Early February is a cool and crisp time to visit Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP). This is my two day trip report.
I stayed 2 nights at the Sunnyvale motel in the town of Twentynine Palms. It has plenty of character and it’s located in a quiet residential neighborhood. I mostly wanted the whirlpool hot tub with a cold brew after a tiresome day in the field. I like the mini-suite with a kitchenette plus a sofa to sit and watch the Law and Order reruns on TV. Yes, this was a solo trip.
I ate dinner both nights at the 29 Palms Inn. It’s a wonderful restaurant with live entertainment and a lot of character.
There are several travel and hiking books that cover JTNP and the one that covers it best is 50 Best Short Hikes in California Deserts by John Kist.
A hiking book isn’t really needed, though. The National Park Service (NPS) website offers plenty of help:
The only maps I used were the one handed out at the entry gate and the ones included with the trail guides on the NPS website.
First, it takes almost three hours to drive there from home. The view of snow on Mt. San Gorgonio from I-10 was quite a sight. It reminded me of snowshoeing there.
49 PALMS OASIS - Nice, invigorating morning hike in under two hours and some good exercise going up, down, and around the hills; lot of boulders, panoramic view of the town of Twentynine Palms, the USMC base, and mountains in the background. About half way through the trail is when the oasis comes into view. It is the only dark green splotch on a mountain of rocks. It is amazing to see all the palm trees growing out of an underground spring out in the middle of the desert mountains. It is a look-but-don’t-touch experience with several signs blocking much of any close-up experience. It is probably unsafe to climb around the rocks to get close enough to actually touch one of these palm trees.
BARKER DAM NATURE TRAIL - Less than one hour hike through the “Wonderland of Rocks”. Funny to see an old stone dam out in the middle of the desert with a high water mark on the rocks behind. There are no “stay on the trail” signs so this is a good area for wandering aimlessly so long as you can find your way back to the car.
WALL STREET MILL - This is a less than two hour fairly easy hike through a lot of Joshua Trees. There are some desert collections of an old house, a few trucks, water tank, windmill, rail tracks, winch, plus the actual mill. It is very tempting to want to climb through the barbed wire fence to take a closer look at the old stamps and everything else in the mill. You can see an actual working 2 stamp mill a hundred miles away at Goffs Schoolhouse.
SUNSET DRIVE - As I drove back to my motel, the sun was setting and a warm orange glow appeared on the hills and boulders. Each boulder casts a shadow on the next. This is magic hour! I can begin to understand why so many visitors want to camp overnight at JTNP. After sunset the sky held a sliver of a moon and a million stars.
HIDDEN VALLEY - This is a nice morning warm-up stroll in less than an hour on a very creative trail. Found here is the largest variety of plants and trees compared to the rest of the park which is, of course, Joshua Trees. I saw two rock climbers in action; the only ones during my two days at JTNP.
LOST HORSE MINE - A very well preserved mine and stamp mill. Pipes, metal fittings, truck parts and other paraphernalia are strewn around the area, along with a few other mines and stone houses. Allow a little more than 2 hours for this. A loop trail adds another 2 hours.
KEYS VIEW - Quite a view! On a clear day you could see the Salton Sea.
RYAN MOUNTAIN – WOW! Spectacular 360 degree view from the top of the mountain. I saved the most difficult hike to the last hoping the temperature would warm up in the afternoon but it never did. Almost 2 hours round-trip, a 1,000 foot elevation gain and it seemed like the trail went straight up the mountain. There were quite a few other hikers today.
NOTE: If you’re visiting JTNP in the winter it’s important to know that Palm Springs is at Sea Level. The town of Twentynine Palms is at 2,000 feet elevation, and most of JTNP is 4,000 – 4,500 feet elevation. So, if Palm Springs temperature is 70 degrees, then Twentynine Palms will be 60 degrees, and JTNP will be 50 degrees (if you’re lucky).
SPECIAL thanks to Dez40, the desert maven who helps keep me exploring the California Desert.