The Park: Joshua Tree is a huge national park in Southern California containing two deserts, the Colorado and the Mojave. The famous Joshua Trees grow in the Mojave, which is higher elevation and in the north-western portion of the park. Since it’s a desert, their busy season is in the winter, October through May, rather than usual summer busy season.
Once you get there, you’ll find a good number of campsites, and most are first come first served. The park is $15 to enter, and camping is $10-$15 a night. At the park, there are great places to hike, road or mountain bike, and rock climb. The NW corner of the park, with most campsites, and many exhibits and small nature trail “hikes”, was especially great to experience on a bike. It’s 65 miles from the Black Rock Canyon in the NE corner to the Cottonwood Visitor’s Center on the south side of the park. Water is available at only a few locations in the park, so you’ll want to make sure you have enough on the way in.
After leaving San Diego and passing Anza Borrego and the Salton Sea, we arrived in Joshua Tree. (Here’s the post on the hike we did at Anza-Borrego in case you missed it yesterday.) We spent one night there enjoying the unique and surreal landscape on bikes and on foot before heading on to climb Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs.
We entered the park on the south side, and planned to drive across the park on the way to find a campsite. The coolest place we stopped was the Cholla Cactus garden, which is still in the Colorado Desert. These cacti grow all over the park, but are highly concentrated in this area. They’re nicknamed “teddy bear” chollas since they look so soft, but we were warned not to get close as the spines are dangerous.
We tried the Happy Valley campground on a ranger’s recommendation and were not disappointed. The campsite has tons of very large boulders and shrubs, which were nice wind breaks. We’ve gotten a ton of wind in all our desert camping, especially when the sun goes down and it starts to get cold.
Since our campsite was near to other attractions, we saddled up and took a slow ~15 mile bike ride around a loop in the park. I was surprised how thickly the Joshua trees grow at some points. I expected a desert and saw more of a forest. They really can take on any shape.
One dirt road, in the Queen Valley, apparently has the largest Joshua Tree in the park. While we may in fact have seen that tree, we looked at a lot of pretty large Joshua Trees and I am convinced the nice ranger who recommended this loop was just messing with me.
We also had a quick stop off for a moderately strenuous ~3 mile hike up to Ryan’s Mountain. We had fantastic panoramic views of the park there, and the sunset, though we did finish our ride home in the dark. At least our bikes have lights (Thanks, Mom!).
The next morning, by about 9am we could tell it was going to be a scorcher, so… we took off. Sometimes I feel like a little bit like the three bears, searching for a park that’s not too hot or too cold. While we would’ve loved to stay and explore more, we are just too delicate for that kind of heat. I expect we’ll keep doing that this summer as we keep seeking the perfect place to camp.
The park, along with many of the parks we saw in Utah, is famous for rock climbing but I still haven’t been able to convince Adam that ropes, pulleys, and helmets are a fun way to get up a mountain.
Here’s a few more of my favorite shots we took at the park, brought to you by the city of San Francisco’s incredibly fast internet.