Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fall Break: Joshua Tree National Park

After leaving Leeds, we traveled for another 4.5 hours through St. George, Las Vegas and the Mohave Desert of California to meet up with friends at Joshua Tree National Park.

We stayed in 29 Palms, a community right outside of the park. Everything is so desolate here.  I think I only saw grass once. It was at a community park with playground. All other homes have dirt and cactus for landscape – not even a variety of rocks to decorate the ground, with drought tolerant plants – only dirt and a few cacti.

The weather was really pleasant. It was in the mid 50’s in the morning, but it quickly warmed up to the mid to upper 60’s and it stayed in that range for most of the day. The temperature however didn’t feel cool, rather it was really comfortable and on occasion a bit warm when the sun was the warmest.  We had to keep reapplying sunscreen on Todd to make sure he didn’t burn.

After a quick breakfast we left camp and headed to the Joshua Tree Visitor Center to collect the Jr. Ranger books for the kids and get some direction on what we should visit at the park.

Joshua Tree National Park comprises nearly 800,000 acres of land and includes two deserts: the Mohave Desert further north, and the Colorado Desert to the south. Upon entering the park from the North, we traveled to Hidden Valley.

Hidden Valley is a 1 mile loop trail that winds around huge boulders and desert habitat. It was believed to be a popular cattle rustlers’ hideout because of its narrow entrance and lookout spots.  The kids had the best of time scrambling through rock formations, climbing, leaping, sliding and descending rocks.

 The hike also contained a self-guided tour, with description of the local landscape and habitat. While there the kids spotted several lizards enjoying the sun and a few people rock climbing the various rock formations.

The natural cover offered by the rocks encircling the valley, and higher altitude Hidden Valley contains its own micro-habitat. While walking though the look we observed Yucca plants, Joshua Trees, Pinion Pines, Juniper bushes, scrub oak, as well as Cholla cacti all in one place.

After leaving Hidden Valley, we drove to Keys View, the highest accessible point at Joshua Tree. I can’t believe how windy it was! Todd and I opened our doors to leave the car and a lot of our papers just flew out of my door.

That should have been my clue. The wind just got stronger and stronger as we climbed up to the look out point. Some of the kids had jackets on them so they grabbed the tips of their jackets and held them out like wings as they ran downhill, pushed by the wind and pretending to fly. In spite of all the wind view was magnificent. I was able to see Palm Springs and Saint Jacinto Mountain in the distance as well as the St. Andreas Fault Line. They estimated a 19% chance of a major earthquake in the next 20 years.  To prepare, the park has set up seismic monitors throughout the park. They claim to give those who monitor a few minutes notice. I’m not sure how good that’ll do the tourist who have no cellphone signal in the park and would not be notified in time.

On our visit we stopped at Skull Rock, Split Rock and hiked to Arch Rock. Finally, we traveled to Cholla Gardens located in the Colorado Desert portion of the National Park.

The Ranger discourage us from taking the kids because Cholla thorns attached to the body whenever they become in contact and they are painful as well as difficult to remove.  Both Arch Rock and the Gardens had posted warnings about thirsty bees that were attracted to any open container of water. That was quite unusual.

With much warning and discussion we took the kids through the gardens. The view was beautiful but surreal and the kids were soon ready to leave the area. After sliding on her bottom down granite rocks most of the day, Stella's pants were shredded to pieces. Every time she'd climb a rock they would tear a little more, and every time she would slide they would rip a bigger hole. By the end of the day, they were trashed. She was just going for style- trashed jeans are all the rave nowadays.

On the way back, we were stopped at the ranger station to leave the park. I’ve never been stopped to leave. Our friends had Emilia in their car and were riding in the car behind us. The ranger was pretty upset and frustrated with us for not having our 4th grader in the car with us.  Go figure!

Our last stop was the 29 Palms Joshua Tree Visitor center where the kids all turned in their Jr. Ranger booklets in exchange for a pin, and a ranger paper hat.  They were all sworn in to care for the park.  It was right outside the visitor center that we spotted a road runner crossing the parking lot towards us. It was exciting to see wildlife other than insects and a lizard!