Joshua Tree National Park… After and Before…

After the Flashflood and Before the Partial Government Shutdown

The Little San Bernardino Mountains of JT overlook Thousand Palms Oasis. It’s a nice counterclockwise, day-drive loop from the south to west entrances.

It’s our day off and we want to look down over Thousand Palms Oasis from Keyes View.

Entering from Exit 168 off I-10, the south entrance, we see why this portion of JT was closed after the October flash flood. Dried mud still stains the park road and sandy remains are still piled up where the washes intersect the route.

From the  Cottonwood entrance we drive through the Colorado Desert on the way to the Mojave Desert.

The rocks really rock the washes blooming in green.

Piles of boulders stand alongside desert yucca.

Smoke trees and creosote line the road as we continue.

We arrive at the Pinto Basin and learn that a now extinct river once ran through here offering a cooler, wetter climate for a native culture to exist along its riverbank. (National Park plaque)

Between 1931 and 1935 self-taught archaeologists, Elizabeth and William Campbell, discovered many small campsites and chipped stone tools throughout the valley. These leaf-shaped points, scrapers, and choppers were different from other tools discovered in the area. Radiocarbon testing confirmed the existence of a vanished people from over 9000 years ago – – – The Pinto Culture. (National Park plaque)

As we continue along the Pinto Basin toward the Ocotillo Patch and Cholla Gardens, we notice a large desert plant with dark leaves and withered white flowers tinged with the color lavender. Since no cars are behind us, we stop and back up so I can get a picture. Later we learn that this plant is called Datura, or Jimson Weed, often found along roadsides and washes where the sand is constantly disturbed. (

A perennial that loses its leaves in the winter, the flowers open at night and shrivel in the day. But don’t be fooled by this exquisite trumpet-shaped bloom!

Datura is extremely poisonous; all of its tissues contain chemical compounds known as alkaloids. The concentration of toxic levels varies from plant to plant. All parts of all datura plants are poisonous and can be fatal if ingested. Despite the grave risk, this night-blooming plant has been used since ancient times by spiritualists, holy men, medicine men, witches, and modern day recreational drug users as an hallucinogenic. (

So… moving right along, we discover a patch along our drive dotted with ocotillos.

This thorny multi-stemmed shrub is not season dependent, but rain dependent. Following a sufficient rain, the ocotillo puts forth a cluster of leaves above each thorn with a flourish of green. The ocotillo may grow and drop leaves as many as 5 times per year. (National Park plaque)

We arrive at where we visited before, the amazing Cholla Gardens! Seriously, out of nowhere, cholla cacti are EVERYWHERE.

Soon after recovering from our “cholla overdose”, we turn west onto Park Boulevard and are greeted by our first joshua trees in the Mojave Desert.

This area is more heavily trafficked. We pull off across from Skull Rock and walk a less popular but awesome trail filled with spectacular photo ops!

Up close and personal with the desert mistletoe “sponging off” the mesquites…


And pencil chollas…

Beaver-tailed cactus…

Rocks… mesmerizing rocks…

Finally we head to Keyes View… our main destination:

Keyes View overlooks Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve and the San Andreas Fault. With binoculars, Jeff helps me locate the Preserve parking lot.

Circled in the photo below is the location of Keyes View as seen from Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve:

Leaving Keyes View through a forest of joshua trees…

This is our third visit to Joshua Tree NP and it never disappoints. Next time we want to explore the north entrance and hike Ryan’s Mountain.

Joshua Tree National Park

Southern CA has been cool, windy and cloudy, frost overnight and day time temps trying unsuccessfully to reach 60 degrees. Unfortunately this, and a bad blister on the bottom of my toe, has interfered with our hiking frenzy. And it’s even cooler in the higher elevations where we prefer to hike.

