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Great expectations: Revisiting places that aren’t as you remember them

By Rod Andrew
My wife and I were fortunate to have two friends guide us on our first RV trip from British Columbia to Southern California. We were newcomers to pulling our trailer, a 19-foot unit that we had bought secondhand, just to try out RVing. It was our trainer trailer. We were trainee trailer pullers.

We wandered through the Western states, as our friends introduced us to their favorite parks. Of all the places we visited, Joshua Tree National Park had the greatest impact. We’ve been back, of course, but remember, vividly, one part of our first visit, when we decided to hike from Cottonwood Campground to an oasis called Lost Palms.

Hiking to the Lost Palms Oasis

Lost Palms, we had read, is the site of a grove of majestic California palms. We had already seen a number of oases, complete with palms, but this oasis was supposed to be special, so we decided that the 7-mile round trip hike, rated as moderate, would be worth it. February is a great time for such an adventure. By now, there were five of us in our group.

We left reasonably early, carrying as much water as we could and smelling of sunscreen.  Cottonwood Campground is near a palm grove, which is, itself, well worth a visit. But we were told that Lost Palms was even more impressive.

The trail was well-marked, with stones placed at points where it would be possible to go astray. The hike was easy walking, often through canyons and along washes. We stopped after an hour or so to have a snack. At this time, one of our group decided to go back, so my wife, Sharon, decided to go with him. We all understood that hiking back, alone, was not the wisest choice. The three of us then continued. About 20 minutes later, I remembered that my wife had our only camera. This was in the days when cell phones were just phones.

Oops.  No photos.

The Lost Palms Oasis

The oasis was everything I had imagined it to be. Our first view of it was of the stately palms rising out of a deep canyon. It looked like something out of one of those corny movies from my youth: “The Desert Song” comes to mind. I really wanted to have our camera. We clambered down a steep incline to the bottom of the canyon, a scramble that tested my balance and fingertips.

It was worth it. The three of us were silenced by the quiet, stately presence of those palms, which had a similar impact to that of the giant redwoods of the coast. We weren’t the only visitors, but the glade was quiet. Everyone seemed to be speaking in whispers.

The canyon was full of light-colored sand, and at the center of the grove was a genuine oasis: a pool of clear water, about 20 feet across.

Perfect. But…

No camera. The three of us ate our lunches, sitting around the pool and chatting quietly, then headed back to our campground. We all made it up the rocky climb out to the canyon. I felt pretty pleased with myself. Definitely some mountain goat in my makeup.

Back in Cottonwood, I told Sharon what a wonderful place Lost Palms was and we decided that if we visited Joshua Tree again we should both see it.

Round two: With wife and camera

A year later, we were back in Cottonwood Campground, again. This time, we had a larger and new trailer, which was a tight fit in sites made for vans. We were fortunate to find a spot.

This time, my wife and I would both complete the hike into Lost Palms Oasis. I had told her how special the oasis was and both of us were eager to make the trek. This was going to be a longer hike than we were accustomed to, but I assured her that it was an easy stroll.

We had a camera. I was determined to take some spectacular shots. We had food, water and sunscreen.

But…

I had forgotten about the cliff scramble down into the ravine.

The day was cool and calm and the hike was as pleasant as I remembered. Although the walk was long, I kept assuring Sharon that the destination was worth the effort. I told her how much she would enjoy sitting in quiet contemplation by the side of that perfect pool under the palms. I promised not to sing her the title song from “The Desert Song.” This was a big sacrifice, as I had been practicing. Gordon MacRae I’m not, but I can sing loud.

We eventually stopped at the lookout above the oasis.

“And how do we get down there?” she asked, as we stood at the top of the ravine, staring down at the stately palms.

That was when I remembered the scramble down the steep, perhaps even precipitous, canyon wall.

She looked down. “You didn’t tell me about this.”

“I forgot.” I think I whimpered.

“You forgot this? I’m not going down there.”

Of course, I had to say, “It’s not as difficult as it looks. I’ll go ahead, so you can fall on me.  Not that you’ll fall.”

She looked at me. “Okay. This had better be worth it.”

“It is.” I promised.

So, down we went. Not without some terse and tense exchanges.

This is what we saw

When we slid down the last rock and turned to look at the oasis, this is what we saw.

A very dry Lost Palms Oasis
A very dry Lost Palms Oasis. Photo credit: Rod Andrew

No tranquil pool. Just a trickle of green slime.

No inviting sand.

Just a pile of debris. Oh, the magnificent palms were still there, but the Eden-like oasis that I had described, was gone. The two-hour hike and the frightening scramble down rocks had led us to… this.

Palm Trees at the Lost Palms Oasis
Photo credit: Rod Andrew

Naturally, Sharon was not pleased.

I was stunned. This was not what I had promised. Not what I remembered. Perhaps, my imagination had embellished my memory.

Blame the desert deluges

Later, I learned that about three months earlier one of those sudden desert deluges had sent a torrent of debris-laden water tumbling through the ravine. The pool had been filled with sand and the path blocked by broken bushes.

That was later. All I could do now was apologize. And do some convincing groveling.

We ate our lunch among the palms. Sharon was, as usual, a good sport about how the day was not turning out according to my description, although she was, clearly, not looking forward to the climb back up what we now referred to as the cliff. Nor to the long walk to get home.

Neither was I.

Ten years later, we remember that day, almost fondly. I would like to suggest a return to Lost Palms, but I don’t think we’re ready yet.

I sometimes wonder if I did simply imagine the oasis that I remember seeing on my first visit. If any of you who are reading this have photos of Lost Palms Oasis that correspond to my description, please send them to editor@rvtravel.com. I’d like to show them to Sharon.

And a Google search for “The Desert Song” will bring up a short video of Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson singing the song in an idyllic oasis setting. I’m still not allowed to sing it.

More from Rod

##RVT1081

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Heather
1 month ago

Sadly, Climate change will only increase these sorts of scenarios, especially in the drier states.

KellyR
1 month ago

Unfortunately one of those “you can never go home again” moments.

Merrily
1 month ago

I was there in early 1970’s and it was a beautiful oasis then but I have no pictures unfortunately 🙁

Drew
1 month ago

Great article! It kept me in suspense. So sorry your second visit wasn’t as good as the first.

Scott
1 month ago

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