After a fun morning at Amboy Crater and lunch on base at Twentynine Palms, Kyle and I headed back into Joshua Tree National Park for the afternoon. There were a number of trails on the north side of the park that I was interested in and we figured we’d just work our way through and get to as many as we could before sundown.
Oasis of Mara | Joshua Tree National Park
Twentynine Palms, CA | 02/14/20 | 0.63 miles | 23′ gain
Our first stop was the Oasis Visitor Center and Oasis of Mara trail. This was a small visitor center but we enjoyed the gardens with different species of cacti identified. We spent the rest of the trip looking for these species in the wild. The Oasis of Mara trail was very short (and the only paved trail in the park) but we found it to be pretty disappointing. Of all the trails we hiked in our three days in Joshua Tree, this was the only one I wouldn’t recommend.
The Oasis of Mara trail heads across the desert to a fan palm oasis. The Serrano are the first known tribe to have lived here and they named it Mar-rah which means “little springs and much grass”. I’m sure that was an apt description before their departure in 1913, but when the gold miners, ranchers, and homesteaders pushed them out, their demand for water was more than this Mar-rah could keep up with. By the 1940s, the springs were dried up and the National Park Service was forced to pipe in water to keep the oasis plants and animals alive.
“I do not know who owns the land, and, what is of more account, the water; but when I come on these abandoned settlements of the Indians, at places where they would no doubt have wished to remain, I take them for links in an old but still lengthening chain of wrong.” – J. Smeaton Chase
Although this oasis wasn’t my favorite, I was by no means deterred from visiting other oases so it was on to the next one!
Fortynine Palms Oasis | Joshua Tree National Park
Twentynine Palms, CA | 02/14/20 | 3.36 miles | 667′ gain
The Fortynine Palms Oasis was supposed to be super cool so I was eager to visit. It was a bit of a harder hike than the Oasis of Mara so I assumed (rightfully so) that it would be much more scenic.
The trail to Fortynine Palms Oasis starts off moderately steep and heads 350′ up into the desert mountains.
When you reach the crest of the ridge, you can see the oasis in the distance, nestled away in a canyon. The trail descends from here 300′ down to the oasis (and then of course you have to climb back up on the way out!)
Of course the entire point of this hike is to visit Fortynine Palms Oasis, but the scenery along the way was interesting as well! Rugged hillsides were dotted with red barrel cactus and rock formations jutted out from hilltops.
We seemed to be some of the few people not struggling on this hike. I think hiking at altitude had prepared me for this moment…I could actually breathe! And I even passed people…going UP! This may have been my proudest moment.
But back to the oasis, we were getting so close! We could see it in the distance ever since we crested the ridge, and it was fun to watch as we walked closer and closer.
Finally we arrived! We explored the area a bit to find a spot away from other people. It was pretty busy and one group was being extremely loud. But we found a spot behind a large boulder where we could rest for a few minutes and listen to the tree frogs singing.
This oasis was really beautiful, I don’t think my pictures do it justice. The palms, water, tree frogs…and all surrounded by desert was something to behold. I didn’t count the palms, but it looked like there were more than fortynine.
“The inward fever of body and brain seems quenched almost as soon as one reclines under the shade of the oasis.” – George Warton Jones
When it was finally time to leave, we made quick work of the 300′ climb and subsequent descent back to the car. Now THIS is one oasis I’d definitely recommend!
Indian Cove | Joshua Tree National Park
Twentynine Palms, CA | 02/14/20 | 0.77 miles | 69′ gain
By the time we reached our next destination, it was nearly sunset. We only had a little more time before it would be dark, so we quickly set out to try to fit in one more trail. The Indian Cove trail is an interpretive trail providing information about how the native people used the area’s plants and animals for food, medicine, and supplies. The amount of information provided was immense but I do want to share a few tidbits with you that I found interesting.
The trail loops around the cove and into a wash, describing plants and animals along the way.
Jojoba is a food source for many desert animals. Bighorn sheep and mule deer eat the leaves, and birds and rodents eat the nuts. The seed meal is toxic to most mammals and acts as a laxative to humans. The native people pressed the nuts and used the jojoba oil as hair conditioner as well as in medicine, cooking, and rituals. Jojoba oil is even used today in many shampoos, conditioners, and other products.
A packrat midden (or collection) along the trail was a surprise. I’d never seen one before and I honestly wouldn’t have even noticed it had it not been marked. The desert woodrat (as well as other packrats) collect all kinds of objects they deem important and place them into a midden. They urinate on their collected items which preserves them. Packrats have collected artifacts from past cultures and ecologies. Many different scientists study middens for their historical significance.
Along the wash, we found many desert willow. This tree is not a true willow but it does have similar leaves. (True willow belong to the genus Salix.) Desert willow have adapted to desert conditions, but they do need more water than other desert plants, which is why they grow in washes. The flexible stems were used by native people to make baskets, bows, snares, and other tools and products.
The desert almond produces a small, almond-like fruit in late summer. Desert bighorn eat the leaves and ground squirrels eat the fruit and flowers. Native people dried and ate the fruit.
Pencil cholla doesn’t look like something I’d want to eat but it has a number of different edible and medicinal parts. Young joints, fruits, buds, and stems can all be eaten, though they all must be boiled first except for the fruits. Pencil cholla was used as an antidiarrheal, a treatment for venereal disease, and to treat toothache.
The silver cholla is another medicinal plant. Fruit and buds can be cooked and eaten, and the fruit is so nutritious that it was given to those recovering from illness and those with stomach issues. Ashes from burning the stems can be applied to cuts and burns to aid healing.
Creosote was Kyle’s and my favorite plant on this trip. It smells like fresh rain and can be used for literally everything. Native people used creosote as an analgesic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and cough suppressant but it can also relieve symptoms of menstrual cramps, menopause, hemorrhoids, infertility, rheumatism, arthritis, diabetes, gallbladder, and kidney stones. Recent research has shown promise for treatment of skin cancer as well! So if you have a problem, any problem at all, find a creosote bush! (I’m kidding, please don’t do that, go to a doctor.)
I really loved learning about all of the native desert plants found in Indian Cove, but it was sunset when we finished up and we only had 30 minutes until it was dark! There was one more trail on the way back to our hotel that I thought we could do a portion of before night set in.
Hi-View Trail | Joshua Tree National Park
Twentynine Palms, CA | 02/14/20 | 0.37 miles | 39′ gain
We didn’t have much time, but Kyle and I rushed around the lower portion of the Hi-View Trail, which winds its way through a Joshua Tree forest. The full trail heads up a ridge and offers great views. Sadly we didn’t have time for that, but the lower section was still beautiful!
I was sad that the next morning would be our last in Joshua Tree, but we were determined to choose some iconic hikes to complete before heading back to Phoenix.