Joshua Tree National Park –
was only an hour away. We’d checked on that before our departure from La Quinta. It was late in the afternoon by the time we finished our house sit, and we set off on our way to Nevada by way of Joshua Tree and the one campground at the southern end of the park.
What we didn’t factor into the equation was that Interstate 40 had road construction. That’s on top of heavy truck traffic, and we felt the severe effects. Boy, did we hit traffic!
It’s an awful feeling being stuck on a road with no off ramps and no way to get away. You have to wait it out, that’s all there is to it. At least it was winter so hot weather wasn’t a factor. The one-hour trip turned into an ordeal – twice as long if anything.
Finally, we saw this sign and inched our way towards it, thank goodness. We entered the park in the pitch dark. Thankfully, we knew where the campground was and easily found a place to put our tent and went right to sleep.
This park is famous as a great place to see stars: dark, no pollution, etc. That wasn’t to happen this night – too much cloud cover. Maybe another time?
It’s a New Day
In the morning, we got a glimpse of our surroundings. Okay, this is what it looks like here – not very attractive. Oh, by the way, this was the first time we’d used our new tent. We forgot to share that news when it happened.
My daughter flew up to Oregon for a visit, and we went shopping at REI! She graciously offered to fulfill a wish list we’d been creating. We filled the cart with a two-burner propane camp stove, wool leggings, wool top, and down slippers for me. Also a rain jacket for Jim.
She also purchased the four-person tent – with a fly that goes down to the ground! When I bought our first tent, I didn’t know the importance of that fly. Lots of rainy nights later, we were ecstatic and ever so grateful.
Okay, back to the story. After packing all our stuff up, we began the drive through the park, glad to get into the car given how cold it was outside. Our intention was to cross the park and then continue eastward on smaller roads over to Laughlin.
For those who don’t know, most of the national parks have one main road that goes through the park. They have short spur roads off the main road to specific places, but you’re not making a loop, you’re driving through, that’s it.
At This Point –
It seems relevant to share that neither of us had ever had any draw towards the desert as such. You can’t live in Los Angeles and not know about Joshua Tree National Park, but neither of us had ever visited or thought much about doing so. In other words, we didn’t think we’d enjoy our time there but wanted to see what it was like and check a National Park off our list.
The campground at the southern entrance is quite far away from the rest of the park. We had to drive north for at least 30 minutes before we saw anything of any interest.
I had to take a photo, come on! Someone had fun naming that wash. It’s kind of like streets – each one needs a name. There are washes throughout the western states, and every single gully has to have a name even if it only gets wet once a year. It’s good to know someone, somewhere has a sense of humor.
Okay, back in the car until we saw these plants in another wash. Another photo opp – aren’t they cool!
We didn’t have a park brochure or map at that point, so we didn’t know what was coming up or where the best spots were to stop. That meant winging it, which is fine, too. I now know this was the Ocotillo Patch.
Cholla Cactus Garden
After another short drive, we saw signs for the Cholla Cactus Garden and parked our car. We found this little ‘puff’ right away – actually, it found Jim’s shoe. Okay, now we know not to touch anything like that unless we want to take it with us for a while. They were all about the same size and looked soft even though we knew they weren’t – on close inspection, the spikes betray their appearance.
I found out later that these plants have a nickname – Jumping Cholla – given their tendency to attach to passersby. At least Jim wasn’t the only one to catch a hitch-hiker!
We both fell in love with these plants and began walking the trail. Aren’t they beautiful? Too bad we missed the flowering stage!
These plants fill quite a large area and then abruptly stop and there’s nothing but sand and stubble.
I truly don’t know why I think they are beautiful, but I do.
Yes, we finally got back in the car and continued the westward journey. First, I had to get a photo of this lovely specimen.
Oh, look! A Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park. We were beginning to wonder where they were all hiding. You don’t see many on the southeast end of the park.
I added the photo below solely because the plant is so ugly. Sorry, but I can’t see the point of that plant: the pointed spikes, yes, but not the point.
Now, It’s Getting Good!
You bet we parked the car and started walking when we saw this! They were off the main road a bit east of Jumbo Rocks Campground. I used my telephoto lens for some of the photos, and while it makes it easier to see, it distorts the size a bit. These were not small stones, that top rock was about 200 feet above the trail.
Since we had started out early, there wasn’t another car or human in sight, and we began exploring. This area was along the main road and had no designation or name.
These are massive stones, each impressive enough by itself; together they are remarkable and oddly peaceful.
If you look very carefully at the photo below, you can see Jim. He’s a black blob just below the center and off to the left. See him? That’s how big those rocks are!
The Best Part – No Snakes!
It was winter, in the low 30’s first thing in the morning. This area is prime snake country, and signs say as much everywhere you stop. We didn’t have to worry about that. Jim, in particular, felt at ease. He has a thing about snakes. But we could wander around with no concern on that end of things.
The scientists will have to explain how all these shapes came to be; we can’t. We just know they were fascinating. Climbing up into the hills revealed unusual forms at every turn.
They don’t get but a few inches of rain a year, so most of the erosion comes from the wind. We blew on a few of those rocks and not much happened, giving a hint of how long it’s taken to get things looking like this, and yet peeling off the mountaintops to reveal these rocks in the first place. It gives one pause.
The Other Side of the Road
We went across the road for more – it was fun. In a way, the area is very lifeless and from another standpoint full of life and fascinatingly beautiful.
Even the dead trees added something of their own. There is not much going on here, at least not much very fast. This tree sprouted, grew up to its full height (about 30 feet), lived its whole life, died, and has been hanging around like this for who knows how long. Things are pretty slow in the desert.
In some places, it looks like someone used mortar to try and stack these rocks up high. How did that happen?
More mortar! We know, not really, but it does look like that.
The rock you see below was huge. That pool of water was higher than my head. We had to climb on another huge rock to see it.
This area is where all the water that comes this way ends up. It collects and rushes through here, clearing out small rocks and leaving a smooth path for folks to walk on – and coyotes.
You don’t have to look far to see where the water goes when it does, that is: that’s where the trees live. In other places, the plants don’t get more than waist high.
Sometimes the desert holds treasures, and this is certainly a place full of those. Now we know what we’d missed all these years. We both loved it here, and can’t wait to return for a more in-depth visit.
It’s Time to Go
Coincidentally, just before heading into the Park we heard a radio interview with U2, their famous Joshua Tree album having been released 30 years prior.
It seems their photographer loved this park and while the band was recording in Los Angeles, encouraged a visit. Result? They loved the area (who wouldn’t?) choosing photos from the visit for the album cover, indeed, even the name. We came to understand why. This place has a rare kind of appeal, all its own.
Farewell, Joshua Tree National Park! We’re quite sure we’ll return soon. We have more exploring to do up in those hills!
What’s Next – a few days in Nevada
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