Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Joshua Tree National Park, California - Hiking

Keith and Melissa moved to Oregon one year ago and missed last year's Thanksgiving trip to Capitol Reef National Park, but this year we planned to fly and meet up somewhere warm to camp and hike for the holiday.  We decided on Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California because flights to nearby Las Vegas were cheap and we expected the weather to be pleasant for late November.  Right on cue, a strong, cold storm blew through the West as I flew to Las Vegas on Wednesday night, ensuring another cold Thanksgiving adventure.  I stayed in Las Vegas on Wednesday night and Keith and Melissa met up with me the next morning after their early flight.  We purchased our camping supplies, beer, and groceries before heading south for the 3 hour drive to Joshua Tree.  Since Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times in Joshua Tree, we reserved a camping spot in Black Rock Canyon well in advance.  We arrived late in the afternoon, set up camp, and got a roaring campfire going to keep as warm for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Melissa and Keith setting up camp
My tent at Black Rock Canyon
Melissa preparing Thanksgiving dinner

Some light snow fell Thursday night while we sat around the campfire.  Friday morning began cool, breezy, and cloudy; it was not the weather I was hoping for!  After a brief walk around the hills surrounding our campground, we headed into the park for our first hike of the trip.  We decided on the Lost Horse Mine Loop trail, bundled up, and headed out for the 6 mile hike.  One of the best views along the trail came just after the Lost Horse Mine, a stunning vista across Pleasant Valley with rugged desert terrain and volcanic cinder cones.  The loop passed by some enormous yucca plants and a valley filled with Joshua trees before returning to the trail head.  The sun came out about half way through the hike, brightening our spirits and warming us up.

Joshua tree in Black Rock Canyon

 Melissa and Keith
Lost Horse Mine
Lost Horse Mine Loop hike

The view past Lost Horse Mine
Keith and a giant yucca

Lost Horse Mine Loop

Keith photographing the Joshua trees

End of the Lost Horse Mine Loop

It was another cold night, but we were prepared with even more firewood than Thursday night and a good amount of wine.  Our plan for Saturday was to stay out of the main part of the park, avoid the crowds, and hike right from our campground in Back Rock Canyon.  A network of trails begins at the campground and we decided on a several mile hike that took us to Warren Peak and to the Panorama Loop Trail.  The sun was out but the air was still quite cold as we began our hike up the sandy wash in Black Rock Canyon.  It wasn't long before we reached the windy summit of Warren Peak, offering views of Black Rock Canyon and the Coachella Valley just beyond the park boundary.

Melissa on Warren Peak

Hiking past Warren Peak to the Panorama Loop

The views matched the name as we completed the Panorama Loop trail and headed back to camp.  It was a great day hike and the sun was just beginning to set as we returned to camp, stocked with several bundles of firewood to keep us warm through another cold night.

Large Joshua tree

Keith enjoying the panoramic views

Lunch break on the Panorama Loop Trail

Our last full day in the park was Sunday and we decided to explore the Cottonwood Spring area in the far southern portion of the park.  It was an hour drive through the park to Cottonwood Spring.  Along the way we stopped at one of my favorite spots, the cholla cactus garden and nearby ocotillo patch.

Cholla cactus garden

Cholla cactus

The park transitions from Mojave Desert to Colorado Desert (Sonoran) as you approach the Cottonwood Spring area. The Joshua trees of the cooler Mojave are replaced with ocotillos and other plant life more typical of Arizona due to warmer temperatures and wetter summers.  We were greeted with beautiful palms mixed with cottonwoods trees at the beginning of our hike, and I found this part of the park to be the most beautiful in terms of plant variety and scenery.

Cottonwood tree

Ocotillo along the hike to Lost Palms Oasis

Ocotillo foliage

Hiking to Lost Palms Oasis

The 7 mile round trip hike to Lost Palms Oasis was the highlight of our trip.  The weather was sunny and warmer, and the canyon containing the palm oasis was spectacular.  We hiked down into the canyon and spent a couple of hours enjoying the beautiful palm trees and complete solitude.  Keith enjoyed some climbing and scrambling on the rim of the canyon.

Lost Palms Oasis

 Melissa enjoying the sun and palms

 Lunch break under the palm trees

Lost Palms Oasis

Lost Palms Canyon

We returned to the trail head around sunset and made our way back to camp for our final night.  We had the campground to ourselves as most people were headed home and back to work after the holiday weekend.  One last roaring campfire and an evening of stargazing before heading back to Las Vegas.  The temperatures finally recovered to normal as we packed up camp on Monday morning and headed home.  Thank you, Keith and Melissa, for a wonderful Thanksgiving adventure in the desert!