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Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Updated: Apr 12, 2021

Blog Updates:

  1. Oct 2018: Gina's visit

  2. Feb 2019: Chris, Meg and Brad's visit

  3. Feb 2019: Wildflowers & Cholla Cactus Garden

  4. Mar 2019: Rich, John and Mike's visit

  5. Apr 2019: Weston and Mackenzie's visit

  6. Oct 2019: Pam and Pat's visit

Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP), the 16th largest national park in the US, encompasses an area of nearly 800,000 acres and is larger than the state of Rhode Island. The park is located at the crossroads of two large and distinct ecosystems: the high Mojave Desert and the low Colorado Desert. To date, most of our time has been spent in the Mojave area of the park.

The Mojave Desert, located above 3,000 feet, claims the park's western half and is home to the park's iconic namesake 'Joshua Tree'. The name 'Joshua Tree' was supposedly given by a group of Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree's unique shape reminded them of a biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.... a tree name is born.

joshua tree

These trees mature in 50-60 years but can survive well over 100 years in the desert environment. As a rule of thumb, if you see a Joshua Tree you are in the Mojave Desert.

The Mojave Desert section of JTNP is renowned for spectacular rock formations that cover a significant portion of the desert landscape and make JTNP one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the world.

hiking unusual rock formations joshua tree national park

These rocks began forming hundreds of millions of years ago. They oozed upward with molten liquid, and then formed and cracked under pressure. They fractured and weathered, and then became buried under ground. In more recent times, flash floods and strong winds began eroding the ground surface, exposing these huge boulders, which then began settling one on top of the other. The larger outcroppings are known as 'inselbergs'. An inselberg is an isolated hill, knob, ridge, or small mountain that rises abruptly, like an island, from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain. (Note: Can you tell I am going to take a geology course in retirement?).

hiking joshua tree national park

The following is a compilation of pictures taken at random locations in the park.

Wall Street Mill Hike 2.4 miles Sept 2015

The Wall Street Mill was a complete and operable gold ore crushing mill built by Bill Keys, a local rancher and miner. This mill was one of the last remaining mills in the park, with operations continuing until the mid-1900s. The complex, which is in ruins, included the mill, a well, a bunkhouse, and an outhouse.

Lost Horse Mine Trail 6.5 miles April 2018

Even before the California Gold Rush of 1849, prospectors were finding gold in southern California. As the take from the mines in the Sierras petered out, miners fanned into the deserts to over 300 mines in the area known as Joshua Tree. Most the mines were busts, but not the Lost Horse Mine, which produced more than 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver (worth approximately $5 million today). The Lost Horse Mine continued producing until 1905, when the miners hit a fault line and forever lost the ore-bearing vein.

1. Oct 2018: Gina's visit to JTNP

Gina joined us for a JNTP trip during her visit to Palm Desert.

Today, the Barker Dam holds rainwater and runoff for the local wild animals, though the dam was originally constructed in 1900 for the use of cattle and mining purposes.

2. Feb 2019: Visit with Chris, Meg and Brad

During the kids' visit to Palm Desert we included a day long trip to JTNP. We hiked the Wall Street Mill trail. Walking around the abandoned housing and vehicles and realizing most had been in place for over 50 years.

A great lunch spot overlooking the mine.

While we were in the area we also hiked the Barker Dam trail. The water level was pretty high after the heavy fall and winter rains.

Dave crawled into a rock crevasse. This was before he read that these are prime locations to run into ratllesnakes.

We also drove up to Keys Point, at 5500 feet it is the highest point in JTNP. It was a short walk to Inspiration Point with outstanding views of the valley floor and mountains. San Jacinto summit at 10,834 feet rising above the desert floor and clouds.

3. Feb 2019: Wildflowers & Cholla Cactus Garden

Some friends from the organization Friends of the Desert Mountains recommended a quick road trip to the park to view the lupine blooms and the cholla cactus garden. The drive through the southern entrance was full of field of lupine blooms.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is approximately 20 miles from the southern entrance and the Cottonwood Visitor Center. It is located at the merge of the upper Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. The few acres of land here have grown countless cholla cactus that dot the landscape.

The cholla has been nicknamed the teddy bear cactus, but this is one of the most feared cacti in the desert. A close look at these spines will tell you why. This defense mechanism is effective for desert survival but can create an unpleasant experience for those who don’t stick to the trail.

The chollas have hollow spines that can easily attach to whatever they touch.  If there is moisture, such as with skin, the tips actually curve once they have made contact, locking their spines in place just underneath the skin's top layer.

4. March 2019: Rich, John & Mike's visit to JTNP. Climbing around Skull Rock Nature Loop trail. Rocks in this area began as liquid molten deep below the earth's surface. Continuously heated by movements in the Earth's crust, this molten oozed upward and cooled while still below the surface. Subsequent surface layer erosion exposed the rocks we were climbing around, a form of granite called Monzogranite.

Rich, Mike, John and Steve; friends since 1981. We met at my first job Amicon Corporation in Lexington, MA.

5. Apr 2019: Weston and Mackenzie's visit

We started out by climbing some random rocks on the Happy Valley Nature Trail. This is a great trail to introduce the moonscape environment of JTNP

Then we found a path that led to the top of Sentinel Rock; this was our first time climbing the rock. The view of Sentinel Rock from its base makes it look MUCH smaller than it really is. The pictures will prove my point.

The initial climb wasn't difficult due to the angle of ascent and the course surface which made it easy to grip with our boots.

Weston and Mackenzie getting closer to the top.

Weston was the only one willing to try to reach the actual top of Sentinel Rock. It required some rock climbing through a narrow crack in the surface.

Without a rope or climbing support Weston decided to turn around and join the rest of us chilling on the rock and admiring the views.

Beautiful wildflowers along the trail.

6. Oct 2019: Pam and Pat's visit

Pam and Pat's visit to JTNP was all about heights. We stopped at a location along Park Blvd, climbed on a few boulders, and watched some rock climbers. More than a little surprised at Pam's adventurous side.

Next we drove to Hidden Valley Trails, since it's a great introduction to the bizarre rock formations in the Park. We spent some time watching this person scale the Great Burrito.

Watching the rock climber was the inspiration needed to climb up Sentinel Rock... no way near as difficult but still a nice challenge for the four of us. Near the top are Pat, Dave, and Pam.

It's a great location for a group picture and to get a bird's eye view of the surrounding landscape.

Another spot we typically visit with our guests is the Wall Street Trail. It's a walk back in time to when gold mining activity in the area was common.

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