An Evermore Rare Event in the Mojave Desert – “Snow!”
Tuesday, February 27th, 2018
The year of 2018 started with a rather large period of hot spells and dryness. The approaching storms that encroached on the Mojave Desert always managed to dissolve before getting the opportunity to quench the Mojave’s insatiable thirst. The transverse range that separates the desert from the coastal valleys is mostly to blame for this as it creates what is referred to as a “rain shadow”. Now, I am not a meteorologist by any means, but I do have a very fundamental knowledge of how it works in this area seeing as how I have experienced it for nearly 26 years now.
Essentially, any storm that sweeps in from the Pacific drops is hydrating payload just before reaching the mountain peaks so that by the time the storm system crosses over into the Mojave, it has dumped most if not all of it’s precious liquid cargo. On occasion however, if the storm is significant enough, it will often have ample water left to drop off in the desert when it crosses the mountain tops. Combine this with very cold temperatures and you get all the right conditions for snow.
The part of the Mojave that gets the most snow is naturally the section just below the foothills of the mountains. Phelan and Pinion Hills are two great towns to visit when this happens and thus my adventure began on that Tuesday morning of February 27th.
“Pine Mountain and the surrounding peaks got hit with a lot of snow that morning.”
Phelan, CAGPS Coordinates: 34.421771° N, -117.6019123° W
The temperature was a balmy 31 ºF (-0.5 ºC) at about eight in the morning which was just cold enough to keep the snow around for at least another hour before the melting began. I brought my pup with me to enjoy the outing for a bit. Drove the stretch of road from Phelan to Pinion Hills for the next hour and a half. I stopped frequently along the way to grab as many pics of the beautiful scenery that I could.
“The old Phelan Water Tower stands among a field of snow covered foliage.”
“A perfect symbol of beauty and pain is a snow covered cholla cactus.”
“Joshua Trees getting a bit of the cold weather to test their legendary robustness.”
The Mighty Joshua Tree (a.k.a. Yucca Palm)
The Joshua Tree is also known as a ‘Yucca Palm’ and is an icon of the Mojave Desert. If you see these trees you can be certain that you are in the Mojave Desert region. They can sometimes be found growing along side Saguaro Cactus which are in the Sonoran Desert, but they mostly exist in the Mojave. The Joshua Tree is a very robust plant of which there are three subspecies that are only found in the Mojave Desert. They can be found growing on slopes, ridges, and vast open plains in elevations of 1,300 ft – 5,900 ft (400 m – 1,800 m).
These mighty Yucca Palms can grow as tall as 49 ft (15 m) and up to a 3 ft (0.9 m) trunk. Their root system can reach as far down as 36 ft (11 m) making it efficient at collecting water far below the surface. The average lifespan of these plants are documented at between 150 – 200 years old, although some unverified estimates have claimed then to be 500 – 1,000 years old. The Joshua Tree is a real tough one as it must survive the baking heat of the hottest summer days and the biting freeze of the coldest winter nights while doing all this on very little precipitation.
“Joshua trees, cholla cactus, and desert brush wear beautiful winter coats together.”
“There were fields of fluffy, white snow, but the temperature would soon rise above freezing and it would all vanish.”
When I got near Pinion Hills, I took a dirt trail to get some off road action and see if I could get a bit closer to some of this astounding scenery. After driving off the highway for a bit, I saw a great spot to let my dog to play in the snow and to snap some really cool shots of the scenery. I was so distracted by what I was seeing that I almost let my boy Perseus walk right into a snow covered cholla cactus which would have been bad. I barked at him to stay away from it since he seemed to be aiming right for it.
“My doggo Perseus, loves the snow and wanders around a little too boldly…lol”
“This is the reason I had to yell at my boy, he surely would have had a snout full of these painful sweeties.”
“Phelan Road was lined with what appeared to be fields of beautiful cold cotton.”
“On the drive home, I could see that even the iconic peak of Quartzite Mountain got a light dusting of snow.”
I want to extend my gratitude to my friend Jenny who called me early that morning to inform me that the snow was coming down at the higher elevations.
The drive out to these locations was definitely worth catching. The temperature trends showed more snow in the forecast, but the temperatures would not be low enough in these areas for the following week to support another winter show spectacle like this one. Hopefully we get hit with another big winter storm soon!
Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”
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