Last week I finally visited Joshua Tree National Park. I've talked about it for years, but like most nearby locations I continually put it off thinking that it's something I could do anytime. The Joshua Trees were named by Mormon travelers in the 1800's because they thought the trees reminded them of the biblical story of Joshua raising his hands in prayer. By historical terms, the park is relatively new. It was declared a National Monument in 1936 and became a National Park in 1994. Just for reference, the park is larger than the state of Rhode Island and crosses both the Mojave and Colorado deserts.
We started out journey from the West visitor's center in the village of Joshua Tree. The first thing you come across are large piles of rocks that were formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma. Flash flooding has eroded the areas around the rock piles, leaving these rock islands among the trees.
Joshua Tree is also a popular place for rock climbing. Below is one of the first markers I noticed in the park - for creatively named "Lizard's Hangout" and "Mel's Diner". You quickly come upon Intersection Rock and Old Woman Rock near Keys' Ranch; a popular area for rock climbers. On every high rock I saw adventurers up on top or descending. It seems to be a very popular camping spot as well.
Just a block away was a left turn toward Key's Ranch, Barker Dam, and the Wall Street Mill. We opted to skip Keys' Ranch, since it's only offered as a park ranger guided tour at certain time intervals. Bill Keys arrived in the area in 1910 and befriended Jim McHaney, a local outlaw and cattle rustler. Jim owned the ranch, originally called Desert Queen Ranch, and Bill took it over after Jim's death. For time's sake, we only visited Barker Dam, the only nearby source of water. The trough that Jim and Bill used for taking care of their cattle is still there just below the dam. If anyone is missing a pair of Minnie Mouse sunglasses, they might still be available on the hike.
As you leave Barker Dam you'll see a path leading up to this rock. Inside the little cave there's petroglyphs. Unfortunately the petroglyphs were vandalized by the Disney Company in 1961 as they were making a film there. The production team painted over the petroglyphs so they showed up better on camera.
The next spot we visited was Keys' View. It's quite a lengthy uphill drive from Keys' Ranch to Keys' View and you only know you've arrived when you come around a bend and see the parking lot. Unfortunately for me the toilet was invaded by a large swarm of bees looking for water. I braved the it and made it out alive! Take that David Blaine! From the view you can see the Salton Sea and Indio on the left, Palm Springs on the right, and the San Andreas Fault in the middle right of the picture.
Along the way to Skull Rock, we made a brief stop at Ryan Ranch. This homestead was established in 1986 by J.D. Ryan and family, who owned the Lost Horse Mine. Unfortunately the house was burned down in 1978. All that remains today are the adobe walls and various "stuff" laying around the yard. The middle picture below is a panorama I took while standing in the middle of the building slab. The third picture below shows a defiant rock standing upright on the pile next to the ranch. It will probably be standing there long, long after I'm gone.
We also stopped at the Hall of Horrors, which was a huge "huh?" I only later found out that the area was nicknamed that by rock climbers. There is actually a narrow "hallway" between the North and South Horror rocks. We completely missed the "hall". I guess I'll have to find it on another trip. At least the bathroom wasn't infested with bees.
Just a little more south are the Jumbo Rocks and Skull Rock. Kids love to climb inside the skull eyeballs and have their parents take pictures. I had to wait about 10 minutes to get a "clean" picture of the rock. One little kid was so enamored with climbing the nearby jumbo rocks that he defiantly ignored his parents and tried to take off up the rocks until his parents have the ultimatum command voice. I have to admit, they were fun to climb on.
The next to last stop of the day was the Cholla Cactus Garden, named after the large number of Cholla plants in this little area. This area seemed to offer a kamikaze mission for caterpillars. They were squished along the trail, road, and even off the trails. These little buggers were able to maneuver between the cactus thorns. The one in the third picture below even stopped to look up at me; like "what are you going to do to me? I'm in between thorns!"
We did stop at Cottonwood Springs as well, but by that time neither one of us wanted to do a 2.4 mile hike (my feet were DONE) and the sun was starting to set. So we walked down to the palm grove and turned around. It had already been a long day. The drive from the northwest entrance to the park down to the south entrance is nearly 70 miles, and that doesn't count the off shoots. The flowers were blooming down by the south entrance near I-10, but I was too tired to get out and take a picture despite their beautiful back lighting. Sean Penn's character was right in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Sometimes it's just about not taking the photograph and just taking in the moment.