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 didn’t expect to like it nearly so much! I know the Mojave Desert well; I’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 it’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!
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 4,000’, I left behind the relatively wet side of California and entered the dry desert eastern side.
I stopped for gas in Mojave, I haven’t seen gas for less than $2/gallon in a long time! I was thinking it was too bad most travelers on the highway don’t get to see this quaint town anymore as they built a bypass a year or two ago. Once 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, elevation 4,300', where I found a great camping spot in the rocks.
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, “Cholla Garden” 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 deserts.
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 here.
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.
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 to about 40-45*.
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 it’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 10,804’, 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.
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 couldn’t quite see the “skull” 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 aren't trees, they’re monocots, they don't have wood or growth rings, and they're in the lily family. Palm Trees aren't trees, either
I posted a lot more pictures on my website http://www.tarol.com/joshuatree.html
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir ~ www.tarol.com