Joshua Tree National Park, located in Southern California,
encompasses some of the most interesting geologic displays in
California's deserts. Two deserts, Mojave Desert (High Desert)
and Colorado (or Sonoran) Desert, come together at Joshua Tree
National Park. The Joshua trees, growing in the higher, moister, and slightly
cooler Mojave Desert, are the foremost attraction in the park. Below 3000 feet,
the drier Colorado Desert is indicated by much sparser plant life and is
dominated by the creosote bush.
Getting there ...
We had a similar Mojave-Joshua
Tree trip in 2001, but Linus and Iris have no memories of that trip at all.
We decided to have an almost the same trip for this Christmas so we can retrace
our footsteps. It was a very long drive from San Francisco Bay Area to the
Southern Californian Deserts. We had one additional stop, Hearst Castle,
before we got to Barstow for our first night.
- Hearst Castle [Gallery]
Hearst Castle was built in 1919 by WR Hearst (1863-1951), creator of the
largest publishing empire the world had ever known (at it's peak in 1935, he
controlled 26 newspapers, 13 magazines, 8 radio stations, 2 news services, and
a film company), and Julia Morgan, a famed San Francisco architect and the
first woman to graduate from Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. By 1947, Hearst
and Morgan had created an estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens,
terraces, pools, and walkways. The castle is full of Hearst's European and
Mediterranean art collection. Hearst Castle was donated to the people of the
State of California in 1957 and became a State Historic Monument.
We also had another previous visit to
Hearst Castle back in 2001. We joined the same Tour One (we were
able to change our tour time from reserved 1PM to 12:15PM because we arrived
early and had plenty of time to have time to have lunch first) for the
first-time visitors since Linus and Iris could not remember anything from the
previous trip. It's still a good overall experience to walk around the
beautiful pools, landscape, and the main house.
The Second Day ...
- First we visited Mojave National Preserve on our way to Joshua Tree
National Park. We entered the Preserve
via the Kelbaker Road which traverses the cinder cones
and lava beds in the desert. We went on a dirt road (Aiken Mine Road) to
a lava tube. After a short hike after the road end, we reached a deep
hole that we were skeptical if it was the lava tube (later I thought we
should keep going a little further to get the real entrance to the lava tube
- Kelso Depot
||Now nearly a ghost town in the center of
Mojave National Preserve, Kelso was once a thriving railroad
and mining community of 2000 people. Built by the Union
Pacific Railroad in 1924 to serve the steam locomotives from
Los Angles to Salt Lake City, the depot has been renovated
to become the Preserve's new visitor center (compared with
photo in 2001)
- Kelso Dunes
One of the most spectacular and popular sights in the
area, the 600 foot high dunes are surrounded by 45
square miles of sands, and are visible from miles
away. As usual, sand dunes are one of the favorite playgrounds
for Linus and Iris. This time we spent more time wandering
around and walked further into the sand dunes than last time (although
we still did not reach the dune peaks).
- Joshua Tree
One the way from Mojave Reserve to Joshua Tree, Linus became my
navigator although we have a GPS in our new car. We had a short stop
at the visitor center to get the map, and then went straight into the park
so we could catch some late afternoon light.
- Split Rock
|We went to Split Rock area as our first
stop in Joshua Tree. The rock formations here are
interesting and there are many easy accesses to those rocks.
Linus and Iris were much more experienced "rock explorers"
that they were running and climbing up and down by
themselves around the jumbo rocks.
The Third Day ...
- Fortynine Palms Oasis
This oasis, where water-loving plants thrive and thirsty animals come to
drink, is accessibly by a 1.5-mile moderately strenuous trail. The trail
climbs initially with a good view of 29 Palms region, and then descends to a
valley where you can see a group of palm trees in the distance. It's a good
feeling to see an oasis with trees when you hike in the desert. From
the old memory, we were still amazed that Linus was able to do this hike by
himself 9 years ago (maybe even with less complaints than this time!).
- Indian Cove
||Indian Cove is not only a
favorite camping site, but is also a popular site
for rock-climbing enthusiasts. We had a picnic in
the camp ground area, and saw some rock climbers
on their way to the top of the rocks.
- Hidden Valley
We drove into the Park from the West Entrance Station.
The altitude is around 3000 feet, and the Joshua trees
grow into what could almost be called a forest. Joshua
trees grow in one stalk for several years, usually until
a flower is produced. After flowering new branches can
take off in any direction. The shapes of Joshua trees are
only limited by your imagination.
We stopped at Hidden Valley and took a 1-mile nature trail which took us
into a rock-enclosed valley rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers in
the late 1800's. Linus and Iris liked to explore the side trails among
the rocks and was difficult for me to follow them closely. Although
it's supposed to be a 1-mile easy walk, it became quite a challenge
until Linus complained his knee hurt and we were back to the normal trail.
- Barker Dam
This was a new spot which we did not visit 9 years ago. Barker Dam was
built by early cattle ranchers. The water was calm and had a perfect
reflection although there were hikers everywhere.
- Sunset at Keys View
|Keys View overlooks an expanse of valley,
mountain, and desert from its elevation of 5185 feet. It has a
striking view of
the San Andreas Fault, Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Gorgonio, and
the Salton Sea.
We did not stay long this time, because someone needed to go
back to hotel room .....
The Fourth Day ...
- Arch Rock
Arch Rock is located in the White Tank Campground area. There are many
interesting rocks including the formation of a natural arch. I had to leave
my tripod on the trail to climb the rocks beyond the Arch. Again, Linus and
Iris enjoyed wandering among those rocks and I failed to keep up with them.
- Cholla (choy-ya) Cactus Garden
After we crossed the transition zone of Mojave and
Colorado Desert, the views were totally different. The
lower altitude Colorado Desert is drier and more like a
real desert to me. Cholla Cactus Garden has a short self-guided nature
trail, featuring plants and animals (although we didn't see any) of the
- Cottonwood Spring & Mastodon Peak
We continued to drive south to the Cottonwood Visitor Center to have a
picnic lunch in the car. After lunch, we began to hike to Mostodon Peak
which was about a 3-mile hike. At elevation 3371 feet, it has an excellent
view of Eagle Mountains and Salton Sea. When we approached the peak
(we did not actually go up to the summit because the last section was marked
as un-maintained), it began to drizzle and we decided to go back down via
the original route.
- Rainbow on the way
On the way back to 29 Palms, the sky began to clear up and a rainbow appeared.
The rainbow did not stay for long (especially when it had a full arch).
I could not resist stopping a few times to catch the rare sight in the desert.
Last Day. Going Home ...
- Black Rock / Hi-View
We passed by the Black Canyon region as the last stop in Joshua Tree before we
headed home. It was a very chilly day (32F outdoors and forecast day
high only 39F) that we decided to turn back to car only after a few steps at
the Hi-view trailhead.
||We stopped at Mojave to have a quick lunch (I originally
wanted to pass by the Mojave Airport to get some close-up look of the
airplane graveyard). Linus and Iris both were
very cooperative and didn't complain too much during the entire
9-hour drive (62 -- 247 -- 18 -- 395 -- 58 -- 99 -- 198 (because we missed 46)
-- 5 -- 152 -- 101 -- 85 -- 87 -- 280). With a little bit traffic near Gilroy (HWY152 to
101), we had an early dinner close to home at about 5:30PM. Although there was a
winter storm in Bay Area all week long, we enjoyed the wonderful
weather in the desert for our Christmas this year.
A good thing to re-do a trip we have taken before is that I did not need to
do much research for the trip. Even for this journal, I could
copy/paste from the previous one :-)
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