Joshua Tree National Park: Day One | California | 02/13/20

I’m finally caught up on all of my old hiking posts and I’m so excited to share our amazing California/Arizona adventure with all of you! We mostly focused on shorter hikes so that we could see as much as possible during our trip, so I’ve tried to combine a few hikes into each post instead of creating individual posts. Hopefully you can still take the time to read through or look at the pictures. Enjoy!

This was Kyle’s and my first “real” vacation. We always tend to plan our vacations around staying with friends and family, or we’ll do quick overnight camping trips. We’ve never taken a week off to get away just the two of us, and I have to say that we really enjoyed it!

We woke up early on February 13th, I’m talking 3:30 am early. We’d booked an early flight so we’d have time to actually do things once we arrived. By 10 am, we’d driven to Denver, flown to Phoenix, picked up our rental car, stopped to say a quick hello to our dear friend Nicolette, and were on our way to California! The 3.5 hour drive went by quickly in anticipation of visiting a new state (for me) and a new national park (for both of us)! We turned into the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, got our iconic picture in front of the park sign and…wait, where are the Joshua Trees!?

We stopped at the Cottonwood Visitor Center to grab a map and check out the exhibits. Joshua Tree National Park is more than 1,200 square miles and contains a portion of two different deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado. The southern portion of the park (where we were) is in the Colorado Desert. The Joshua Tree only grows in the Mojave Desert and the nearest specimen is 30 miles north. Someone didn’t do their research! (Someone is me.) Never mind, I like all ecosystems regardless of whether they contain the park’s namesake tree. So we decided to continue with the original plan, slowly following the park road north and stopping along the way to take pictures, hike, and enjoy the afternoon.

Cottonwood Spring | Joshua Tree National Park

Twentynine Palms, CA | 02/13/20 | ~0.2 miles | ~25′ gain

Our first stop was Cottonwood Spring. This is a short, easy walk down to a fan palm oasis. This spring had been used by humans for centuries as a water source and campsite. When miners came to the area in the late 1800s, the water had a new use and was pumped to nearby mines.

Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa): the seed pods ( aka “beans”) were used as a food source by the Cahuilla tribe and either eaten raw or dried & ground into flour.
California Palm (Washingtonia filifera)

In a few minutes we were at Cottonwood [Spring], among shady trees and with excellent water in abundance. – J. Smeaton Chase

We didn’t see any water during our visit, but it was easy to see that water is available most of the year.

A number of additional trails continue on from Cottonwood Spring but it was sadly time for us to move on in our pursuit of the Joshua Tree.

Cholla Cactus Garden | Joshua Tree National Park

Twentynine Palms, CA | 02/13/20 | ~0.25 miles | ~6′ gain

Our next destination was the Cholla Cactus Garden (doesn’t that just SOUND fun!?) but we made a few impromptu stops before that. The road through the southern section of the park is fun because there are so many exhibits and overlooks along the way. We were constantly stopping to read a sign or take a picture.

Pinto Mountain (3,983′) and the Colorado Desert
Patch of Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) in front of the Hexie Mountains

But finally we reached the Cholla Cactus Garden parking lot! And boy were there an absolute TON of cholla.

I think this picture speaks for itself. We laughed so hard, but I also made sure not to touch the cholla because I didn’t want to be the person who had to use the parking lot pliers!

This is another short and easy trail. Our friends the cholla extended as far as we could see in every direction as we wound our way around the loop. Even though this was a quick stop, I definitely think this is a must-do!

Teddybear Cholla aka Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)
Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)
Cholla skeleton

Arch Rock | Joshua Tree National Park

Twentynine Palms, CA | 02/13/20 | ~1.2 miles | ~88′ gain

Somewhere along the way to our next stop, we transitioned from Colorado to Mojave Desert and saw our first Joshua Tree!

Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia): not a tree at all, but a yucca!? I had no idea.

After gawking at the huge Joshua Trees, we set off for some distant rock formations on our way to find Arch Rock.

Do you see what I see? (Bottom center!) Desert Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus deserticola)

The Arch Rock trail is totally flat until you reach the rock formations, and even then is not very difficult. One interesting thing about Joshua Tree is that you’re allowed to go off trail and climb on the formations so there were people scrambling all over the place! Kind of weird to me but it all worked out to get the best view of Arch Rock.

An interesting rock formation called a “dike” is formed in rock fractures while beneath the surface of the Earth. The dike is made up of rock that is more resistant to erosion than the surrounding rock, so it juts out. You can see it in the above picture as it extends from the bottom center to the distant boulder top center.
Arch Rock
A super quick stop at Skull Rock before heading to our final destination!

Keys View | Joshua Tree National Park

Twentynine Palms, CA | 02/13/20 | ~0.25 miles | ~19′ gain

Now that the sun was getting ready to go down, we planned one final stop before heading to town to find our hotel and dinner. Keys View is a really beautiful overlook, I imagine it’s even more beautiful on a clear day. It was starting to get cold, so we only spent a few minutes at the overlook before following the short loop back to the car.

An awesome first day at Joshua Tree!


24 thoughts on “Joshua Tree National Park: Day One | California | 02/13/20

  1. What a wonderful destination for your first real vacation, Chelsea. The desert landscape and plants are so fascinating, but I wouldn’t want to be there in July or August! You picked the right time of year to visit.


  2. Pingback: Colorado Chelsea – 100th Blog Post – Colorado Chelsea

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