Winter Holidays 2021 Day 11- Los Angeles
to Joshua Tree National Park, California
After staying with friends in Los Angeles, we drove 2 ½ hours to Yucca Valley, where we grabbed a to-go lunch from Yucca Tree Eatery. There are no dining options once you enter Joshua Tree National Park, but there were many other café and fast food options along Highway 62.
We entered Joshua Tree National Park around 11am from the Northwestern entrance, quickly realizing that we had arrived during one of the peak travel seasons. We were able to skip the crowded Visitor Center and go directly to the gate, where visitors pay admission or show one of the various entry passes (we used our Annual National Parks Pass and were able to bypass much of the traffic.)
Hiking in Joshua Tree NP
Almost immediately the landscape was filled with Joshua Trees (not actually trees at all but succulent Yucca plants that have a central woody stem), large monolithic rocks with surrounding boulders, and mountains.
With minimal planning we decided to stay on the “beaten paths” and parked along the side of Park Boulevard just after entering the park. From there, we easily found paths through the desert and between boulder piles.
With temps in the high 40s and the sun shining, we were comfortable, but it wasn’t hard to imagine how brutal a summer hike would be.
Climbing in JTNP
Another major stop was the Hall of Horrors, a large group of boulders with smaller areas around it. It was a great area for slightly more challenging climbs, exploring, or for just playing on the flatter rocky surfaces.
Driving in JTNP
Every main site of interest at Joshua Tree National Park had a line of cars waiting to find parking. Just off the main road we found a dirt road through Hidden Valley, and were lucky to find parking in a small lot at some boulders that were a bit further off the beaten path.
The drive from the Mojave Desert in the northern JTNP into the Colorado Desert was more barren in most sections, with the exception being the Cholla Cacti Garden. Smoketree shrubs replaced Yucca along the winding roads, as the mountains to the south appeared in the distance.
Side note: it seemed like there were only three types of vehicles in the park: giant gas-guzzling monstrosities like the rental company gave us, Teslas, and campers.
Before leaving, we stopped at the Cottonwood Visitor Center to collect our NP Passport stamps and purchase a collector poster. (Entering from the south there was no entry gate and visitors were only required to stop if they needed to pay an entry fee.)
Our last stop would have been a much longer stop had it been our first. From the Cottonwood Springs parking lot it was a short walk to one of the most picturesque parts of the park: an Oasis of California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera, the only native to California).
Just a short walk up the Mastodon Peak Trail provided a view of the sometimes rolling and sometimes rocky mountains at the foot of the park. The full 3.6 mile each way hike to the larger Palm Oasis is listed as strenuous, although the mile that I hiked on the Mastodon Peak trail before turning back was relatively easy.
At one point, I was completely alone in a canyon and stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the silence and serenity of my surroundings. As I started on my return hike, the sounds of my footsteps that I had not even noticed early were now incredibly loud.