Joshua Tree National Park

Location: southeast California
Date: February 18-19, 2011

Hidden Valley

Joshua Tree National Park in southern California sits at the border of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.  The Mojave desert is in the park's northern, western, and higher elevation parts while the Colorado desert (a sub-region of the Sonoran Desert) is in the southern, eastern, and lower elevations.  The change between the two deserts is dramatic and very noticeable as you drive the Pinto Basin road through Wilson Canyon.

Joshua Trees

The Mojave desert primarily encompasses a portion of California and southern Nevada and is characterized by the park's namesake Joshua tree.  The odd shape of these plants led Mormon settlers to name the tree after a biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands to the sky in prayer.  Joshua trees can be confused as a type of palm, but they are not even true trees.  Rather, they are a giant tree-sized yucca.

Oak Titmouse

The trees are found exclusively in the Mojave desert in small areas of California, Nevada, Arizona, and the southwest corner of Utah.  In Joshua Tree National Park the trees reach the southern edge of their range, and there is considerable concern that the trees will be eliminated from the park as the climate changes.  In Mojave National Preserve to the north of the park, there is a very dense "forest" of Joshua trees.

Colorado Desert

I arrived at the park after dark around 6:00 pm on February 18, and just as I pulled into Ryan Campground a storm with intense rain and wind hit.  During a short break in the rain I started putting up my tent but before it was completely set up the wind snapped one of the poles.  At that point the rain returned, and I gave up, spent the night in my car, and fixed my tent the next day.  The following morning was chilly and there was some snow on the higher peaks, but the sun very soon came out and dried everything.

Hidden Valley

The first place I visited was Hidden Valley where an easy one mile loop trail winds around massive piles of granite boulders.  I then went to the nearby Barker Dam trial, another easy trail that leads to a small rain-fed reservoir that is a great area to see wildlife as well as a rock with a collection of petroglyphs.   Both Hidden Valley and the Barker Dam areas are very popular rock climbing areas.  In these areas I saw several interesting animals including a cactus wren, oak titmouse, black-throated sparrows, spotted towhee, black-chinned hummingbird, and a black-tailed jackrabbit.

The vegetation near Keys View

I also went to Keys View, which normally provides views of the valley and Palm Springs below, but by late morning it was still enshrouded by clouds.  As you drive south through the park soon after you enter the Colorado desert there is a short trail through a dense cholla cactus garden.  Just north of the park's southern entrance at Interstate 10 is the short Bajada Nature trail, which takes you around some of the very interesting vegetation of the Colorado desert.  Many of the plants here were blooming, including the ocotillos.

Cholla Garden


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