Joshua Tree National Park is a desert oasis in southern California. A unique blending of plant and wild life can be found in this blending of two deserts that make up the heart of this park, the Mojave and the Colorado deserts. Many plants and animals are unique to each of these desert landscapes. Most notably, you will find a substantial number of Joshua trees, the park’s namesake, as well as scrub oaks and juniper trees. However, bighorn sheep, greater roadrunner, desert tortoise, and many other desert species of animals and birds are also easily found in Joshua Tree National Park. I saw a coyote in the Hidden Valley picnic area.
There are several good camping spots in Joshua Tree National Park. Hidden Valley and Indian Cove are both excellent places to bed down for a weekend. Black Rock, Indian Cove, and all group sites are the ones that take reservations. All other sites are first come, first served, so it would be a good idea to get there early (by Thursday if it is a holiday weekend or early on Friday afternoon on a regular weekend) or at least call ahead to see how full the camping sites are before you leave.
In the likely event that these locations are full, you might want to consider one of the commercial camping spots around the park. We stayed at Joshua Tree Lake Campgrounds. They allow fires and have running water and clean bathrooms with showers. There is a lake here that can be explored, although don’t expect the exploration to take much more than five minutes. It is more of a pond, but in the middle of a desert, you shouldn’t expect much more. This is an excellent place to bring a telescope. They have an area set up just for astronomers and have some stargazing experts on site.
The national park is very popular for hiking, bouldering, and rock climbing. There are many places around the park with exceptional opportunities to learn and many high places to conquer that will afford you an amazing view of the surrounding area.
Joshua Tree National Park boasts 29 miles of official hiking trails. The two trails that I explored were well-marked and offered a good challenge. The only word of warning I would offer is to make sure you bring enough water. This is a desert, and the air is very dry. The park suggests you bring a gallon of water per person per day, and this is a very good suggestion to follow. I hiked about 5 miles in four hours and drank a half-gallon in November.
The Lost Horse Mine trail was the first trail that I hiked. It was a windy trail with some foliage and other desert greenery, which slowed teetered out as we entered into a burn area. Here there was no plant life (only their charred, blackened remains). The high point of this trail is a late 1800s/early 1900s era gold-processing mill. Made up a few rusted out engine parts, some piping, and a 10-stamp mill to pound big rocks into small particles of dust enclosed by a fence, this is not the high point most people would expect. It was interesting to see this once, but I would be hard-pressed to take this trail again.
Barker Dam trail in the Joshua Tree National Park offered a drastically different outlook to my day of hiking. Surrounded by interesting rock formations and more varied plant life this trail was much more interesting. The way the sun bounced and played with the rocks gave them interesting hues that were quite fascinating. As for the dam, if you are expecting something akin to the Hoover Dam, you will be sorely disappointed. This dam was erected in the Joshua Tree National Park to provide water to the livestock being raised in this area. It is quite very small, and most of the water in the reservoir has evaporated. However, it is still an interesting place to come and look around, especially since it is just a 1.1 mile loop. The most beautiful pictures can be taken around sunset, where you will be able to find colors ranging from red and orange to violet and blue.
If you are out in the park for the day, then make sure you visit Keys View. It is a handicap-accessible viewing area with a 0.25 mile loop. It is an extremely beautiful area, where you can look across the great expanse of the mountains and valleys. From Keys View you can see the San Andres Fault, as it runs through Joshua Tree National Park. Make sure you dress warmly before embarking on this short walk because it is very windy and cold at the top.
Picnicking in Hidden Valley is a wonderful place to take a mid-day break. Surrounded by boulders, it gives the adventurous people many nearby places to explore, and it also is a good place to find shade or sun.
Joshua Tree National Park offers many places for hiking, camping, and picnicking. I look forward to my return here to explore the other trails of this beautiful Southern California desert oasis. Next time, I am going to explore Cottonwood Spring.