Wild Beauty in Joshua Tree National Park
By Ashley Stinson
In a remote corner of the state, where San Bernardino County meets Riverside County, where the Mojave meets the Colorado Desert, you can find Joshua Tree National Park. This area of over 1,200 square miles brings the Old West to mind—California has moved on and grown modern, but Joshua Tree is still rugged and untamable. The wild beauty of this region makes it an ideal spot for campers, hikers, and general sightseers. And its distance from the light pollution of cities means that out here you can see the night sky at its absolute zenith of beauty.
The forces of nature have left portions of this park looking like something from an alien planet. One such formation is the famous Arch Rock—a windswept natural stone arch that exudes mysterious beauty. The Arch Rock nature trail is a short, simple hike that will take you around a number of fascinating geological sights, with the arch that gives the trail its name as the obvious centerpiece.
These aren’t the only fascinating stones in the park, however. Elsewhere in the park, along the main east-west road, you can find a formation called Skull Rock, named because, much like the lair of a super-villain, it resembles a giant skull. It’s hard to imagine that these features were not carved, but these unusual rocks are the mere product of millennia of winds blowing through the desert.
There are dozens of trails throughout Joshua Tree, offering hikers of all abilities and ambitions. A number of short walks and nature trails exist that can be accessed year-round, and some of these, such as Bajada, are wheelchair accessible. The short walks can take as little as 10 minutes to walk, as is the case with the easy going Cottonwood Spring trail, to a little bit meatier one and a half hours, such as the Hi View trail which will take you up a ridge and present you with a view of the iconic Joshua tree forests for which the park is named.
If you’re an experienced desert hiker, you might be more interested in hiking the more challenging Lost Horse Mine trail—a four mile trail which runs around a historic gold mine. The park is also home to a number of more challenging hikes which should never be made in the heat. These range in distance from the three mile Ryan Mountain hike, which will take you 1000 feet high to reach the summit of Ryan Mountain, to the 35 mile California Riding and Hiking Trail, which takes two to three days to complete. Because of the natural risks of hiking in an area where sun exposure and dehydration are constant threats, be sure never to undertake a trail that you don’t feel confident about.
Joshua Tree is a wonderland of rock climbing opportunities, with over 8,000 climbing routes to choose from. If you’ve always wanted to rock climb but don’t know where to start, or if you know how to climb but feel like you could use more tips, Cliffhanger Guides offers guided rock climbing adventures for all ages in Joshua Tree National Park. Having a guide who knows the rock climbing routes can help you make the most of your time in Joshua Tree, and help you find the routes that are going to be the most rewarding and appropriate to your skill level.
Just outside of Joshua Tree National Park is a tiny town called Twentynine Palms. Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center, located in this little desert town, is a must-see if you’re interested in the natural world. Sky’s the Limit is a nonprofit organization which is only open to the public for Saturday night stargazing events. These events are free and walk-in friendly with no reservations required. The observatory provides the public with a variety of telescopes across their large campus from which to view the sky—and the night sky in Joshua Tree is something worth a look.