A few weeks ago, Erik and I got to explore the Joshua Tree National Park. We stayed in an amazing bed & breakfast (stay tuned for that post) and spent a full day exploring Joshua Tree.
Joshua Tree is located in Southern California, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, just a couple of hours away from San Diego. We rented a car in San Diego and drove there. Let me tell you, people drive terribly there! The freeways had random complete stops for no apparent reason. At least in Florida, when traffic on the interstate screeches to a halt there is some reason, even if it’s just rain, a police car, or rubbernecking! Ugh, it was so nerve wracking to be a passenger on that drive. I was constantly saying “stopping…stopping!!!” My kind husband put up with my craziness, although it was somewhat justified because we had a terrifying moment when everyone locked up their brakes (including us) and I have no idea how there wasn’t an accident as cars drifted into other lanes trying to stop.
Once we got to the desert, I got the same peaceful feeling I always get when I get into nature. The beach, the desert, the mountains…it’s all the same, it just grounds me somehow.
I did some research and discovered that the guidebooks recommend that you stick to the shorter nature walks (one half mile to three miles long) unless you have orienteering experience and a compass. Since we had neither and because I respect the desert, I resisted the urge to go traipsing across the desert on unmarked trails.
The first nature walk we did was Skull Rock and it reaffirmed my decision to stick to the nature walks because even on that we took a wrong turn and ended up at a campground. Now, it was a lucky wrong turn, because I really needed a bathroom break and they had a lovely bathroom (with no lurking cacti!).
I’m used to hiking in the woods, where the trails are very obvious because they are where there are no trees. In the desert, trails are much harder to follow. And you can’t just follow the footprints because they could be very old since it rarely rains.
Skull rock is right next to the trail head and it sure does look like a skull.
The nature trail was surrounded by gorgeous rocks that we were allowed to scramble up and all over. There are great rock formations throughout the park, some of which can only be accessed by experienced climbers with proper equipment. But there are still plenty of rocks that goofballs like us with no experience or equipment were able to climb around on. It was so much fun!
Although the desert was fairly barren compared to the Smokey Mountains, for example, there were still plenty of gorgeous plants and trees.
And of course, there were plenty of these bad boys…Joshua Trees. This is one of the bigger ones, most seemed to be smaller.
After spending an hour or so hiking around Skull Rock, we got back in the car and headed to Hidden Valley. This was a one mile loop with huge boulders and was a cattle rustlers’ hideout, according to legend.
The Park Ranger at the welcome station encouraged us to do this trail and he was certainly right. It was a gorgeous trail with a lot of piles of rocks to climb in, around and on.
Perfect location for a desert selfie.
And more climbing.
And a cool twisty tree.
In this parking lot, we saw our first coyote.
Yes, with all that hiking and scrambling around, we saw a couple of lizards. On the drive in we saw a roadrunner and in the parking lot we saw a coyote. Later that night, when we were leaving, we saw two more coyotes on the road.
After that, it was lunchtime, so we drove out of the park through the Joshua Tree entrance (our bed and breakfast was in Twentynine Palms) and got lunch and headed back to our room for a few hours. Even though it was October, the afternoon out in the desert got fairly warm and we knew we wanted to come back for sunset.
Heading back, we decided to do the Barker Dam one mile hike as our last adventure. This takes you to an old dam built in 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining and it now holds a small amount of water that serves as a gathering place for wildlife, especially the bighorn sheep (mostly after dark).
Here’s sheep poop! Yes, I may like nature a little too much!
More rocks. It really was just gorgeous!
Here’s the dam.
And the other side had a small bit of luxurious plant growth from the moisture. This is also where I got bit by a mosquito. Only me. A mosquito bite in the middle of a desert.
The sun was starting to head down and I wanted to stay in that spot to see the sunset but I was worried about how difficult the trail would be to spot after dark. In retrospect, it was very well marked but I didn’t want to risk it.
We were able to see the petroglyphs before it got dark.
And the last part of the path out went through a nice little “forest” of joshua trees.
And then it was time to say goodnight and goodbye to Joshua Tree National Park.
We drove out through the town of Joshua Tree again and had a great pizza dinner at a little place called Pizza for the People. It was a wonderful, magical day and we enjoyed every minute of it. If you’ve never been to Joshua Tree, you should put it on your list! I wasn’t sure what to expect but I loved it.