Joshua Tree

We went camping last weekend at Joshua Tree National Park with some friends under the pretense of going bird watching. This was our second annual birdwatching excursion to Joshua Tree, which is located in the Mojave Desert about two hours from our homes in Laguna Beach. We saw a lot of desert birds, but I think we all equally enjoyed taking in the amazing landscape, hiking diverse trails, discovering new flowers and plants, watching the stars, nipping whiskey, sharing stories,
 and just hanging out in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

The first two photos are of our two campsites. Although there was no running water, we loved the desolate feel and beauty of Indian Cove campground. Spring is the perfect time of year to visit: Temperatures were in the high ’70s, low ’80s, and it was always breezy and even gusty at times. 
This place literally bakes in the summer.
The campsites were spread out, so you felt almost alone at times, even though small groups of boy scouts were rappelling down nearby rocks and there were families all over the place. If you want to visit, book way ahead–the entire park was FULL.
We went on several distinct hikes, each one bursting with unique fauna and flora. I can’t say we made great time on any of them, since most of us were either hunched over a new flower, crouched over a plant to take a photograph or trying to capture a bird in our binoculars. 
We thought our timing couldn’t have been better. Everything was blooming, from the large pink blooms of the cacti to the tiniest little flowers that you typically only see when you are above timberline.
That’s a Joshua Tree behind this cactus. They look like something out of Dr. Seuss, and should not be confused with the yucca.

 I believe this is a type of buckwheat, but most of the flower ids are a giant blur now.

This place was called Split Rock. I think this is the main split rock, but everywhere you looked the rocks had split into interesting formations. 

A lot of the rocks had lines like this from ancient fissures that filled in over the years.

See the guy at the top? Just to give you some perspective. If you have kids, this place is the best for rock hopping. They can spend all day scrambling around these rock piles!

The yucca were going off! 
 As far as birds, we saw many of the typical desert species, including the Gambel’s Quail, Verdin, Scott’s Oriole, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Cactus Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Rock Wren, Black-Throated Sparrow, Black Chinned Sparrow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, on and on. (Most of us are new to birdwatching, so we were very proud of our list.) 
Close-up of a yucca bloom. 

Some more of these splits. Believe it or not, I didn’t even begin to do justice to the beauty of this place, especially the rock formations and sweeping views.

The pink and yellow dudlea were all over the place, this one were growing right out of a cactus. I guess that’s what they do.

We all loved the sculptural quality of this plant, called Desert Trumpet, or Eriogonum Inflatum (Thanks Dustin over at blog Non-Secateur for the ID).

At Split Rock, we did a little loop hike,
 took a wrong turn at one point, but added several miles of sheer beauty!

This guy was just getting going. Give it another week, and vavoom!! I almost wanted to pry it open.

This is in the middle of a different hike to the popular FortyNine Palms Oasis, which was a stand of palm trees  growing at a water source, usually a spring. 
These barrel cacti dotted the hills.
They had yellow blooms on the top, ready to bust open with a little more heat.

In the center you can start to make out the destination–the green tops of palm trees–in the distance.

A little boy spotted this desert tortoise, always a lucky find to see!

We didn’t see a single snake. But we spotted many lizards, including these Chuckwallas. 
This one was about a foot and half long. 
Almost there. It’s like those old cartoons, 
where the thirsty guy lost in the desert spots the mirage of water in the distance.

We made it. A nice stand of giant palms in a little wash. (Some of the trunks were scorched by a recent fire.)
 That’s the view looking east, back down into the valley.

If you are still with me here, I thought you might also enjoy a hike we took outside the park, at a place called The Whitewater Preserve. One of our friends discovered it, located just off the I-10 before you make the turn up into the Mojave northwest of Palm Springs. It used to be an old “U-Catch-Em” fish farm. Now it’s a wildlife refuge. Up in those cliffs we saw bighorn sheep, about a dozen with babies!! Very unusual to see. 

Although U could no longer catch Em, the three ponds were filled with giant trout.
That’s Mount San Jacinto (above Palm Springs) in the background. In this place you could see San Jacinto and San Gorgonio (aka Old Greyback) at the same time. Both snow-capped at the end of April and stunning!

We started our hike here, which took us across the Whitewater wash and linked with the Pacific Trail. It was a beautiful loop, packed with flowers and amazing vistas. As you can see, if we had been better prepared we could have gone to Mexico or Canada.

You wouldn’t believe how tiny many of these flowers were. One friend, who is a naturalist, used her binoculars backwards to get a closer look.

Here we are crossing the wash.
When you live in Southern California, finding a place like this with running water is such a treasure!


The blend of dainty wildflowers intermingled with the indestructible cacti.

I don’t think we were up that high, maybe 500 to 700 feet here, but the terrain felt alpine, with meadows and tiny annuals dotting the trail.

Check out that sign. “Caution: bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, flash floods.” It’s a wonder we survived! Can you make out the wind farm in the distance?
That’s it for now. Never underestimate the desert! And visit if you can. 

12 thoughts on “Joshua Tree

  1. There're few things more special than the dessert in springtime! Just love all the flora and fauna!

  2. Fantastic photos! My husband and I were once desert rats and would trek out to JTNP just about every chance we got. We had never camped at Indian Cove before, but used to frequent Jumbo Rocks, White Tank, and Cottonwood Spring down at the southern end of the park. I had heard about a new visitor center at Whitewater and, after seeing your photos, I'm now all jazzed to go check it out!

  3. WOW to your photos! I would be happy to help you ID some of your plants, sometime. Funny, but I just returned from the northeastern Mojave Desert (Las Vegas), and saw many of the same plants hiking today. Was 97F back in town!

  4. Gorgeous. I'm loving all the blooming going on within a 100-mile radius of us. Have you checked out Casper's (off Ortega Highway) lately? Insane!

  5. @david the desert dweller. i love when you provide plant ids!! please go for it, if you have the time! thanks!! (if you make in comments, i will add to post.)

  6. Incredible! Your fantastic photos make me wish I could leave tomorrow and go straight there. Wow.

    Such incredible plants and flowers, even in the middle of the desert – it's just unreal! Glad you got a spot and generally beat "the crowd."

    That caution sign cracked me up – I'm glad you got out unscathed. 😉

    Thanks as always for sharing such wonderful pictures and stories!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *