A few weeks ago we went for our first camping trip since moving to California. Coming from the Pacific Northwest it was a bit odd to go camping at the beginning of May and spend our afternoon seeking shelter in a carved out rock for a break from the hot desert sun. What a strange and beautiful place.
We left Long Beach on Friday afternoon and got to Joshua Tree around 6pm, just in time to find a spot at Jumbo Rocks and set up camp as the sun slipped down behind the rocky horizon. Saturday morning brought the sun and we quickly discovered that our usual routine of a morning campfire and hot coffee was not going to work here. We drank our coffee at the table, avoiding the heat of the fire as we shed the sweatshirts we had layered on.
We headed out for a day of hiking and exploration. We climbed Ryan Mountain, walked the Hidden Canyon, and visited the Cholla Cactus Garden. Massive rock formations, cactuses, and dry dessert earth surrounded us as far as the eye could see as we soaked up the desert sun.
As the sun set on our second night, we jumped from rock to golden rock and shot ninety percent of our film in those beautiful dusk hours. A bit sunburnt and tired, we went to bed early as a breeze started to blow.
We got a couple of hours of sleep before we were woken up to a tent that was folding and bending in the wind. We drifted in and out of sleep as our tent rattled around us until finally the fly was torn out of the ground and folded over upon itself. After weighing our options, we jumped out of our sleeping bags, broke down camp as quickly as possible and started the two and a half hour drive home.
Even though it was cut short, we enjoyed our time in the high desert and look forward to our next visit.
Jumbo Rocks Campground: We drove through a couple of campsites before we settled on Jumbo Rocks. Being the largest campground in Joshua tree, there were plenty of people sharing the grounds but we saw several open sites which was a bit surprising for a Friday evening. We did not get one of the cool sites right next to the rocks but we did get one that was set back of the road with no close neighbors which was a good trade.
Skull Rock: This hike takes off right in the Jumbo Rocks campground. An easy hike, suitable for all levels. We started this hike just before sunset hoping to find a spot to sit and watch the sun go down. We ended up moving the whole time, stopping to take pictures every few feet. This time of day in Joshua tree cant be beat. Most of the photos in this post are from along the Skull Rock trail.
Ryan Mountain: This three mile hike (round trip) leads you to the summit of Ryan Mountain where you can take in the 360 degree view from 5,458 feet. Brown, rocky desert as far as the eye can see is much more beautiful than it sounds. Described as moderately strenuous, the average hiker should not have trouble, just bring plenty of water!
Hidden Valley: Hidden Valley is the first campsite you come to as you make your way through the West Entrance to the park. This one mile loop trail will be enjoyable for anyone. It is short, with little to zero elevation gain, but the sights are spectacular as you wind your way through a maze of giant boulders.
Cholla Cactus Garden: This is a little pocket in the dessert that harbors a mass of Cholla Cactuses. The path weaves in and out of chollas, sort of like a path through a corn field. Be sure to stay on the path as these tend to “jump” and find their way right into your skin. We would love to go back and see this unusual place at sundown.
Wildlife Sightings: Before we entered the park we stopped at the information center and grabbed a couple of pamphlets, one of which listed some of the local wildlife residents. As we perused the pamphlet we noted some of the wildlife we would like to see. By the end of the weekend we were able to check everything off or list except for the desert tortoise (who happens to be a “Threatened Species”, just a notch below “Endangered”). We were lucky enough to see the following creatures on our visit:
• Various lizards: Chuckwalla, Horned Lizard, Desert Spiny Lizard, and Western Whiptail
• Greater Roadrunner
• Black Tailed Jackrabbit
• Rattlesnake (Possibly a Red Western Diamondback)
Photo nerds: All photos shot using 6×7 medium format film, with the exception of Hidden Valley, and Rattelsnake photos (iPhone).