Tree National Park on 31 October and 1 November 2014.