April 17th, 23rd and 24th 2016.
Ross and I arrived in Twentynine Palms, a mile from the Joshua Tree National Park entrance, on a Sunday. We had made our escape from the Phoenix heat around dusk on Saturday, making it to a Walmart parking in western Arizona by 10, and only a short drive into California remaining the next day. We arrived less exhausted when we split a trip up that way. We pulled into Twentynine Palms RV Resort right before checkin time and unpacked quickly – settled in the pets, made a picnic, and headed for the park as quickly as we could. We had taken a 5 mile hike in the desert outside Phoenix the day before and were getting back into the hiking mood after our long winter. Before that, Page, Arizona, had still been a mix of cold or really windy while we were there, and in Phoenix, we were busy with Arizona Bike Week.
We drove in to the park blind, as usual, accidentally passing a couple of things before finding a picnic area while I struggled to take it all in and somehow look at the map – not entirely possible. Once I peeled my eyes away from the scenery, we stopped at Live Oak picnic area, started at the joshua trees and climbed as far up the rocks as we felt we could safely do while carrying a cooler and camera. We found a hidden shady area between some rocks, kept an eye out for rattle snakes, and ate our food like goblins.
After, we went across the road to Split Rock trail, which starts with..you guessed it, a split rock! The size of a two-story house – but next to it is a 2.5 mile trail, with a 1/2 mile optional diversion to Face Rock. The air was fairly cool, and from the entrance to the loop we took, there was no indication of how long it was, so we didn’t take water…on a more planned day we would have, but we were just happy to be out of the truck. Luckily we didn’t end up regretting it or feel the need to turn back. The trail had only some minor inclines, occasional rock stairs and the like. There isn’t much shade but the temps were only in the 70s and wind refreshing.
Nearly every cactus was in bloom, which was a major bonus! The desert is always beautiful to me but especially when the colorful cactus blooms are all around. We also saw an array of strange plants and flowers, not just the Joshua Tree. Desert Chia, Pencil Cholla, Desert Mariposa, Creosote, Smoke Tree, and Silver Cholla.
Split Rock Hike:
With the rare occasion where we make plans, my best friend from high school got some time off work and drove from Santa Ana (near L.A.) to hang out with us and visit Joshua Tree for a couple days! She arrived on Friday evening after work and after a short rest, we headed out to a great place she recommended in the town of Joshua Tree, a little way down the road. We had a great meal, walked around Joshua Tree, a cute little desert hippie town, had a beer at a saloon – that was somehow more country than some we’ve seen in Texas, honky-tonk and cowboy hats abound – followed by poking our heads in an antique shop having a private show where everyone was dressed like 70s hipsters. We still got to bed at a decent time and Ross had some bike work to do, so the next day me and Lisa headed out into the park by ourselves – for FREE mind you because it was National Park Week!
Skull Rock Hike:
This is a rock shaped like a skull – as you may have guessed. Unfortunately I found it way more interesting from the road than from the hiking trail where you end up too close to really get a picture of it. However the trail was nice, starting in Jumbo Rocks campground. We kind of found it by accident while being nosy about the campground but as usual, being nosy work out well for us – Lisa and I have a long history of poking around places we shouldn’t be.
Lisa saw a beautiful gigantic lizard on a log, who amazingly stayed long enough for some photos. Looking it up online, it was too beautiful to be a Desert Iguana so I went with Leopard Lizard.
Hidden Valley Trail:
After Skull Rock, we went to check out Hidden Valley, an apparent favorite of rock climbers as we saw plenty on the cliffs and hiking with mats and gear. It made me want to get into rock climbing like me and Ross have talked about, but we can’t really justify a bunch more gear and another expensive hobby just now – we have to regularly thin out our collection of toys as it is.
This trail was super easy, just a mile, but pretty and mostly shaded due to the rocks on all sides of at least part of it. Definitely a well used trail, but a nice one.
After that, we were hungry and returned yet again to the cafe in Joshua Tree. After, we walked around town, visiting some of the shops and spending money on gifts (ok, mainly I did the spending), returning to the RV before dark.
Arch Rock Hike:
On Sunday, Ross joined us and we decided to go the other way in the park, towards the south entrance. We stopped at White Tank Campground and hiked the Arch Rock trail. This was another easy trail that led to the arch in no time at all, but also a myriad of strange crevasse filled rock formations.
We watched other hikers get their picture taken, then had some cliché photos of our own taken via Lisa, who had better ideas for photos of herself in that awesome scenery.
Cholla Garden and Ocatillo Patch:
The Cholla garden was amazing and truly surreal, a winding path, gladly a good distance from the cholla plants, because… they do attack (I’ve been hit three times in the last month).
The Ocatillo Patch was less amazing, not because Ocatillo plants aren’t amazing, because they’re one of my favorites, but because there was no trail, only a parking area and the Ocatillo trees(?) didn’t seem to be doing to well, only a couple were blooming and many were dead. Sad because if they all die, there didn’t seem to be any younger ones to replace them. There were healthier ones on our next trail however.
Lost Oasis Trail:
Probably my favorite hike in the park, was the portion of Lost Oasis Trail that we hiked. I had never seen an Oasis before, and they are exactly as advertised, and completely real. I had half expected it to have been a term used lightly for places that exist in Arabian Nights, but not a place I would most definitely live if offered the chance. Water flowed, creatures flourished, and shade from the hot sun was common. If you look from image one to three in the gallery below, it’s amazing to think that they are literally just opposite direction of each other. A “barren” and harsh desert, though its plants and animals well suited, and a lush jungle oasis on either side. We never made it to Lost Oasis, or a gold mine that was along the way, the heat was getting to be a bit much and we were all getting too much sun. However we found many things to appreciate along the way. I was attacked by two kinds of cholla cacti while going off trail for photos, even if only a foot or two, BAM, hooked into my leg with a lovely barb, a jumping cholla with all the cholla plants feet away. One of them was a Pencil Cholla, the worst of the two. They not only barb into you with one of their long hooks, but once you try to remove it, it shoots a bunch of little invisible hairs at you. I didn’t know this until later, so my ankle just felt like it was having an allergic reaction to the hook. I had removed two teddy bear Cholla jumpers in the past week and had no marks or after-pain, but this was awful. Later that day Ross had to spend a few minutes removing the tiny hairs with tweezers.
The entire visit to Joshua Tree was amazing and we learned a lot about the desert. I’m glad we finally got to see it and Lisa, who I hadn’t seen in nearly 7 years! Luckily she’s visiting again for a tour of the redwood parks all along the coast from San Francisco upwards for Labor Day weekend.