Joshua Tree was the next destination on our list. On October 18, 2022, we arrived at JT RV and Campground. The dirt and gravel lot comprised back-to-back full hookup sites running down the middle of the lot with shade trees. Electric and water sites lined the perimeter for tents and RVs not needing the sewer.
Joshua Tree Saloon
After setting up, it was time for a bite to eat. Joshua Tree Saloon served ribs, a variety of fried seafood, hamburgers, sandwiches, salads, tacos, and quesadillas. They also had a long list of wines and beers, on tap or in a bottle.
The hidden entrance is around the back, through the patio area. The outside bartender showed us the way. Multiple TVs keep patrons entertained while waiting for their meals, and the corrugated steel panels and antiques contributed to the rustic appeal.
Joshua Tree National Park
We didn’t plan our visit to Joshua Tree National Park on the same day we last visited the park five years earlier. It was just one of those flukes. Our blog post dated January 11, 2018, talks about our visit on October 19, 2017. It wasn’t until I was drafting this post that I realized the date matched.
We concentrated this visit on the west side of the park where the Joshua trees are more concentrated and where a few road pullouts include information panels that describe the terrain, plants, and history.
The arrangement of plants in the photo below looks like a professional landscaper had a hand in their placement. The rocks strategically piled in front of a juniper and flanked by yuccas have a balance to them.
Joshua Tree National Park gained monument status in 1936 and national park status in 1994. What is unique about this park are the two deserts that meet within the park boundaries—the Mojave Desert on the west side and the Colorado Desert on the east side. The over 800,000 acres of both high desert and low desert environments allow a diversity of plants and animals to thrive.
At one stop there was no trail, so we picked our way around boulders, juniper and creosote bushes, and avoided the beaver tail and cholla cactus, stopping every few feet to take pictures behind us so we could find our way back to the truck. Then we followed other trails nearby and here is what we saw.
Barker Dam Loop trail led us to Barker Dam and Lake. The lower portion of the dam was built by the Barker and Shay Cattle company, creating a lake from rainfall for watering their cattle. In 1949-50, the Keys family added the upper concrete layer. Although we saw a few puddles when we visited in October, apparently winter and spring are the best chance to see the lake full. Average rainfall currently is around 2–5 inches compared to 10 inches in the early 1900s.
From the Barker Dam trail, we took a spur that led to petroglyphs. Unfortunately, someone had the bright idea of outlining the drawings with paint. The paint makes them easier to see, but ruins the original art. What a shame.
Coming up next, we drive through the transition zone between the Colorado and Sonoran deserts to the south and the Mojave desert to the north. Our destination: Lake Havasu to see family and friends.
This desert area became a national park in 1994 after being set aside as a monument in 1936 by President Roosevelt. Jon and I had driven by the park several times going to and from other places and often commented that we needed to go back and spend some time. I was curious about what had changed since I camped at Jumbo Rocks with a group of friends while still in high school. Finally, I’d find out.
Oasis Visitor Center
We started our exploration at the Oasis Visitor Center where we picked up a pamphlet and a map of the 794,000-acre park. We also walked around the Oasis Trail with a volunteer ranger. She had a grade school teacher’s personality that roused our interest as she pointed out features of the palms, the different plants, and the animals that visited the pond. She explained that they do not trim the dead palm fronds from the trees because they serve as homes and protection for birds, owls, and other critters.
The main highway traffic ebbed into white noise leaving only the sounds of wind whistling through the palm fronds, the trickling spring, birds trilling their songs, and scampering lizards and mice rustling in the brush.
Along the path is a series of signposts that tell the story of what happens when a seventeen-year-old girl of the Chemehuevi falls in love with a white man. The story gave me a glimpse into the people who visited the oasis in the early 1900s.
Cholla Cactus Garden
Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes while navigating the quarter-mile loop trail in the Cholla Cactus Garden.
Although the branches appear as if they are covered with something soft and fluffy, don’t touch. The prickly barbs will latch onto shoes and clothing and you’ll have a jolly time trying to remove them. The cone shapes tipped with yellow are what is left from the flowers that bloom from March through May.
Split Rock Loop Trail
Take the Split Rock short loop trail to see rocks and cactus up close, or extend the hike to a full 2.5 miles by taking the extension to Face Rock.
Joshua Tree National Park is unique in that it encompasses portions of both the Mojave Desert on the western half of the park and the Colorado Desert on the eastern half. The Joshua Trees, a species of yucca rather than a true tree, are most prevalent on the western side where elevations are greater than 3,000 feet.
Skull Rock Trail
This is another loop trail and quite popular with cars and trucks parked on both sides of the road for about a quarter mile on either side. Start at Jumbo Rocks Campground, or at Skull Rock. There are trails on both sides of the highway and plenty to see.
A sampling of plants seen on the trails.
Red Top Buckwheat
Paper Bag Bush
Beaver Tail Cactus
Hidden Valley Trail
I think Hidden Valley Trail was one of my favorites. It’s such a surprise to break through the tight boulder formations and encounter a rock enclosed valley that cattle rustlers may have used to hide out.
Keys View (5,183 feet)
Keys View overlooks Highway 10 and across the valley stands the Indio Hills.
29 Palms Inn and Restaurant
We didn’t expect much in the way of a decent restaurant in town since the main drag was where most of the fast-food chains set up shop. We were surprised, however, when we drove to the end of a road, skirted the pool, and walked into the restaurant at the 29 Palms Inn on the Oasis of Mara. They have been dishing up tasty food since 1928.
The inn includes several adobe bungalows, suites, wood frame cabins, and other accommodations guests wanting a quirky place to stay. Oh, the stories those bungalows could tell if only given a chance.
Camping at Joshua Tree National Monument
Camping is available year round. No reservations are needed during the summer when the temperatures rise to 100 degrees or more. October through May is the busiest time and mid-February to mid-May and holidays are the busiest. Two of the campgrounds accept reservations and six are first come, first served. By Friday morning, October 20, 2017, the campgrounds were already full. I’m glad we had arranged for accommodations outside of the park, although it would have been fun to look up at the pitch black sky and watch the Orionid meteor shower without ambient light getting in the way. Oh, about what has changed at Jumbo Rock Campground? Although I noticed a definite upgrade in the amenities, the crowded sites turned me off. Maybe Sunday through Wednesday wouldn’t be so bad.
Another Restaurant Recommendation
On our way from Prescott, Arizona, to Twenty-nine Palms, California, we passed through Wickenburg, Arizona, at lunchtime. The Tastee Freez looked to be the best bet in town, and we weren’t disappointed. Expecting only grilled hamburgers and French fries, this Tastee Freez, along with Sundance Pizza, has a large menu to satisfy any guest, including deli sandwiches and salads. If you are traveling through Wickenburg and it’s time to eat, don’t be shy about giving this Tastee Freez a try.
Tastee Freez in Wickenburg
Tastee Freez in Wickenburg
If the timing is right the next time we roll through Twenty-nine Palms, we’ll have to stop and explore more of Joshua Tree National Park. Plenty of trails still remain for us to take.
Coming up is the Borax Visitor Center in Boron, California, and then on to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.