Exploring the California Desert – Visiting Joshua Tree

We had driven all the way to Palm Desert to spend the Thanksgiving Holiday. We couldn’t leave without visiting the famous Joshua Tree National Park. The park is famous for its titular trees, tall knobby plants shooting out from the ground, where each branch ends in a spiny green puff. Legend has it that the Mormons saw the trees with its outstretched arms and named it after their prophet Joshua. But beside the trees, the park is full of amazing rock formations, and is right in the Mojave Desert, making it a spot that draws rock climbers, hikers, and those looking for a vision quest combined.

The beauty of the Joshua tree*

After packing up the AirBnB and getting lunch, we got to the West entrance visitor’s center around 1pm. There were many people at the center, and an excellent volunteer at the front was answering questions and giving out advice. After hearing our constraints (still recovering from knee surgery, wanted to hit the road before dark, kids with us) she gave us a great idea. She suggested we drive to the North Entrance, and drive main road as a loop through the park. For a stop she suggested we park at Cap Rock, and take the 0.3 mile Nature Walk. We figured even with an hour at the Nature Walk, that would give us plenty of time to get out before dark.

We were lucky in that there was a short wait at the North entrance, and we entered the park relatively easily. Soon we were driving through Park Blvd, the main route through the park. As we drive along we quickly start to spot the Dr. Seuss like Joshua Tree. They start out small, but soon you start to see bigger ones, then fields of them. The trees can be small, with one or two branches, but also big with several twisted branches each having the puffy, spiny bunches at the end of the branch. There were fields of them. And in the distance, beautiful mountains surrounding the valley we were driving through.

Fields of trees

Soon we came to a strange rock range that was flattened at the top. We were so entranced, we pulled over to take a closer look. My son got out of the car to read about the rock and learned that erosion had flattened it over time. My husband took the opportunity to take out his camera and take photos. And my artistic daughter decided to draw some of the bushes and strange plants she had been viewing.

Checking out the fascinating rock formation

Not too much further along we came to the intersection that held the entrance to Cap Rock Nature Trail. We headed down the trail, and immediately the kids took advantage of the free space to run and stretch their legs. Along the trail were placards that helped identify all the flora we were viewing. The kids liked to read the plaques and then try and identify the plants as they went along.

Enjoying Cap Rock and all the nature around

However, while the educational aspect was fun, they soon noticed the rocks. It didn’t take long for them to start climbing all the rocks they could find, seeing how high they could go. Normally, I’d let them get a little higher, but I didn’t trust I could get up and rescue them if I needed to. So I had to limit the heights they reached.

The rocks were too fun to avoid

The walk was nice and leisurely as the volunteer had suggested. It was flat dirt the entire walk. There were benches along the way in case you got tired. The vegetation was beautiful and diverse. The rocks were fun and plentiful, and added a unique backdrop to the vegetation. The kids walked, jumped and climbed. My husband took pictures. And I soaked in the beautiful surroundings. It was a short trail, but we meandered and enjoyed it, spending about 45 minutes in the area.

Enjoying the trail and stretching our legs in this beautiful place

After the walk, we jumped back in the car, and headed back on Park Blvd toward the West Entrance. We enjoyed the view leaving, and were sad to head out the exit and back into town. We knew that meant we were starting our real journey home. But we were leaving with lovely memories, and seeing the kids truly enjoy the splendor that nature can provide.

Looking at the beautiful Joshua trees as we start our drive home

Joshua Tree National Park

  • West Entrance: 5 Miles south of Hwy 62 and Park Blvd.
  • North Entrance: 3 Miles south of Hwy 62 and Utah Trail
  • South Entrance: 25 East of Indio off I-10
  • Hours: Open 24 hours, 7 days a week
  • Entrance Fee: $25 a car for a 7 day pass

* Photos taken by Atma Photography

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