What are Joshua trees and what’s the big fuss about them?
“In Southern California, just outside of Palm Springs, the Mojave and Colorado deserts combine in Joshua Tree National Park. A variety of animals and plants – including the iconic Joshua Tree for which the park is named – make their homes in the desert ecosystem, and it’s also a terrific playground for humans.” (USAToday)
The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Driving down from the bay area, the hubby and I decided to do something different this holiday season. The weekend of NYE, we packed up the pups in the car along with a bunch of warm blankets and sweaters and decided to road-trip through Souther California, take a pitstop at Laguna Beach and then camp couple days in Joshua Tree national park. We wanted to arrive in the Yucca valley early evening so we could catch the sunset at Black Rock Canyon and then set up camp for the night. A few things to keep in mind – this is the desert. Its gorgeous, but it is unforgiving. So come prepared – physically, mentally and logistically.
Where to stay:
As most campers do, you can choose to stay either in the middle of the Mohave desert or inside the national park itself. The campgrounds are wonderfully equipped and make for perfect spots for capturing the desert sky with silhouettes of the Arch rock and Joshua trees.Us, on the other hand, decided to take the adventurous route – since we had dogs we us, we couldn’t camp inside the park, so we decided to setup camp in the middle of (nowhere) in the desert off highway Twentynine Palms!
We rented a camper from airbnb which was equipped with basic necessities, but most importantly it had a Stargaze bed!!! It was ofcourse risky, since we were camping amidst rattle snakes and wild animals with no signs of human life for miles away, but it was well worth it!
The desert is beautiful! Relentless and Cruelly cold! But the night sky was sparkling and all we could think about was how lucky we were to be able to spend the night with out pups by our side, under layers of blankets, only a campfire keeping us warm, playing monopoly 🙂 The whole experience was surreal.
Where to eat:
As you approach the Yucca valley, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars for a night cap. There are also stores open till late if you want to pick up firewood and essentials for the night!
We decided to spend our evening at Joshua Tree Saloon – Burgers, steaks, seafood & sandwiches served in a quirky joint with pool, darts & an Old West vibe- possibly one of the most popular joints in the area.The pups, hubs and I stayed out in their patio under the pretty cafe lights and heaters till we were ready to call it a night!
Places to see:
We planned to catch sunset at Black Rock Canyon, and then hit Joshua tree saloon for dinner and drinks before we settled in for the night.
Black Rock Canyon:
A great place to catch the sunset with views of Joshua trees outside the national park, Black Rock Canyon is a great place to catch the sunset. You don’t need to really hike but if you’d like there’s a short 1.3 mile trail that takes you through the vegetation and give you wonderful views of the desert.
Barker Dam Loop visits a small foreign-looking reservoir within the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park . Only a short 1.5 mile trail take you through Tall mounds of boulders rise on either side, and then suddenly, the trail emerges along the shore of a small blue lake. The stagnant waters look out of place in this desert landscape, but the site is quite calm and worthy of a relaxing break from trekking in the desert.
Wonderland of Rocks:
Boulder Maze is what it is! Millions of years of tectonic uplift, weathering, and erosion created the maze of monzogranite boulders in the Wonderland of Rocks section of Joshua Tree National Park. Wherever you look in this region, your mind is dazzled by oversized loaf-like stacks of rocks, by boulders arranged in columns and spires, or by huge granite domes.
Perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Keys View offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Coachella Valley and is well worth the 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard down Keys View Road. The pups were dying to bolt down the rocks and my heart skipped multiple beats 🙂
Over the years, as rocks eroded, more water accumulated, leading to more erosion until, as time passed, two hollowed-out eye sockets formed and the rock began to resemble a skull. Located along the main east-west park road, Skull Rock is a popular spot, if you’re into exploring gigantic skulls 🙂
One of the many stunning rock formations, the Arch Rock was probably my fav – especially coz I took take my dogs up this short single-track that provides a side-view of Arch Rock, and a few steps off trail puts hikers right below the rock span. Climb right up and touch it if you like. Arch Rock is about 30-feet across and shaped somewhat like a brontosaurus. Though certainly not in the same league as the spans in Arches National Park, Arch Rock is still a fascinating formation.I forgot to snap a picture at Arch Rock with the dogs and all, but here’s a picture from the hike back down 🙂
Cholla Cactus Garden:
“Cholla Cactus Garden is one of Joshua Tree National Park’s one-of-a-kind features. Located at the merger of the upper Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert, this level quarter-mile loop provides access to an intense concentration of cholla cacti.Perhaps the cutest cactus on the planet, the cholla has been nicknamed the teddy bear cactus, but this is one teddy bear you do not want to hug! The cactus is covered in spines that will latch in to your skin on the slightest touch. This defense mechanism is effective for desert survival but can create an unpleasant experience for those who don’t stick to the trail.” (Hikespeak)
This was possibly my most favorite but also the most annoying spots in Joshua Tree National Park. The cacti are adorably also called the Jumping Cholla. “The “jumping cholla” name comes from the ease with which the stems detach when brushed, giving the impression that the stem jumped. Often the merest touch will leave a person with bits of cactus hanging on their clothes to be discovered later when either sitting or leaning on them.
The ground around a mature plant will often be covered with dead stems, and young plants are started from stems that have fallen from the adult. They attach themselves to desert animals and are dispersed for short distances.” This is entirely true! I had cactus spines all over my dress and I had to discard the dress after the shoot! I’m so glad I kept my golden retriever inside the car, else we’d have to shave him clean! lol
In the past Joshua trees were found in the Cottonwood spring oasis area. After dramatic climate change at the end of the last ice age, this region became too hot and dry for them to survive.
Spotting Joshua Trees:
Today Joshua trees only live in the Mohave Desert, which is located in the northern portion of Joshua Tree National Park. The density of these trees vary across the desert, but in my opinion I found the most beautiful sights of Joshua trees driving by the Wonderland of rocks across Barker Dam.
All in all, Joshua Tree national Park is any Hiker’s dream. With 191 miles of hiking trails and 32 trailheads, there are plenty of places to explore during your time in Joshua Tree National Park. Whether you’ve scheduled time for a quick nature trail walk, a long, strenuous hike, or want to be out all day, you’ll find those types of trails and more within the park
For us, we wanted to get away from the crazy hustle of our daily lives in the city, watch the sun set over the last days of 2017 and spend some honest time with one another. It was everything and more than we expected 🙂