Joshua Tree National Park
December 18-19, 2004
Last weekend I decided rather spontaneously to head to Joshua Tree National Park. I
had never been to this particular park although I have been on all sides of it. I didnâ
€™t expect to like it nearly so much! I know the Mojave Desert well; Iâ€™ve driven
through it countless times and have lived along its edges. I've hiked and camped in it
and now and then find beauty therein but most of the time itâ€™s just a place to pass
through to get to somewhere else. But Joshua Tree combines truly fantastic rock
formations with mountainous views and of course a huge variety of different plant and
animal life. Of all the places I've seen in the Mojave I've loved it the most and I plan
to return soon!
After setting up my tent, eating a sandwich, and shedding my fleece (it was about 70*), I
hopped in my truck and drove east and then south. The site marked, â€œCholla Gardenâ€�
had caught my eye on the park map. Cholla are sometimes called teddy bear cactus and
wow, I have never seen so many in one spot in my entire life! This garden is located right
on the edge of the transition zone between the higher and cooler Mojave Desert and the
lower Colorado or Sonoran Desert. I soon came to learn the differences between the two
On Saturday morning I left my house around 8:00 am and headed out to Porterville.
The fog was thick in the San Joaquin Valley and I was glad I would soon be leaving its
cold and gloom behind. I drove south to Bakersfield and then east on Hwy 58. As I
climbed over Tehachapi Summit, elevation about 4,000â€™, I left behind the
relatively wet side of California and entered the dry desert eastern side.
I stopped for gas in Mojave, I havenâ€™t seen gas for less than $2/gallon in a long
time! I was thinking it was too bad most travelers on the highway donâ€™t get to see
this quaint town anymore as they built a bypass a year or two ago.
In Barstow I headed north on I-15 for just a mile or two then took Hwy 247 south. I
had never driven on this road and as I left Barstow I also left all the other cars
behind. I didn't pass a single car until I got to Lucerne Valley!
I decided to go into the park via the west entrance at the town of Joshua Tree. I
showed my National Park Pass to the lady at the entrance station then drove into the
park. Wow, the Joshua Trees are so dense that this can be called a forest. And soon
enough the famous boulder piles and rock formations came into sight on both sides of
the winding park road. I pulled into Hidden Valley Campground but it was full so I went
on to Ryan Campground where I found a great camping spot in the rocks.
|Some cholla were so tall this could be called
Cholla Tree National Park!
|My campspot, #10, in Ryan Campground
I headed back towards my campsite as the sun fell lower in the sky. I stopped to walk
around the Hall of Terrors and Hidden Valley. Then I drove back to my campsite,
watched the sunset, then warmed up some chili for dinner.
After strolling through the cholla garden, carefully as to not inflict myself with spines, I
drove north again and stopped at White Tank Campground. Here there is a short and very
worthwhile trail to Arch Rock. This campground is nice but there are few Joshua Trees
The night was very quiet and the stars were wonderful. I had no trouble falling asleep
and was awoken many times in the night to hear serenading coyotes. I think it got down
I woke up at sunrise and headed out to Keys View, elevation 5,185'. This is an amazing
viewpoint if you can catch it on a clear day! About half the time smog from LA obscures
the view but when itâ€™s clear you can see all the way south across the Salton Sea
into Mexico. You can also see two of the highest mountains in southern California, Mt.
San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio. Mt. San Jacinto, at 10,804â€™, has one of the
highest reliefs of any mountain in the Lower 48. It rises sharply from the city of Palm
Springs which lies at its feet.
Then I drove back towards camp, stopping to hike the Cap Rock Trail. I made
breakfast, maple and brown sugar Malt-o-Meal and Earl Grey tea, stopped to sketch a
Joshua Tree, then packed up camp. I drove to the Barker Dam trailhead and hiked this
trail, another not-to-be-missed short trail. I saw lots of wildlife including a canyon
wren and a cottontail rabbit. Also along this trail are pictographs.
|Can you see the climbers on Tombstone Rock?
I drove on the Queen Valley Road, one of the many dirt roads in the park, back to the
paved park road and stopped at Jumbo Rocks to hike the Skull Rock Trail. I couldnâ€™t
quite see the â€œskullâ€� until a nice gentleman pointed it out to me, lol
Then I drove out the main entrance at Twentynine Palms and stopped at the Visitor
Center. It is located at an authentic palm oasis, the Oasis of Mara. There is a nice
nature trail there that is worth strolling on as I saw at least 8 different species of birds!
Then it was time to stop for a bite to eat and then I headed home.
Oh, yeah, Joshua Trees are not trees, theyâ€™re monocots, they don't have wood or
growth rings, and they are in the lily family. Palm Trees are not trees, either ;)
|San Gorgonio Peak, elevation 11,499', off in the distance