Return to Joshua Tree National Park

29 Feb

We first visited Joshua Tree in December 2009, it was cold and grey… we drove from north to south through the park, spent one night dry camping in the Cottonwood camp ground,  and left, the park just did not grab us. We have always blamed it on the cold weather and thought a return visit with sunshine may change our minds.


We stopped at the Cottonwood Visitor Centre to pay our park fees but had decided we would camp this time in the Jumbo Rocks camp ground. From Cottonwood to Jumbo rocks is 34 miles and the road travels through the Pinto Basin,a wide open area totally undeveloped with no signs of habitation in any direction. Distant mountains in the outlying areas of the park were once the haunt of gold prospectors so the remains of their settlements lay hidden somewhere out of view.

Lots of cholla cactus grow in this part of the park which forms a transition zone between the Colorado and Mojave Deserts but as we neared Jumbo Rocks the landscape and plants began to change .


We found the camp ground at Jumbo Rocks a little tight, many of the sites were adjacent to the roadway, whilst we could fit in length ways once we opened out our slides we would hang over the road. We eventually settled on a spot with a nice picnic area and decided to stay for two nights hoping to get out for a reasonable hike the next day.P1240862

From our site we took the trail to skull rock which led us up and over some of the rocky area surrounding the camp ground. These huge blocks of granite which look as if they have rolled here were actually once buried beneath the ground. Water erosion has gradually exposed them, washing away softer clay from between the naturally occurring cracks and leaving them looking like a pile of boulders.






Skull rock looks vaguely like…. a skull!


The hike was interesting but not the exercise we were hoping for. We looked at the park information and decided maybe if we moved over to the Black Rock Canyon camp ground we might do better.

We found the road to the camp ground and around it to be P1240940very rough, the sites quite uneven and sandy but managed to get level on a site right on the edge of the camping area with a great view out. (The ranger informed us the camp ground roads had been re paved only 18months or so ago and the present condition was normal weathering!)  Best of all we had a Joshua Tree either side of us, one of which was in bud!

To fit in with other things we hoped to do over the next few days we could only stay one night at Black Rock Canyon so had to get straight out and make the most of our afternoon.

We looked at the trail map and consulted with the ranger about two hikes we thought we could manage. She advised the 5 mile west loop was the nicer of the two and that a anti clockwise route would mean we walked up the steeper bits and not down them.

Setting off around 2pm through the camp ground we soon rose above it and looked down on a green oasis of Joshua Trees the campers mostly hidden from view.


We passed over a higher section and then walked through a wash area climbing out of it a view opened up before us of the distant mountains some highlighted with a covering of snow


Along with the Joshua Trees we found lots of Pinion Pine (where the pine nuts come P1240938from) Yuka and Juniper. Only the female Juniper has berries on, many of the ones we saw were loaded, they reminded me of a decorated Christmas tree.



Can anyone tell me what this plant is?

I am sure I have seen it before so should know but can’t remember. The bright red/ brown stems were highlighted by the pale green glossy foliage and its white flowers were buzzing with bees.








After a nice easy stretch the trail produced a few surprises, firstly a sandy incline,


Then a few rocky descents into a sandy wash – this we thought was better, at least it was flat and we were nearly at the end of the trail – weren’t we? No!

The wash went on forever and we decided we were getting bored of the flatness when once more the trail began to climb, up and over another rise along a flatter high section, down once more and then another sandy wash. This time not flat, a slow gradual incline of perhaps 3/4 of a mile. OK – so we will not complain of boring flat trails again!

Not too much further after the last wash, over some more rocky ground we could see the camping area just to our left but it was about another 15 minutes before we actually got there as the trail skirted all around the back before we finally reached ‘home’.

We had got our exercise, almost 6 miles and three hours of walking through beautiful scenery it was well worth all the effort. We saw only one other person on the trail and thought it a shame that some of those who were scrambling over the rocks the previous day had not come to experience this part of the park. It felt like we were in the middle of that undeveloped expanse and could truly appreciate the desert surrounding us.


3 Responses to “Return to Joshua Tree National Park”

  1. Sue February 29, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    based on your recommendation, we didn’t even check out Black Rock Canyon. High Five to you both for finding a place to fit in Jumbo Rocks. Although its beautiful, we felt uncomfortable just in the dually! I think Joshua Tree is best explored in a toad. I wish our plans to be there with you had worked out!

  2. George Knoblock February 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    That bush may be a kind of Creosote bush which usually has a red slick covering over a portion of the trunk and older branches.

    • elainethehill March 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

      Ahhh ! Now I have also heard from friend Alice

      ” -It’s Manzanita bush, Elaine. After the blossom drops, a small apple shape fruit appears. Manzana is Spanish for apple – add “ita” and you have small apple. I love Joshua Tree later in the spring when all of those thousands of Joshua trees are in blossom.”
      Wednesday at 22:49 ·

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