Fortunately, Joshua Tree National Park is about 62 miles away and we have found a challenging but do-able hike in the Park. Ryan Mountain is a 3 mile out and back trail with an elevation gain of 1,000 feet. The hike ends at Warren Peak with panoramic views of the western part of Joshua Tree.

Unfortunately, it’s overcast and windy and we aren’t quite prepared to deal with this. We have water and trail mix but hats and gloves would make this hike more enjoyable. So we decide to postpone exploring this trail. I leave with this picture taken near the trailhead.

Fortunately, driving through the National Park is no disappointment. Keys View, from its vantage point of 5,185 feet, overlooks a stunning expanse of valley, mountain, and desert.

That’s Mt. San Jacinto above.

And circled below is part of the San Andreas Fault.

Mojave yuccas?

Mt. San Gorgonio…

And of course the other-worldly Joshua Trees photo-bomb the western landscape.

The rock piles add texture and personality…

…And attract rock climbers…

As we drive past this rock, another climber is repelling down the backside.

So, what’s the story about these rock piles?

According to the plaque at one of the roadside exhibits, these rocks started out 85 billion years ago, 15 miles below the earth’s surface, as crystallized magma. Earthquakes stressed, cracked, and uplifted these formations of solid granite.

Ground water seeped into the cracks, rounding and shaping theses rock blocks. Ongoing erosion and uplifting continue to sculpt these rock formations today.

Now, where are we with the Fortunately/Unfortunately? The pattern calls for an Unfortunately, so… It was unfortunate that we opted out of the Ryan Mountain hike but fortunately we find a trail to explore in the Pinto Basin.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is a .25 mile nature trail that loops through 10 acres of a surreal landscape dominated by teddybear cholla cactus.

Unfortunately, the name teddybear is misleading for these cute fuzzy wuzzies with their densely interlaced yellow spines, tightly clustered stems, and dark lower trunks. (

The cacti seeds are infertile so this plant reproduces vegatively, meaning that new plants are started from fallen stem joints. So, do not attempt to “cuddle with or pet these teddybears”.(

The stem joints can easily detach and “hitch a ride” due to the minuscule barbs on the spine.

Also known as “jumping cholla”, once the stem joints latch on, the spines can be painful to remove. Check out this YouTube video.

Fortunately, the loop trail minimizes any possibility of direct contact with cholla cacti yet lets you get up close and personal.

Car Trippin’… Joshua Tree National Park

image I found out!

From my Old Testament history, I know that Joshua became the leader of the Israelites after Moses died. But why is a tree in the desert named after him?


Jeff and I spent the first day of 2016 here. As we were becoming more comfortable with leaving the dogs behind in the RV in Lake Elsinore, we traveled without them for our day trip.

Located in southeastern CA, the park encompasses 2 deserts each with its distinct ecosystem determined primarily by its elevation. (en





The Mojave Desert has elevations above 3,000 feet. Amid the boulders, that attract rock climbers from all over, are pinyon pines, scrub oaks, yuccas, and prickly pear cacti. (park brochure)




As a matter of fact, the crazy looking Joshua tree isn’t really a tree at all, but a species of yucca. Branching occurs after its cluster of flowers finishing blooming from February through April. (park brochure)



How the tree was named:

Mormon immigrants crossing the Colorado River in the mid 1800s encountered the tree and named it after Joshua fro the Bible. The outstretched limbs reminded them of hands reaching out in prayer, guiding the pioneers westward. ( (Jane Rodgers)

The Colorado Desert lies below 3,000 feet in elevation. Creosote, ocotillo, palo verde, and jumping cholla cactus dominate this landscape. (park brochure)


The rock formations:

These stacked boulders started forming eons ago from underground volcanic activity. Magma, in a molten form of monzogranite, rose fro deep within the earth and intruded its way over the existing rock. As the granite cooled, it crystalized underground and created horizontal and vertical cracks called joints. The granite continued uplifting where it came into contact with groundwater. As the surface soil eroded, piles of monzogranite scattered across the desert. (park brochure)