Friday, May 12, 2017

Joshua Tree, finally!

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A beavertail cactus in Joshua Tree National Park bursting with fluorescent blooms
We've enjoyed tromping around the Southwest in recent years, but somehow Joshua Tree NP has eluded us. It's too far out of the way; we've run out of time; I have a headache; PK's socks don't match, or some such lame excuse. Earlier this spring we vowed to get there. It was mostly good.

Good: awesome jumbled jumbo rocks, blooming Joshua trees, cacti and other desert plants  exploding with color,  two distinct desert zones, excellent hiking. Joshua Tree is small enough to see most of the park in two and a half days. The campgrounds looked great.

Not so good:  too many people due to spring break; had to camp 14 miles from the park. 

A Joshua Tree blooming, which isn't an every-year occurrence. But when they do bloom it is usually, according the Desert Sun newspaper, "universal, synchronized and spectacular." We got lucky! We saw hundreds in bloom. The flowers are major exhibitionists, but what do you expect from something that shows up only once in a while? The trees had fierce competition from eager plants of all shapes and sizes showing off their spring colors.

  The ringed sun behind a dead juniper wasn't evident when I shot
   this photo along the Wonderland of Rocks trail in Joshua Tree NP.        

But back to the good/bad stuff. We'd failed to factor in how close the NP is to millions of Southern Californians, who, if they can tear themselves away from six-lane highways and movie-star sightings, just might be on spring break when we planned to visit. And lo, it came to pass. Legions of spring breakers did indeed descend on the park and snapped up all the camp sites.

It was actually grand to see families with giddy young children, college students rock climbing in  short shorts, and probably planning the night's parties at the same time, and even grandmas and grandpas with retractable hiking sticks and big floppy sun hats. Like PK and me.
Flowers, flowers all around. Which are the lovliest on the ground? 

We entered the park at a seriously inopportune time of day to find a campsite - around 3 p.m., even if it was Tuesday, a day when crowds are not usually a given. But spring break in California?! Given!

Cars and campers were lined up 20 deep in mid-afternoon to enter the park, and the visitors' center was jammed. Disappointed camping wannabes were lined up at the counter to inquire about camping outside the park. Eeek.

We ended up at the Joshua Tree Lake (ha ha ) RV park about 14 miles from both of the park's two northern entrances. Staying at the ha-ha lake (yes, a hyped-up pond) didn't ruin our enjoyment, but neither did it enhance. Extra driving is not something you want when attempting to wring maximum enjoyment from a national park. Plus, the RV park costs $35 a night and the national park, if you're old enough, is around $10. 
A prickly pear cactus looking good even without spring color.
The sky has the clotted-yet-striated cloud thing going on. 

The agave's bloom looks similar to
the Joshua Tree's.

Despite our camping woes, we were fortunate to enjoy great hiking thanks to recommendations from friends who'd recently visited the park and also one who treasures it as a lifetime favorite, an LA woman. (Let's hear it for Jim Morrison!) Joshua Tree was her playground. She loves the Jumbo Rocks campground, and if we're ever there again, we'll try to score a site. 

We started hiking the day we arrived, but not until after we drove 28 miles out and back to find a commercial RV park. As for boondocking in the park - no. Signs all over the place prohibited overnight parking. Outside the park didn't look that good, either.

Let's go hiking!
The hike up Ryan Mountain came highly recommended. Although it was only 3 miles round trip, it was steep, a 1,050 ft. elevation gain over 1.5 miles. I was glad we didn't start until 4:30 p.m., when the parking lot wasn't jammed, as it was when we drove past earlier.  It was also cooler, and with a slight breeze, panting up to 5,457 ft summit was doable. The summit featured a walk around where we were supposed to be able to see forever and ever, but alas, it was cloudy and hazy. Still we enjoyed. As we did all the shorter hikes we took the next couple of days. 

PK checks out a typical Joshua Tree rock formation a short distance up the Ryan Mountain trail. The trail is made partially from surrounding rocks placed to make steps.
View of the surreal rock formations from Ryan Mountain trail. 
The rock formations look better from ground level. See the elephant?
Prehistoric looking ocotillos
I'm always a sucker for back-lit cholla. These are in the south end of the park.
 Spunky barrel cactus, watermelon size, cozy between a
rock and a hard place.
Next up - A quick break from SW road trip 2017 to bring you
The Day the FBI Came Calling

Previous post about our latest road trip


  1. Did you luck out or what? I've been to JT twice and can't remember a single thing in bloom! Great photos of the bloomers as well as the rocks. We were there in March both times so no spring breakers to contend with, not much traffic of any kind, no camping for us -- we were staying in Palm Springs.

  2. Yes, lucked out! It was quite lush.

  3. Haven't been to JT since the '70's, but it was indeed memorable. Not sure if it was the human-like Joshua trees themselves or the massive, almost animate boulders. In any case, it still haunts me.

  4. I loved those boulders! It was a very special place, and we got so lucky with all the flowers. I have to say, though, in the 70s? We were flowers. Right?