Come for the Trees, Stay for the Rocks – Joshua Tree NP

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One of our bucket list items has been to visit Joshua Tree National Park. This week we were able to check that one off the list. This is a perfect time to visit, as the weather is in the 70’s during the day and nights are in the 40’s. I knew from my readings that there would be the iconic and unusual Joshua Trees here, but I did not expect the park’s amazing landscape. The rock formations remind you of the Alabama Hills or perhaps some of Arches National Park.

The Joshua Tree is not a tree, but is a very tall type of yucca found mainly in the Mojave Desert. The plant does not have tree rings so the age of Joshua Trees is estimated by the number of feet of growth. Some apparently are over 100 years old and can be up to 50 feet tall. Their distinctive name comes from the Mormons who envisioned Joshua raising his hands to the heavens welcoming them.

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The Joshua Tree National Park, established in 1994, has two distinct deserts within its boundaries: the Mojave and the Colorado. The Mojave Desert is at a higher elevation and the different plant life there is very evident. The Joshua Trees are found only in the Mojave Desert section of the park. The lower elevation part of the Park, which is part of the Colorado Desert, has a large “Cholla Garden” and some Ocotillo Trees. It is amazing how animals and plant life have adapted to the harsh, hot, and dry environments here.

We were hoping to see some of big horn sheep that live in the park, but we did not spot any on the rocky hillsides. We did see many of the Desert Cottontail rabbits and other small animals.

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There are campgrounds within the national park but many of the spots are for smaller rigs and the Bighorn would have to lose some inches to be able to fit. Some do take reservations, but since we rarely know far in advance where we are going to be, all the spots were already taken. This is a busy season for the park and it is especially busy during weekends. In fact, the park posted signs saying that the parking lots fill by 10:00 am even though we did not have any issues finding a spot.

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If we could have snagged a “first come” camping spot, the Belle Campground would have been perfect. It is situated around some of the picturesque rock outcroppings and is in a great central location. This small campground does have a few spots that the Bighorn could squeeze into.

We stayed in the small town of Twentynine Palms, located just north of the Park, at the local Elks Lodge. It is very convenient to either of the Park’s northern entrances. The majority of the highlighted activities in the Park is on the northern side and there is a loop road that goes from one of the northern entrances to the other. There are also Visitor Centers at all the entrances to the Park.

Joshua Tree N.P. offers some great hiking and we were able to take in a few of them. One was the very popular Hidden Valley hike that travels through an area enclosed on all sides by high rock walls. It is thought that cattle rustlers hid their purloined animals from detection and re-branded them in this location.

The Hidden Valley Trail is a beautiful hike and it is easy to see why it is so popular among visitors to the Park. It is also a favorite with the rock climbing crowd and many were ascending and descending the rock formations while we were there.

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We also hiked the Arch Rock Trail that leads to a group of large rocks that contain a large arch. The arch itself is accessible and we had fun climbing on it and taking some photographs.

We visited the amazing Cholla Garden in the Colorado Desert part of the park. The hundreds of Cholla cactus that are growing together in this area is a sight. It was fun to walk among them and wonder how so many are in this place. They are sometimes called “jumping cactus” because they easily break away and attach themselves to passersby. There was even a pair of needle-nosed pliers at the trail head for folks to remove needles if needed. We saw one couple removing needles from the soles of their shoes.

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We ate lunch one afternoon within sight of Cap Rock. The weather was perfect and the view spectacular. The rock outcropping, perched on the very top, looks like it would fall at any moment and come crashing down. There is a very short trail that traverses some of the other rock outcroppings in the area which are surrounded by the Joshua Trees.

From Cap Rock, it is an easy drive to the most popular viewpoint in the park, Keys View. From there you can see the Salton Sea, Palm Springs, and the Santa Rosa Mountains. This would be a great spot to enjoy a sunset!

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Joshua Tree N.P. is popular with those from the California cities and on weekends it is quite busy, especially during the winter months. I am not sure how popular the Park would be in the summer because the Southern California deserts can be really hot.

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If you put this place on your bucket list, be sure to bring some sunscreen, water, a hat, and your boots.

Up next, what General Patton saw in this place.

7 thoughts on “Come for the Trees, Stay for the Rocks – Joshua Tree NP

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