Where I Went - Joshua Tree National Park

Trek Date: October 15, 2018

After a nearly five-month hiatus, I was finally able to return to JTree for a day to see what I could find. The withdrawls had been wreaking havoc, what with seeing amazing photos posted on social media from the great explortographers I follow. But I was finally back amidst the quartz monzonite, desert silence and unknown territory.

The main portion of my day was spent in White Tank Campground’s surrounding rocky hills and boulder fields. There’s something special about this area, the concentration of giant boulders that invoke the imagination run amok. Everywhere you look, something is looking back at you. It’s impossible to not be amazed and occasionally spooked while hiking on and off the trails at White Tank.

Besides wandering through enormous boulders, squeezing through narrow gaps, crawling under sharp rocks, inspecting concavities in stone, receiving scrapes and bruises almost without realizing it, climbing hills because they were hills and warranted climbing, all the while looking to see what I could find, I did have two specific goals for this walk-a-bout.

  • Find Vulture Arch

  • Locate Tom Brody’s Heart

Fours hours and five miles later, I was a bit worn out. Here are some things I saw along the way, in no particular order.

There are two dams in the area, remnants from the days when cattle ranchers ran stock throughout the desert. White Tank is the smaller dam, and is located near Arch Rock. Unfortunately, it has a couple holes at its base and will no longer hold water. Perhaps that was intentional, what with its proximity to the well-used trail to Arch Rock.

The larger dam is pictured above, it is known as Grand Tank. I’ve been to this site a number of times and have only seen water behind the dam twice, both times being shortly after a lot of rainfall in the area. In the above photo, just right of center, a straight line can be seen where the water seems to stop. It’s kinda like an infinity dam, the water level was right to the top.

This image was taken a few years ago, the black arrow points to the area where the dam is located. The inset shows the inside of the dam. Note the high water marks in both images. Over the years, a lot of sand and gravel has filled into the open area behind the dam.

While trying to get as close as possible to the water’s edge, as I walked in the shadow of this boulder, I encountered my first experience with quicksand in JTree. At bottom center of the picture, are a couple depressions, left when I pulled my feet out from the treacherous trap that tried to draw me down to my gravely and slushy death. Luckily, one foot was on slightly firmer ground and I was able to pull out the other foot, leaving me with a soggy boot for the remainder of the day. It’s a startling experience to take a step on what you think is solid ground and have your foot immediately begin sinking.

It was a great day for boulder scrambling, with the temps in the low 60s. It was rather windy, however, and every now and then a gust would attempt to whisk me off a high ledge to be dashed to pieces on boulders such as these.

The wash running across this image is the main wash that drains the canyon that holds Grand Tank. Standing on the near bank, I had the great idea that I should hike up that other hill to that little notch to see what was on the other side. It’s notions like that which turn a planned 2-mile hike into a 5-mile hike.

But before I headed to the hill, I spotted this interesting looking hidey-hole. Such places often have pictographs, so I headed back to check it out. What a cool spot, but what a sad place.

The inside was covered in graffiti. Maybe I missed the box on my hiking checklist, the one that says to bring defacing instruments so I can vandalize park and public property.

A view up the wash, just before scrambling down the near bank to cross the stream and head up the opposite hillside.

Climbing the slope, almost to the small saddle. A little farther up and I’ll see what I can see on the other side.

And as so often happens, after exertion and exhaustion have been expended and achieved, there’s really nothing out of the ordinary to see on the other side.

Turning around from the backside view from the saddle, this shot proves Murbachi’s 8th rule of JT: the reward of climbing hills is almost always worth the effort. This awesome panorama really shows off the White Tank area.

Then it was time to hike back down…

Not the arch I was looking for, but a nice find nonetheless.

So many rocks. Rocks on top of rocks, rocks under rocks, rocks balanced on rocks, rocks next to rocks, rocks of so many shapes and sizes.

Perhaps a relative of Split Rock?

Honestly, so many of the rock formations in the White Tank area look like sea life, does anyone else see two seals in this picture?

And after turning a corner, jumping down from a boulder, splinting my leg, there it was, Vulture Arch. Definitely not a sea creature but a way cool arch. Thanks to fellow explortogropher Mark for zeroing me in on the vulture’s location. Having hiked near this spot several times previously, it’s amazing what you can miss when you’re on your way to something else.

And the other side. I kinda like this view.

And of course, the crystal ball view. Funny though, when I asked the crystal ball if I would be successful on this trip it said, “my sources say no.” Never trust the crystal ball. And the sunlight coursing through the crystal ball will burn your hand if you’re not quick.

Now that is a big rock. Or perhaps it’s actually a spaceship or some kind of sensor or monitoring station working in conjunction with that super secret installation at the top of the mountain.

Weather station or top secret government spy installation? I think we know.

Stone waves in a granite ocean.

Skylight Arch. Yes, I make up these names as I hike. The odder they seem, the longer I’ve been hiking without water.

Sliver Arch.

The Sentinel, watching over its rocky brethren. By this time, I’d been hiking for close to four hours and was getting a bit weary, so decided to pass on any further side trips (look at that rock over there!), and head back towards Tac3 and the nourishment and cold drinks I knew awaited me there (my camelbak had run dry). But I still had to locate Tom’s Heart. I had an inkling of where to find it, thanks to his directions via a Facebook post. I was close. After one brief directional mishap (I blame the wind), I made the right move and started over from the beginning of the instructions. Less than 10 minutes later, Eureka, I found it.

I’m glad that such cool rocks as this are a bit tricky to find, as it helps preserve them from rascals and rapscallions.

After finding the hard rock heart, it was time to call this wander’bout a success. Both Vulture Arch and Tom Brody’s Heart had been found, and both in great condition. Other interesting places had been spotted and photo’d. I was not seriously or permanently injured or disfigured. Perhaps my footprints were left were no one else had ever been. The area covered was remarkably free from trash, both vintage and modern. All-in-all, it was a great return to the park.


Addendum: I’d heard there was some water behind Barker Dam, so after rehydrating and renourishing, I headed over to check it out. And indeed there was some water there; it was perhaps a quarter full, which was more than enough to entice me to take some photos. Here are a couple I liked:

Anyone else see the skull in this formation?

My obligatory, artsy-fartsy black and white.

There are a couple other posts about Barker Dam and the surrounding area on this site, take a gander for a more in-depth look at one of the coolest hikes in the park.


If anyone is still reading this far down, please feel free to copy and paste, or download any of my pictures from this post that might strike your fancy. Use them for whatever you like, no muss or fuss, no red tape. A credit back to cali49.com would be nice, but it’s not required. If you enjoyed the trip report, please leave a comment. #FreePixels #Share


the end