Joshua Tree: Rocks, Dirt, and a Hungry Midwesterner

If you love rock climbing or bouldering (climbing on boulders…yes, there’s a name for that) Joshua Tree National Park may be your favorite park. If you don’t, this park may be like Nebraska to you: fun to be there, but not high on your hot-destinations list. Joshua Tree National Park is named after the cactus-like tree that looks like Joshua (from the Bible) with outstretched arms. I’ve seen a few of these on my many journeys through the Mojave desert, but never in such copious amounts as the drive through the park via the Joshua Tree (city) entrance. They can grow to be 15 to 30 feet tall, and are quite fun to stand under and take pictures with. I joked in my selfie with one that I was with my BFF Joshua…tree. I still think I’m funny.

Aside from the trees, there are many types of small desert plants and an entire “garden” of Cholla Cacti. The desert continues to amaze me with the life it has, and the diversity in types of vegetation. Joshua Tree also had a lot of rocks and dirt…duh, it’s the Mojave and Colorado Desert! I found out the hard way that these two combined are not my favorite thing to walk on.

My first big hike was to the Lost Horse Mine, the most profitable gold mine in Joshua Tree in the early 1900s. The hike was uneventful, minus me hiking as fast as I could at the beginning to distance myself from two nice but very loud guys hiking and talking together, disturbing the peacefulness of the desert. Eventually I got to the mine, which was…cool. I looked at the large, fenced-in area, took some pictures, and climbed the small hill behind it for a better angle. On my way down the hill, the sand beneath my feet slid over the rock underneath it, taking me down a few feet with it. Now, I’ve been waiting for a fall to get me on my adventures, and I’m very thankful it was here instead of when I’m scaling a canyon wall. I caught myself with my forearm, bruising it and stretching the meat in the rotator cuff. I’m a little sore today, but mostly embarrassed that after all the intense hiking and climbing, sand on a rock injured me. I did get a laugh however, when I looked at my leg and had a few cactus spines stuck to my thigh. My cousin sent me this picture on Facebook before my Grand Canyon hike ( Thanks Em!15267632_10154838892839031_8016481488835445100_n

After dusting off my arm and ego, I headed to Keys View, a lookout point with a view of the Salton Sea (85 miles away), a mountain just outside of Mexico, cities, and the San Andreas Fault. Being the only person up there, I settled in and breathed in the peace and quiet…for 30 seconds. Then I had the pleasure of hearing an obnoxious phone call by someone camping in Joshua Tree, who must only get cell phone service at Keys View. 15 minutes later I concluded his life story would probably take more time to tell than I had in a day, so I left in search of a more peaceful hike. I promise I wasn’t crabby yesterday, having lots of coffee on my 2 hour drive over from LA. I just enjoy solitude and peace when I’m in the middle of the desert, since LA is always buzzing. After the 4.5 miles of hiking in the morning, I worked up an appetite and headed to my car for lunch.

Some days I amaze myself, and other days I go into the middle of the desert without sufficient food. I packed my food in the morning (usually I pack at night because my mind functions at the speed of molasses after waking up), which resulted in: one Cliff bar, 1/4 cucumber, and 6 strawberries. By this time I had already burnt about 800 calories, so the 300 calorie “lunch” was like giving an acorn to a bear after a winter of hibernation. At least I had a gallon of water, so I can give my morning-brain a pat on the back for understanding hydration is important. Needless to say, I sped to a Jack-In-The-Box for a burger immediately after leaving Joshua Tree. Sidenote, I’m glad these aren’t in the Midwest because I would actually be tempted to get fast food if they were. Back to the national park…

Next I headed to Hall of Horrors, an area with a mix of large rock formations and joshua trees. After scrambling a few rocks and wandering around a large group of them, I found a crevice at the base about two feet wide with an arrow on the ground (made of pebbles) pointing to it. I’ve learned if someone takes the time to make an arrow in the national parks, you should probably follow it. So into the base of the rocks I went, crawling about 8 feet before popping up on the other side. The crevice lead into a 10 foot wide area with the rocks rising up around it and above it. The walls had more color and pattern than the outer rocks, making it worth the crawl in. Then I started thinking about the person who had to cut off their arm after a rock trapped it, and promptly turned around and crawled back out. When you’re not on your A-game and you’re by yourself, unnecessary risks should be somewhat avoided. I kept that in mind at nature’s playground, the next stop in the park.

Jumbo Rocks will turn anyone into an excited 4-year-old in an instant. Like the name suggests, there are huge rocks all over this area of Joshua Tree, making for fun climbing and games of hide and seek. When I first came to this spot, I was planning on doing the hike to Skull Rock, a rock that looks like a skull of course. The park newspaper (these are actually extremely useful) said there was a 1.7 mile loop hike to it, so I found the trail and set off. Soon I found myself at a campground, so I doubled back wondering when my navigation skills hit the pooper. When I reached the side of the road I started at, I looked at the Skull Rock sign and found Skull Rock tucked directly across from it, partially behind a boulder. Oy. Thankfully I wasn’t the only person who missed it, as I came across a few other people searching for it a mile away at the campground. Pretty cool rock, worth a minute of pictures and gawking at the holes carved out by water and wind. I spent another half hour or so climbing up the Jumbo Rocks, remembering I was B-team today, having fun but not being stupid about climbing things I shouldn’t.

After the rocks I checked out the map and newspaper to see what else I should hit before my day was over. Turns out I had gone to everything (hitting the Cholla Cactus Garden on my way out) listed as must-do, and had already done 9 miles of hiking/climbing


Joshua Tree


Joshua Trees


Lost Horse Mine



Life in the Desert



Hall of Horrors



Crevice from the Outside


Crevice from the Inside


Inside Crevice


Jumbo Rocks



Desert Trail



Keys View (Salton Sea in Distance)


Keys View (San Andreas Fault)



Cholla Cactus Garden


Skull Rock


Skull Rock

. There were other hikes and rocks to see, but they were very similar to the parts of the park I had explored. That’s the thing about Joshua Tree, if you see the joshua trees, cholla cactus, do one desert/mine hike, and climb some boulders, you’ve done all the park has to offer. This is a national park that you can do in 4 hours, and although it was awesome to see what the High Desert is like (desert at a high altitude, making it cold but with a strong sun), I wouldn’t go out of your way for a trip here UNLESS you love rock climbing and bouldering. Then by all means, spend a week there! For the rest of you, if you are in Southern California and have time to kill, plan a day stop there for a change of landscape and fun for all ages.

I’m not quite sure what’s next on my list. I’ve gone to the major parks in my area, and have done a lot of hiking in LA. I have a hike tomorrow with friends, plans to hike in Angeles National Forest next week, and another trip to the desert to meet up with my uncle in a few days. Eventually I’ll be going home, so my plans are ready for another awesome road trip. Until then, I’ll update with hopefully some whale pictures and the exploration of sub-cultures in LA I haven’t seen yet like Little Tokyo.



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