Since I first heard of Joshua Tree National Park in the eighties, I have wanted to visit there. Well, duh, it’s my name, I love to climb rocks, and U2 was one of my favorite bands in the mid 80s when they came out with their breakthrough Joshua Tree CD. It seemed a destination carved in the stars. Why it took me decades to get there is one of the many mysteries of my life, but I finally went there last week with my wife and our dog, Jackie Chan. I was not disappointed.
J Tree, as many climbers call it, features the boundary of two great deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran. The first is relatively high in elevation and features the park’s namesake trees. We approached from the north after gaining a significant amount of elevation on the road through Yucca Valley. I wanted to smile when I started seeing Joshua Trees, AKA yucca brevifolia. The rocks were not yet dramatic, but finally the outcroppings popped up more and more often until their rounded granite domes and crags seemed ubiquitous. We stopped at a picnic area for a first taste of the rocks, and then we made our way to the famed Hidden Valley area, so named because supposed rustlers a century ago or more would hide their stolen beasts amid the chaotic jumble of rock which would deter most people from finding them.
We started seeing climbers carefully scaling a few of the crags, rope snaking upwards, and I was nostalgic for my climbing days. Scrambling sans rope on a small boulder is fun, but it does not produce the same thrill as climbing a vertical face 80 feet high. Ah, well. The trail was a loop winding around the interior of the so-called valley. After a while, it became very difficult to orient myself. There were hundreds if not thousands of house sized rocks to pass. Luckily, the path was easy to follow, and the sun was out, gloriously warm. I was actually surprised at how few climbers we saw, but I guess it’s an odd time of year for some people. March through May might be prime time.
After leaving Hidden Valley, we drove nearby to the Barker Dam trail, where locals augmented a natural water source with a dam to save water for their cattle in the early 20th century. The trail was similar to Hidden Valley, but more wide open in spots. On the return leg, we encountered a rock with petroglyphs. Unfortunately, some movie studio geniuses marred the images by painting over them to make them more visible.
At this point, we had done enough hiking for while, and I thought driving to Key’s Point, the highest point in the park, would be a nice change of pace. On the way up, we saw some great stands of Joshua Trees.
The golden rocks faded away. The land sloped upward. On top, there was a big parking lot with a dozen or more vehicles. The views from the short paved path were stunning. Rumpled brown ridges fell away in all directions to the low desert and the Salton Sea beyond. Dozens of people milled about, gawking and talking, pointing at views and posing for photos.
We drove away from Key’s Point, already amazed the by scale of Joshua Tree. I could spend days here hiking and scrambling and working on a tan. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for this trip, but we weren’t done yet. There would be more to come. Tune in next time for more images and tales about Joshua Tree National Park.