Joshua Tree National Park is the first US National Park we visited and for that reason will always hold a special place in our hearts. We started our 29 day Western US road trip here that saw us visit a total of 8 National Parks, 1 State Park and a Recreational Park. Seeing isolated landscape covered in sand, giant rock formations and arguably some of the most unique agriculture in the world. A bone dry earth in drought with distinctive Joshua trees dotted around for miles. This was the start of a very special journey.
Spending one day in an isolated desert landscape covered in a thick blanket of Californian sand, shaded from the heat by giant rock formations and arguably some of the most unique agriculture in the world gave us the ‘National Park bug’ that we simply couldn’t shift. A bone dry earth thirsty from the state drought led us to a day of discovery, education and left us with a craving for more.
After setting up base in beautiful Palm Springs, we hired our first ever car in a foreign country. Palm Springs was an ideal location to start our journey of exploration and we reached the Joshua Tree Visitor Centre, North of the West Entrance, in just under one hour.
We tuned into the River Country radio station and passed by North Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Morongo Valley and on to the Twentynine Palms Highway. Our American road trip that we had dreamed of for years had begun. The scorching heat of July glared onto the melting road ahead. This was one of the hottest places we have ever visited gave us a new found appreciation of air conditioning, something we didn’t have back home in the United Kingdom! The car thermometer hit 43 degrees Celsius so stocking up on supplies became a priority.
Just after the Yucca Valley we almost cleared the Visitor Center’s shelves of bottled water. We were advised to spread the bottles around the car in case we were locked out and couldn’t access the trunk. The Ranger also gave us a warning about thirsty bees at Keys View, a viewpoint we were intending to head to.
As we picked up our park map, we chatted to the Rangers who suggested a typical day long itinerary. One of the most exciting moments of our round the world trip was driving through the entrance gates, this ws the stuff of dreams.
July was a derelict time to be in the park, we saw no other visitors and figured it was down to the extreme heat. All that surrounded us was an isolated part of Southern California and the freestanding Yucca Brevifolia (Joshua Trees).
The Mojave and the Colorado combine in the park offering a wide and distinct variety of vegetation and wildlife. Some animals set up home in a land sculpted by strong high desert winds and sparse episodes of rain. Alien geologic features make this National Park beautifully unique attracting rare scenes of nature at its finest.
Joshua Trees are made up of needle like pines and present themselves in many shapes and sizes. It is said that the Native Americans used the trees for many purposes including sandal making and healthy eating when roasting the seeds. The average lifespan of a Joshua tree is around 150 years and they depend on timely bouts of rain to survive as long as they do. The ground beneath the trees was so dry, it made us question how anything can survive here.
With tourists and locals hibernating in wonderfully air conditioned habitats, we experienced pure isolation from the ‘outside world’ as we drove through the park.
We pulled over at our first opportunity to let our feet explore and get up close with the signature trees. This happened to be a point called Memorial Fire, there was once a fire in this area, roads and trials were closed and some campground even got evacuated. It showed the remains of the fire and the damage to the agriculture was still visible.
After following decent directions from the map, we arrived at a view point of the Coachella Valley.
Keys View is based just at the start of the little San Bernardino Mountains and it boasts one of the most spectacular sights. Luckily for us, it was a clear day and we could see way into the distance.
We even had a great view of the San Andreas Fault line which runs through California for almost 800 miles.
Warnings were given to us from the ranger at the Visitor Centre about a high number of wasps in this area. The ranger was right and Katie had to be picked up a little further down the road to prevent any getting in the car.
We followed the paved road back from Keys View, with no specific route in mind and continued to admire the sights from the windows of our ride.
When we saw a sign for Cap Rock we decided to pull over and explore. We followed some pebble made footpaths and admired the silence of the calm air.
A family of 4 had started the trail before us, so we waited until they went ahead and used this opportunity to take a few photographs.
We decided to bare the heat for a little longer and got up close with Cap Rock.
Keeping up with the ‘rock’ theme, our attention was caught by a sign for ‘split rock’ so we decided to investigate.
We followed a dirt road which lead us to a private cove leaving just the two of us, split rock and un-spoilt views of the surrounding area. It was so peaceful and we went off into our own little worlds, studying the surrounding agriculture and rock formations.
This was now named as ‘our little spot’ because of the remote sensation it gave us both.
We headed off and continued our exploration. There were very little signs of people or vehicles, which kept the feeling of remoteness and tranquility.
We couldn’t visit Joshua Tree National Park without a visit to Skull Rock.
Although we didn’t do the 1.7 mile trail, we followed the array of rocks that were shaped like scattered body parts and made our way to ‘the skull’.
When we got up close here, we could clearly see why this trail gets its name. Apparently the two ‘eyes’ have been formed by erosion due to a buildup of rain drops.
We even climbed to the top of Skull Rock and admired the surrounding view. Getting down was a little challenging though.
We only had around 4 hours to visit the park in total, so it was a short but exciting visit and after Skull rock we decided to head back to the West Entrance. On our way, we decided to park up and check out Sheep Pass campground because we thought it was a great name for a camp site.
Here, we had our first sighting of wildlife. A little animal that looked like a squirrel, was sniffing away at a packet of buns that were left out by some people who were staying the night in their tent.
Seeing the campers really made us want to stay the night, but we were not yet prepared with all of the required equipment. So off we went, heading back to our motel for the night in Palm Springs.