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.
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.
But finally we reached the Cholla Cactus Garden parking lot! And boy were there an absolute TON of cholla.
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!
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!
After gawking at the huge Joshua Trees, we set off for some distant rock formations on our way to find Arch Rock.
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.
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!