Joshua Tree Hikes

I’ve really been enjoying myself boondocking outside the south entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. I think I’m getting the hang of the desert, although I can’t say that I love it (yet, at least). I have lots of pictures to show you and stories to tell, but I thought I’d show you our hikes first before I forget what they heck each one was.

Mastodon Peak Loop

The wind finally lessened Thanksgiving evening, so we went out on our first hike in the park Thanksgiving Friday. We knew a ton of people would still be here, so we picked a short hike close to the south entrance, so we could get there in a half hour from the campsite and at least find a parking spot in the trailhead lot. We did!

I don’t know why the small mountain peak that this trail loops around is called Mastodon; we didn’t see any archeological signs, so I’m guessing part of the rocks simply look like one. That seems to be a thing here: name a rock “Skull Rock” and people flock to it. (I could see why that one has that name, but not “Oyster Bar”: couldn’t even imagine oysters in that section. Look it up and let me know what you think).

In any case, we walked this three-mile loop with lots of pale-brown, smooth large rocks around it, which we kind of feel like, “Bleh, the rock formations at Alabama Hills are much more dramatic.” Still, the peak that Tracy climbed (in the top photo) gave him great views, and the rocks were cool.

We also saw an abandoned mine, but, again, seen one, seen them all, and I neglected to take a photo. I did get several of the oasis at the foot of the peak, which was thick with palm trees.

Although, again, the palm oasis at Borrego Springs was a bit more startling. I think we’re getting “Amazing Scenery Fatigue.”


Thanksgiving weekend was surely packed in the park, so we went outside it to an area called Mecca, where, man, was the one parking lot for several trails just a beehive of activity. People camped at the trailhead, someone was running a remote-controlled car in the sand there, people were meeting up and backpacking way in.

Because this is outside the park, we could take Banjo, which was the biggest treat.

I picked the location because I’m all excited about discovering the app AllTrails, which Tracy has been using for years, but I’m just now catching on. I picked an easy trail because Banjo was with (don’t want her falling off any cliffs), and it was a bit boring. And I couldn’t track us on the app accurately and got frustrated that we didn’t follow the trail I’d intended.

Still, we took a few detours into slot canyons, which Banjo is happy to do as long as we’re all together, and we saw some “painted rock,” which is what the area is famous for. You guessed it, for sure the painted rock at The Valley of Fire is much more spectacular. Still, I enjoyed hiking with Banjo for a change.

Willow Hole

What other parks don’t have is, of course, Joshua Trees. So today (Monday after Thanksgiving), we risked it and drove the 1.5 hours through the park to the more interesting parts that are in the higher-elevation Mojave Desert.

Willow Hole trail begins at Boy Scout trail, which is pretty easy (duh) but is a great introduction to the Joshua Trees and yucca plants, which begin sparsely and then thicken as you continue to hike.

Joshua Trees don’t grow in groups, like forests; they seem to grow in a pretty uniformly scattered way, like, say, 20 feet part. As we drove through the park we could see how scattered they are, but while hiking they got more numerous around us, and you could really appreciate how twisted they grow, how unique each one is in shape. (I’ll post later about the different plants I’ve gotten to know here.)

More lovely round rocks, more lovely rock formations.

And the oasis at the end of the trail has much more green at it than others—no palm trees, but lots of desert willows and cottonwood and pinyon trees.

We stopped by the willows for lunch and then turned back for the 3.5 mile hike to the car, which unfortunately had us miss the last little bit where you squeeze through rocks to a view of a canyon below. Duh!

What we did hike was gorgeous, to me, at least. So many different types of cacti and trees, and a long hike that gives you time to look all around and appreciate it. ( I’ll have more pictures in my next post about cacti.)

Those are our hikes so far! We need to spend another day in the nearby town, plus I need a down day, and then we might take off to the place we’ll spend Christmas before it gets too crowded there. So maybe these are our last hikes in this park? If so, that’s fine—I’m getting in the desert spirit here, and I’ll always be grateful for that.