Joshua Tree National Park, California
-the Deserts of Southern California-
Joshua Tree National Park-
After leaving Death Valley (Part #1), we headed south towards Joshua Tree National Park. We drove through the Mojave Desert Preserve, stopping to visit the Joshua Tree Forest. The Joshua Tree forest, despite being in the Mojave Preserve, has the largest collection of Joshua Trees anywhere in the world. These are a sub-species of the trees found in Joshua Tree National Park. They are said to be shorter with more limbs than their more southerly cousins.
We also made a brief stop and the Kelso dunes, which offers a nice 1 1/2 hike up and over the dunes. These two stops were the main highlights in the Mojave Preserve, as visually, I did not find it as stunning as Death Valley, with fewer mountains and more scrub creosote bushes and washes.
Our evening destination was to stay outside of Joshua Tree National Park in a town called Twenty-nine Palm. Just north of Twenty-nine Palm, we passed through what seemed like a modern ghost town. Over a a five to seven mile stretch of highway, we passed low-lying ranches and adobe huts that seemed either forlorn or abandoned. There were old cars scattered about, but we saw no humans, farm animals or pets. It seemed eerie and I wondered what industry had once supported the area, but had now seemingly abandoned its residence.
Twenty-nine Palm, however, was a large, military supported town. There was a barber shop with a huge sign saying “Military Cuts.” The town is also known as the “Oasis of Murals,” and, indeed, all through out town there were professionally done murals. Some murals honored the military, some the west, and others the owner of the business it was attached to, often with a large portrait of the owner. One mural showcased the kindly face of a local doctor on its walls. Twenty-nine Palm is a full service town, replete with several chain hotels, a drug store, a liquor store, numerous gas stations. They must also have a large Asian population, relatively speaking, as there were several shops where you could get “Thai Massages” or “Okinawan Massages.”
We settled outside of town at the Twenty-nine Palms RV Resort and Cottages, which was perfect. Our friend, who was following us in her RV, could park her RV across from our nicely appointed one bedroom apartment with full kitchen and living area. The daily rate was $75.00. Very reasonable compared to the Eco-lodge tent, where we had stayed the previous night in Nipton, California. The Eco-lodge tent seemed like a quaint choice. All firewood was supplied,with a walk to some rustic shower facilities. The night had been freezing, even though we had stoked the fire before bed. But the real deal breaker, were the freight trains that came through at regular intervals throughout the night. The train whistle in the distance had seemed quaint, at first, then the freight cars followed. Though the railroad tracks were at least a 100 yards from the tent, the sound of the freight cars echoed inside our tent. They sound like jet engines being revved up for take off. Did I mention that this happened at regular intervals throughout the night! So, needless to say, the RV cottages were a warm, quiet godsend.
Joshua Tree National Park-
Joshua Tree National Park is a small park by southwest standards and the premier sites can be seen during a day’s visit. The most notable part of the park is the northern section between Twenty-nine Palm and the the town of Joshua Tree. Through this section, you witness a landscape unlike the Mojave or Death Valley. There are lots of smooth, jumbled boulders and rounded outcrops scattered around and among the Joshua trees, cholla cactus and yucca shrubs. These ten to fifty foot smooth outcrops of rocks attract rock climbers from around the world to train and test their mettle on these stones. Even though we were there mid-week, there were numerous rock climbers all around.
One notable place for the gathering of Rock climbers was in Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley is a beautiful combination of desert flora and fauna juxtaposed against rust and ocher colored rock faces. They offer a beautifully designed one mile walk that takes you around and in and among the rocks, trees, cactus and shrubs. We visited this park during the day and loved it so much that we returned that evening for a sunset photo shoot. Besides Hidden Valley, you can make stops at the Old Woman Rock, The Giant Marbles, The Hall of Horrors, The Jumbo Rocks, several offering trails around and through them.
If you decide to camp within the park, their are numerous camp site locations. And judging by the number of sites we drove in and through, Joshua Tree, at certain times of year, must be a really bustling place.
Cholla Cactus Garden-
Another not to miss place is the the Cholla Cactus Garden. The Cholla Garden is on the spur trail of Rt 10 heading south out of the park. It is about 10 miles from the Junction of Highway 62, on Pinto Basin Road. Though not immense in size, I found this place to be another magical desert anomaly. Scientist are not quite sure why these 15 or so acres are covered with the immensely charming Cholla Cactus. They are not found in this mass anywhere else within the park or within in the world. There is an easy 1/4 mile trail walk that lets you meander in and through the garden. I was so taken with the charm of the cactus that I returned that evening trying to capture there charm against the night sky, using light painting to highlight their forms.
The next day we headed south and east out of the park via route 10 stopping to read the information boards along the way. It had been an interesting 10 days in the Southern California deserts, starting with Death Valley and ending with Joshua Tree. The major aspect of the Southwest that never ceases to amaze me is that within the span of, only maybe a 100 miles, the geology of each unique site can be so completely different than that of the previous place.
I just don’t know if there is any place on earth that is as Geologically and magically diverse as the American Southwest.