After hearing about the so-called ‘Superbloom’ for weeks on the news, my Meetup group and I caravanned out to Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms to see it for ourselves. This was my first time in this National Park and I don’t know if it was the perfect weather, the wildflowers, or the company, but I absolutely fell in love with Joshua Tree. It’s only three hours east of Los Angeles, and makes for the perfect escape from the city. The different areas of the park are very distinct so you’ll see different kinds of plants, as well as rock formations throughout your drive. There is also hiking, camping, and even bouldering if you’re adventurous. Or if you’re more of the sit and see type you can enjoy a nice drive through, but you’ll be tempted to get out and explore because it’s just that beautiful.
Wherever you’re coming from you’ll have to take the 10 freeway to get to Joshua Tree. From there you can take the 62 to the West Entrance or continue along the 10 for another twenty or so miles to the South Entrance. We chose to use the South Entrance and start at the Cottonwood Visitor’s Center. There was no traffic on our way in and the drive was so beautiful that I wanted to get out of the car every ten minutes to take pictures.
Buy your entrance permit at the Visitor Center for $25 per car and be sure to grab a Park Guide while you’re there so you have a map of the park. Carpooling cuts down on the cost per person, but there are also a few days a year that the park has free admission. You should also plan to arrive as early as possible if you’re going to visit on a weekend. It wasn’t too crowded when we arrived around 11 am, but when we were headed back out about 3 the places we had stopped earlier had at least twice as many people.
Pinto Basin Road
Follow the road from the Visitor Center up into the park. There are plenty of turnouts to stop and in the popular places, people will just pull over on the side of the road. You can pretty much stop anywhere inside the park and walk off the road, but there are some places that are designated hiking trails. We stopped first somewhere along Pinto Basin Road after Porcupine Wash. We walked out into the desert a little ways to look for flowers and found that there were giant caterpillars everywhere. These guys were huge and moved much faster than any caterpillar I’d ever seen. They also had a little spike on their back end making them a little more ominous than other caterpillars too.
Get back on the road and you’ll come to the Ocotillo Patch. Right along the road there are several of these tall, otherworldly plants blooming bright orange at the tips. I think they look like they should be underwater. You can pull off the road and be steps away from exploring these guys up close. But be careful because they have some pretty gnarly needles hidden beneath their leaves!
Cholla Cactus Garden
Cholla (choy – ya) Cactus are sometimes called ‘jumping cactus’ because they are really prickly and little pieces of them fall off and are all over the ground. If you’re not careful they will jump onto you and not let go. I would not recommend getting out of your car and walking around the desert in this particular part of the park. It didn’t take long for several people in our group to get attacked. But lucky for us, and you, the National Park Service knows what it’s doing and has created a trail through the cactus that you can walk through and get up close and personal with these bad hombres without getting jumped. It’s super short – only 1/10th of a mile so it’s not exactly ‘hiking’ but it’s perfect for getting all those Instagram worthy shots without getting bit by cactus. Should go without saying, but keep an eye on your kids and no pets!
I’m going to call this next area ‘Big Rocks’ because I couldn’t find an actual name for it. There is a camp site called Jumbo Rocks – this is not the same place. We parked across the road from the entrance to the White Tank campsite and got to climbing. These rocks are pretty big, but very climbable. The surface is kind of like gravel so it’s got a good grip. It also means if you slip you’ll get pretty cut up but no one in our group got injured. We spent the most amount of time here, having fun climbing the rocks and taking pictures. There are more rocks in the campsite to check out, as well as a trailhead to do more hiking if you want.
This is also where we found the one and only Joshua Tree in the whole park! Ok, ok I know that can’t be true but we didn’t see any at any of the other places we stopped so of course I had to get a picture of it.
All in all, we spent about 5 hours in the park that day and only drove roughly thirty minutes from the Cottonwood Visitor Center. There is so much more to see and explore in the park and I am already planning a return trip. I’ll probably be trying to take advantage of the nine campsites in the park, two of which take reservations. The others are first come first served after the park opens for the day. Some of the people in our group decided to stay longer and hike the Mastadon Loop trail a short distance from the Cottonwood Visitor Center. Their pictures are making me want to go back right now! There’s a rad mine at one end of the loop that is calling my name!
Photo credit: Damien Perez | instagram: @damianjpc
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