The spiny Joshua trees with upraised arms printed on the back of rental RVs always made me wonder how they really look like with my own eyes. After over three hours’ drive due to traffic jam, we finally came to Black Rock Campground at Yucca Valley. We camped among the surreal Joshua trees, seeing them, touching them, and feeling them.
Joshua tree is the signature plant of the Mojave Desert. Its upturned arms covered with sword like leaves. Giant pale colored pinnacle shaped blossoms adorn the tips of branches. Most Joshua trees stand alone whereas some grow in a clump. Those Joshua trees in a clump usually have twisted and down trunks because of competition. They look ancient but the new green leaves and giant blossoms signify their strength and longevity. The Joshua tree is a species of yucca and can grow over 40 feet tall. Some of them can grow over 500 years old.
On our first evening at the campground, a jackrabbit sat still in the cool wind at the base of the Joshua tree on our campsite. We called him Jack. Jack hung around and he might have a home under a juniper tree by the campsite. Being neighbors with Joshua trees and Jack by the park gave me a good impression about the park immediately.
The overnight wind brought a cool and sunny perfect day. We drove through the residential area built among Joshua trees. Light yellow desert dandelions and other wildflowers shone on their front yards. The Xerox landscaping is in harmony with the surroundings. We entered Joshua Tree National Park from the west entrance where dense and tall Joshua trees thrive. The park is where the high Mojave Desert (elevations of 3,000 feet to 6,000 feet) and low Colorado Desert (elevations below 3,000 feet) meets. Joshua trees live in the cooler and wetter Mojave Desert. Stacked monzogranite boulders are the playgrounds for rock climbers. There were rock climbers climbing the Intersection Rock and the nearby giant rocks. Claret Cup Cacti opened up with brilliant red blossoms by the rocks. The almost straight gaps on the Intersection Rock became sections of the popular rock climbing tracks. Chemical and mechanical weathering shaped the high and narrow piled boulders.
From Key’s View, we saw the Coachella Valley below. San Andreas Fault lies in the valley, but we had no idea where to look for it. Snow-capped San Gorgonio Mountains were seen in the distance. The wind was cool at Key’s View and the temperature was at about upper 50s. Leaving Key’s View, we headed to the popular Skull Rock. The concave areas on the rock face made it look like a skull. Kids climbed to the hollowed concave areas and had some fun. We stopped at Live Oak for a sandwich lunch. The distinctive dikes on the stacked up monzogranites caught our attention. The dikes were formed by aplite, a rock that is resistant to weathering. A boy quickly climbed to the top of the rock formations.
Taking Pinto Basin Road, we started to descend towards Colorado Desert. Temperature rose to 70s. Dazzling wildflowers blanketed the desert. Sometimes it was a field of light yellow colored dandelion flowers, other areas were dominated by yellow colored brittlebush blossoms. Blue wildflowers such as wild heliotrope and Mojave lupines took an understated tone. Cholla Cactus Garden sits on the transition zone. The less compact soil and adequate precipitation made this area an idea place for fuzzy looking cholla cacti. A little further down the road was the Ocotillo Patch. The tall and whimsical ocotillos were clothed with short green leaves on their spiky branches. Red hot blossoms on the tips shot towards the blue sky and white clouds.
We stopped at Oasis Visitor Center hoping to see some videos. But there were no videos. Then we walked to the Oasis of Mara where a small grove of native California Fan Palms stood high above the desert, surrounded by lush green bushes at their base. By the trail, a few pretty pink beavertail cactus flowers vie for attention. The sign at the visitor center minded visitors to look out for desert tortoises on the road for a drink of rainwater, but we didn’t see any. A tiny green backed hummingbird flew around and perched on a bare branch. It might be a black-chinned hummingbird.
The quick tour to Joshua Tree National Park showed us more than Joshua trees. It is a park with diversified desert landscape.