For spring break this year we’ll be taking a mini road trip through southeast California. I’ve already written an overview of the plan, and now want to provide additional insight into each of the parks we’ll visit as well as how we will spend time outside the parks. Our first destination will be Joshua Tree National Park, and we have BIG plans! In fact, I think the very first hike we have planned may prove to be the most ambitious of the entire trip. To get ready for it we’ll have to start ramping up our training hikes soon. Keep your eyes out for upcoming posts about how we physically prepare, and keep your fingers crossed for a mild winter!
Joshua Tree NP is situated along the boundary between the Sonoran and Mojave deserts and also includes much of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. These distinct climate zones mean the park is also home to a diverse collection of plants and animals, most notably the Joshua tree the park is named for. These “trees” are actually members of the yucca family, my favorite genus of plants because I find being in their presence to be emotionally therapeutic. We’ve never seen Joshua Trees in person before and I’m excited to see how they live up to the hype.
The route I’ve chosen for us reportedly begins by traversing a large stand of these extraordinary yuccas. As I was looking into possible routes I knew there was no way we could visit this park without getting a chance to see them, so that played a large role in the decision. The other factor I was on the lookout for was an opportunity to summit a mountain, as summits are a favored destination for all of us. I ended up with a track that should allow us to summit two, Mount Minerva Hoyt and Quail Mountain. Getting permits to backpack in National Parks can be a nightmare. I’m already dreading the ordeal of getting our permits for Rocky Mountain NP this summer. Joshua Tree is an exception to the craziness though, we’ll just need to show up and sign in at one of the thirteen backcountry boards.
If we are successfully able to summit both mountains in a day that will be a first for us. We have a few factors working in our favor. The first is that it seems the route is entirely class 1. I’m skeptical of the rating because the hike is also entirely off-trail, another first for us. The last two sentences should be in conflict with each other since class 1 generally means easy walking on a defined trail. The ratings I’ve seen have just been the opinions of other hikers though, not even close to official, so I’ve chosen to interpret them as meaning “you’ll be fine”.
Another factor in our favor is that even with two summits there should only be a total gain of 2,200 feet. We’d consider that a relatively easy day by the end of a summer trip. However, doing it in March, after a winter in the flatlands, with packs, will certainly up the degree of difficulty. Finally, I’m hopeful we’ll have the weather on our side. Normal temperatures at Joshua Tree in late March are upper 60’s and lower 70’s, near perfect for this endeavor. Snow is extremely rare in Joshua Tree NP so with even a tiny bit of luck we won’t have to deal with it at all.
Our plan is to hike the majority of the ten mile loop on the first day and then to set up camp somewhere at the base of Quail Mountain for the night before finishing up the last couple miles the next morning. This will leave us with some time to visit the more populated and touristy parts of the park before heading to Palm Springs for what will surely be much needed showers.
Joshua Tree NP is also home to some other really cool sounding smaller hikes and sites to see. Notable there is a natural arch that I’m sure will top Ellie’s list of to-dos. Arch Rock Trail is an easy half mile walk to a boulder field with a short scramble to the arch at the end. Cholla Cactus Garden, Cottonwood Spring, and Keys Ranch are other potential stops, but I think our day will depend a lot on what time we get out of the backcountry and how stinky we are.
This might be the park that I’m most excited for on the trip. It seems like it will be the best of everything we look for in our hikes: solitude, beauty, desert, and mountains all rolled into one trek. If you have ever visited Joshua Tree NP and know of a spot we shouldn’t miss please share in the comments!