After visiting San Diego we headed inland and passed Temecula Valley which we already had stopped at. The views were starting to look more and more like a desert. Our original thought was to spend the night in Palm Springs, but later we decided that it was better to be closer to our next days' destination: Joshua Tree National Park. So we ended up in a small town called Palm Desert.
The next day we spent in Joshua Tree. After breakfast, we stopped at a local store to fill up our cooler with some snacks since there is no restaurants in the parks we would visit the next couple days. We were expecting high temperatures, so we also packed plenty of water in our cooler and drowned ourselves in sun screen.
JOSHUA TREE - WHAT IS THAT?
Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) are common to the Mojave Desert in California. It doesn't grow anywhere else in the world, so it is pretty special. You might see them in Arizona, Nevada and Utah in small amounts since that is where the Mojave Desert spreads out. The trees grow approximately 15 metres high and can live up to 200 years. The name Joshua Tree comes from the Bible. The mormons passing through the desert thought that Joshua tree branches reminded them of the story of Joshua who reached his hands out to the sky. That is how they started calling the trees Joshua trees.
During some years, Joshua trees make big flowers on the tips of their branches and the yucca moth will pollinate them. These trees will also make some fruit. In the old days, American Indians used to make sandals and baskets out of Joshua tree leaves. Today the Joshua trees are threatened by global warming and forest fires.
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
You can see some Joshua trees here and there when driving in these areas but we also visited Joshua Tree National Park. We drove through the park stopping first in a visitor center and then in different parts of the park. In Joshua Tree National Park two different ecosystems meet; the Mojave and Colorado desert systems. In many parts the land is flat as far as you can see, and sometimes you can see different rock formations with some hiking trails in between them. Far away are the San Bernardino and the Hexie mountains.
One can easily drive through the park in a few hours and just stop here and there to see the most interesting sites. But one can also hike or camp in this park. There are also several old mining areas to be discovered. The main thing in the park is the nature. There are so many different birds, butterflies, lizards and other animals living there. In spring time, one might be lucky enough to see some blooming desert flowers. We only did a couple shorter hikes in the park and enjoyed the lunch we brought with us to the picnic area, but on my last visit we hiked more and even went to see Skull Rock. If you are traveling with kids, you should ask for a junior ranger activity book. It was very well made and had a lot of valuable information in it. After filling it out, we stopped at another visitor center to show it to a ranger, and by swearing the Junior Ranger oath, kids will get their own badge (and often some little gifts too).
A CACTUS THAT JUMPS
One of the most interesting places in Joshua Tree National Park is the Cholla cactus garden where you can do a little hike. Chollas are typical plants in the area, but you should be extremely careful with them, since their nick name is the jumping cholla. They like to stick to anything that touches them and are very hard to get rid off. They drop little cactus balls on the ground and if you kick one, it looks like it jumps back and attaches to your foot. The spines of chollas are hollow and if they prick you, the end of the spine will bend so removing them is extremely painful. These little cactus balls will easily stick to animals and spread around that way. The same way they will stick to clothes as well or to skin. So don't wear your sandals on this trail and do not touch the cactuses!
After a day in Joshua Tree Park we stayed a night close by in Twentynine Palms. The next day we drove to the Mojave Desert and to Mojave National Preserve which also is part of the National Park system. We were surprised that the temperatures in Joshua Tree National Park did not get very high, but we still managed to get some sun burns. Mojave seemed to be the same way. The sun was shining but it wasn't burning hot.
We didn't know very much about the Mojave National Preserve or what we could do there. The park is pretty big and some of the roads there are gravel roads. We drove to Kelso visitor center to talk to a ranger and eat some lunch we brought with us. Originally we had planned to drive around the park and explore the south side more since there was some rock formations. But we slowly understood that the desert is also a desert over there, and there is not so much to see. They were also doing some road work which would have made our drive back a lot longer. I had read about the Mitchell Caverns on the other side of the park, but then I found out that they were actually managed by State Parks and the caves were closed at the moment. So we did what the ranger suggested, we drove back and visited the Kelso Sand Dunes which we had seen from our car window. We were hoping to see some wild flowers and desert tortoise, but neither of them seemed to be around. In that sense, the Mojave National Preserve was a little disappointing, but I'm sure if you camp in the area, you can have a lot of fun.
From here we continued our trip north.