Joshua Tree National Park, California

March 17-18, 2019

Less than an hour’s drive from Palm Springs sits a very unique National Park. The Joshua Tree National Park, named for the iconic twisted trees, is truly a wonderful experience. We headed out early (highly recommended) because by 10AM, the entrances to the park have car lines that can reach more than a mile. We got there around 8:30 with no lines to speak off and very cool weather (We prefer hiking in cooler temperatures, especially in the desert). Our first stop, as always, was the visitor center where we picked up a map and recommendations on how to best use our time in the park. The price of admission is $30 per car and again confirmed how valuable our Senior national park pass has been, a minimal, one time investment we made several years ago that has paid for itself in a big way. In this park, it allowed us to bypass the entrance line as they had an express lane for park pass holders.


Like most National Parks, it is easy to drive through, with interesting stops along the way and exhibits which you can see from the road if you are not into hiking, but we were ready to hike. Our first destination was the Barker Dam hike, which is an easy 1.5 mile loop through a rock valley which passes by a dam that was built by cattle ranchers in the early 1900’s to collect rainwater. It was a beautiful hike and we even saw petroglyphs on some of the canyon walls, evidence of the migratory paths of native Americans. Some of the pictures still had vivid colors after hundreds of years, they were beautiful to behold and totally unexpected on this hike.

As you exit this canyon you are now in what is referred to as the Joshua Tree Forest. The trees here are called the “Tree of Life” because in this inhospitable desert climate, the trees provides resources for both humans and animal life. Native Americans used its fibers to make sandals and baskets and animals of all kinds feed from the trees. Even in death the dead trunk provides a home for scorpions, snakes and lizards and eventually termites return it to the desert to enrich the soil. They have an otherworldly quality to them and it is beautiful to see them in mass as far as the eye can see.

Our next stop was Hidden Valley, which is rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers. This hike takes you on a 1 mile loop with a bit of a climb through beautiful rock formations. From there we drove for several miles in search of the famous “Skull Rock”. For this objective we didn’t do our research very well as the park map shows this rock can be clearly seen from the road, but somehow after discussing the trail with a hiker who had just completed the hike and “saw” the famous rock, we headed on the wrong trailhead and after hiking for about 45 minutes, we realized we were just going for a hike to nowhere fast. Anyways, no big loss we got an extra walk in and did a bit of climbing, and after getting back to the Jeep, we looked at the map real carefully, and figured out our mistake.

Now back to “ Skull Rock”, this is a giant rock formation in the shape of a skull. When you get there off the main park road (and not hard to miss since there are lots of people everywhere and others trying to figure out where to park their cars off the road) you need to wait and catch a moment when kids are not climbing into the “eye sockets” in order to take a picture. But it was fun and we got our picture, (no we didn’t crawl into the “eye sockets”), I highly recommend it.

After taking a break to have a bite to eat (Trader Joe’s teriyaki turkey jerky, we are hooked on this “delicacy”) and a bit of a rest we headed to the highest point in the park. This area is called Keys Point, once you get there you are treated to 360 degree panoramic views of the Coachella Valley on one side and the Mojave desert on the other. You can see for miles from up here and we spotted Palm Springs and the Salton Sea, 35 miles away (a lake directly on top of the San Andreas fault that is 250 feet below sea level) one of the curiosity attractions we didn’t get to see on this trip, but we will hopefully return here and see that too.


I mentioned this park is unique and our next stop was that and more. The Cholla Cactus Garden is the weirdest garden stroll I’ve ever been on. These cactuses look fuzzy and cuddly from afar, they are affectionately called by the locals, teddy bear cactuses, but when you get up close you see the menacing spikes which reminds me of the nursery rhyme. “ Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t Fuzzy was he”. They have plenty of warning signs not to touch, to keep a healthy distance from them and to stay on the trail, but there is a real fascination of walking through these really nasty fellows.

There were a couple of things we didn’t get to do, much to Leo’s chagrin. One of them was a 4 wheel drive through a desert path called the “Geology Tour”, the 4×4 trail had been washed out by the recent rains but Leo’s loss was my gain because the rains have brought on a Super Bloom in the desert which is a very rare event. We stopped to admire the wildflowers and it is a sight to remember. I know we will return to this area, god willing, and Joshua Tree will be a most do stop for us, we truly enjoyed our day.

Another enjoyable hike near our resort is the Henderson Trail in the San Jacinto Mountain National monument which is in Palm Desert. We took this delightfully hike the next day and would highly recommend it. Meticulously maintained by the local Girl Scouts, the trail meanders high above the Coachella valley for a 2.7 mile loop with about a 1000 foot elevation gain. This trail was overflowing with wildflowers, a truly beautiful walk though nature’s garden. I’ll leave you with a few videos from our hikes. We will miss Palm Springs and the surrounding areas but are now very excited for our next adventure, Death Valley, we can’t wait!

One thought on “Joshua Tree National Park, California

  1. Lovely photo’s Leo. The ‘superbloom’ made news here in the UK with reports of thousands of visitors and long traffic jams. After seeing skull rock are you sure you are in Coachella Valley and not Roswell?


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