Three day weekend in Joshua Tree National Park

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Jenny and I had planned on a getaway over President’s Day Weekend for a while. However, we had originally planned to explore Death Valley National Park, but due to surprising Central Cali winter weather that resulted flash flood road closures we changed our plans. We decided to cross a different place off of our California bucket list, Joshua Tree National Park! If you’re interested in the photos, check out our Flickr page.

We left Friday after working half day from home with rain pouring down.  The usual 4 hour drive to Joshua Tree turned into longer when the 5″ of rain predicted in the Santa Barbara area made this drive difficult. Lots of water on the roads, windy conditions, and poor visibility added an extra two hours to our drive. The flooded roads tried to keep us from getting there, but with some patience and slow rolling we eventually arrived for a break from our busy working lives.

Luckily we made it east past the storm! Here we are looking west at the storm we drove through…

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2 days of adventures

Saturday and Sunday were filled with adventures in the park. The weather on Saturday was overcast and light rain, but a little drizzle has never stopped us from exploring. Sunday was gorgeously sunny with some chilly wind and we were able spend the whole day exploring the park. Here were our Joshua Tree adventures…

Eureka Peak

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When we told the Park’s Visitor Center employee that we wanted to go to Eureka Peak, he was a little nervous and asked, “do you have an off-road vehicle?” He then went and checked with a colleague to see if the road was indeed open given the recent storms, but it was and we were up for the challenge!

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Luckily, the road wasn’t as bad as he made it seem and we had a fun time getting to the top of Eureka Peak in the misty foggy weather. We would have liked to check out the view, but seeing the desert in this climate was also unique.

On our drive back for lunch, we stopped along the 4×4 road in a beautiful little boulder field and decided to go off trail and explore on our own. We chose to summit a hill, walked along its ridge, and circled back to the car — a fun little side adventure. The Park employee must have scared everybody else off since no one was around. Very peaceful.

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49 Palms Oasis hike

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After lunch, the weather was still a little gloomy, but our appetite to explore the park had yet to be satiated. So we hiked a mild 3 mile trail to 49 Palms Oasis. With the drizzly weather and the fact we didn’t know what the ’49 palms oasis’ was we made it a quick hike to view the Oasis.

Since we ended up hiking with our giant umbrellas we were dry and warm and we often looked upon with envious eyes by other (wet) hikers. It was bizarre to palm trees in the middle of the desert, and while we originally thought they were natural, we later found out that the trees were planted by miners back in the day to mark the spring that now irrigates the trees. The hike took us about 2 hours total.

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Pappy and Harriet’s

Looking for a little social fun, we checked out one of the popular local spots that looked to have good food and live music. So, after our day of adventuring, we got ready for a little dinner outing to Pappy and Harriets in Pioneertown (population 350) for live music. We thought showing up at 5:20pm was early, but we were waaaay wrong. “How long for a table for two?” I asked… “Oh, you’re looking at about 2 hours.”

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Not to worry, we snagged a couple drinks from the bar and headed to the dance floor since the band was good and the atmosphere was fun! Also, there was Pie For The People pizza place back in Joshua Tree we wanted to try. The bluegrass band played “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, a classic song that I remember from my childhood. The country crowd (including us) loved it.

When we were leaving we did a quick walking tour of the restaurant, only to be stopped by friends of ours from Portland! They were in Palm Springs for a family reunion, and happened upon P&H’s for dinner. Small world!

Ryan Mountain

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We woke to a sunrise over the little town of Joshua Tree — a welcome site from the dreary weather the past couple days! I woke early to enjoy the sunset, the calm and the stillness of the morning before heading to the park. As we drove towards hiking and other sightseeing we couldn’t help but stop for photo opportunities! The park has some incredible landscapes like we have never seen before.

The trailhead for the hike was chilly but bearable. Perhaps we should have taken a couple extra layers since the windchill caught us about midway up… brrrrr. Worth it for the 360 degree views of the park though.

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Desert Hawk

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Sight Seeing

There a few tourist stops along the main park road that we stopped at. One of the main ones, Skull Rock, reminded us why we like to get off the tourist route: the tourists! From a gal getting stuck in one of the eyes of the skull because she was scared of getting down, to everyone cutting everyone else off for a selfie, we made it a quick stop. We didn’t even take a picture :/

Next we checked out the Cholla (choy-ya) cactus garden, which was beautiful! This garden sits on the downslope between the Mojave and Colorado deserts, just above the Pinto Basin. These little cholla’s are also called the “jumping cholla” which can be described as:

The “jumping cholla” name comes from the ease with which the stems detach when brushed, giving the impression that the stem jumped. Often the merest touch will leave a person with bits of cactus hanging on their clothes to be discovered later when either sitting or leaning on them. The ground around a mature plant will often be covered with dead stems, and young plants are started from stems that have fallen from the adult. They attach themselves to desert animals and are dispersed for short distances.

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Our last stop was purposfully not on the tourist map. It was called “pick out some cool looking rocks and go explore them.” We stopped off at a neat looking camping area, parked, and then walked out into the park to do some exploring We Live Adventure style — on our own. It was fun to wander about, scramble on top of rocks, and just explore the desert landscape.

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Keys View at Sunset

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For all the photographers out there that have ever felt the pressure of the sun going down and you not being in the right place – I know how you feel. We rushed to chase a sunset shot. Of course we left a little late, took a couple minutes to take a photo along the way and did not think that everyone else would have the same idea!  Jenny could feel my stress building (and also my pessimism, and eagerness to ‘catch the shot’) so as we queued up to get a parking spot, she said “Get out of the car and go up there!” – what a wife! I scrambled my way off trail to the lookout, and hurriedly setup my tripod to catch an amazing view. After a few shots I went and found Jenny in the car still queued up for parking, but she was able to catch the sun setting and was taken aback by the view as well.

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Star Gazing at Echo T

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Our final park site of the day was one high on my list for the trip: star gazing. Since we didn’t get a chance to view the stars the previous night due to clouds, we went into the “darkest area of the park” according to the park employee we talked to to sit and watch the stars come out.

We prepped for this by cooking up a takeaway dinner at our AirBnB and bringing an iPad to pass the time between sunset at Keys View and the dark night sky. We parked at Echo T parking lot, and waited for the darkness to set in.

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We used an app we love called Sky Guide which is our virtual guide to the stars, satellites, constellations, planets and more. We did have some light pollution from the clouds that were reflecting distant city lights, but overall it was spectacular.

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Devil’s Punchbowl

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We broke up the drive home by stopping at the Devil’s Punchbowl for a short walk to stretch all of our legs. Their website describes the location as “a deep canyon cut by the runoff of large quantities of water from the higher San Gabriel Mountains occurring over a long period of time. These mountain peaks above the park are 8,000 feet in elevation while the Nature Center is located at 4,740 feet above sea level. The Punchbowl Canyon is 300 feet deep below the vista point.” Hurley enjoyed the hike too!

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