Joshua Tree national park in southern California is divided about half and half between the low and high deserts. This page concentrates entirely on the high desert sections of the park. The far northern section above a range of low hills is really quite bleak. It looks approximately like this while hiking.
We took the 49 palm hiking trail which leads to an oasis nestled in these hills. In this center of this picture is the oasis from a substantial distance. You can first see it as a little spot of green amidst all the brown. Finding the trailhead for the hike is nearly as difficult. You'll need the map available at the Joshua Tree visitor center, or a good guide book. Or you can drive around on dirt roads for an hour or so like we did.
Arriving at the oasis there are something like the namesake number of palm trees, lots of pleasant little pools of water connected by a stream and lots of birds and lizards. It was also about 10 degrees (F) cooler than the surrounding desert.
If you circle around these hills (by road) into the main valleys of the park, there are thousands of joshua trees and hundreds of odd clumps of boulders which has made the park very popular with rock climbers of all sorts. We couldn't resist a little bouldering ourselves. The geology of the area has resulted in lots of natural chimneys. The amazing part about this one is that Trout somehow managed to get through it as well.
Even if you're not into amateur climbing it's worth meandering through the boulders. We came across some precariously balanced mesquite trees, impressive gorges and a few assorted coyotes.
That's as far as this page can go without getting into the joshua trees themselves. A joshua tree is a rare member of the yucca family which is only found in and around this part of the country. Like saguaro cacti they are mostly upright with assorted arms sticking out at various unlikely angles. They're mostly found on the valley floors, sometimes in staggeringly vast stretches.
There are some relatively small dirt roads traversing the valleys which allow better views of the trees themselves (as well as access to less crowded rock areas).
In late autumn when we visited it was quite pleasant during the day, although we still consumed quite a lot of water. Once the sun began to set it cooled off rather quickly. We spent a few minutes frantically trying to get to the top of some interesting rock before the sun disappeared so as to get a more interesting picture but we didn't quite make it so we had to take the sunset picture (above) from ground level.
This valley which is called 'hidden valley' (obviously it's not very hidden if they put it on the map) has perhaps the highest concentration of joshua trees that we saw.
Supposedly there are some great backcountry hikes in the park that lead to dramatic rock formations, other oases and the like. We didn't have time for one of those this go 'round. We also had Trout with us and dogs aren't particularly welcome in the park. Luckily there were a few boulder clumps near picnic areas so Trout got his climbing in too.