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  • Laurie Mrdjan

Joshua Tree National Park


Joshua Tree National Park was created on August 10, 1936 thanks to the persistent activism of Minerva Hoyt. The park was elevated to National Park status on October 31, 1994 by the Desert Protection act and made the total area of the park 1,059,000 acres! Since National Parks can’t be named after living people, it could not be named after Minerva so the decision was made to name it after the iconic trees. The trees were named Joshua Tress for the way they stood reminiscent of Joshua praying to God. We were so excited to see this park and the trees it was named after.


A few days before our trip we found a GPS driven app similar to one we used in the past to do a self-guided tour of the park. We used Gypsy Guide for Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks but that wasn’t available for Joshua tree so we went with Action Tour Guide. It was the same price, $10 as the Gypsy guide had been which is also less than half the price it costs for an actual guide that doesn’t allow dogs. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss anything awesome and could make educated decisions on what to skip based on the time it might take. The app gives you “must see” and “should see” features of the park and an estimate of how much time each hike may take.



We started our day early, waking up at the same time we would on a work day. We had some coffee and breakfast then packed the truck with snacks, water and puppies. We turned on our new app and had it pull up the directions. We drove 117 miles in two hours and arrived at the Cottonwood Visitor’s Center. At this point the app started the tour.


We took a quick rest room break, let the dogs out to sniff around and realize that we are in a different area, and we stopped into the Visitor’s Center for a map and information on where the dogs were allowed and not allowed in the park. We also picked up their Bark Ranger tags, some postcards for family and our magnet. We’ve collected a fridge magnet from every awesome place we’ve been so far. Our freezer door if almost full and we will have to move to the refrigerator soon!


We piled back into the truck and headed on our way into the park. The sky was partially cloudy but the forecast wasn’t calling for rain and the light cloud cover was going to be great pictures and not burning up in the desert heat. We started out in the Colorado Desert which stays below 3,000 ft of elevation.



We saw a few small pull offs to view washes and informational plaques, then we came to the Cholla Cactus Garden. This is definitely a MUST SEE area, even though the dogs were not allowed on the hike, it is a quarter mile and the temperature was hovering around 55 degrees and the sun had not come through the clouds yet. We gave the boys some water, rolled the windows down and headed out to quickly see what this stop had to offer.


The Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus earned it’s name for it’s cuddly appearance, though you shouldn’t get too snuggly as they are still a very sharply needled cactus. Some were black as they had not made it for one reason or another and others were dark green in body with light green tops. Some even had little buds on them that we were lucky enough to see.



The area can have lots of bees and hornets if the cactus are flowering but, in December we were safe from them. As we walked through this flat and easy hike, we stopped to take a few pictures and really look at these beautiful plants. While talking about how windy it must get here sometimes, I pointed out the small rocks stuck between the needles of some of the cactus!



Some the the cactus even showed us all four phases of it’s life. This one seemed to be completely dead at the bottom, dying in the middle with fresh growth on top and buds on the ends of some of the stalks! This was a very interesting stop and definitely one of our favorites of the day.



After this short stop we were back on the road and on the look out for any wildlife or different flora. The app gave us great history lessons, information about some of the rock formations and how they came to be as well as pointed out stops along the way in case we wanted to stop. Luckily, in the beginning it had told us that driving through the park without taking hikes could take three hours and the ranger at the Visitor’s Center had marked out map with where the dogs were and were not allowed to go so that we could plan our stops.


A short while after this stop we were solidly in the Mohave Desert having crossed the 3,000ft mark. The scenery started to change and we saw different plants, though no animals yet other than birds. We were hoping to see one of the famous Desert Big Horn Sheep. These sheep have apparently adapted to go without water for several weeks up to a few months! They can lose 30% of their body weight in water and once they find water, they can be feeling 100% again in just a few  minutes.



Our next stop was Skull Rock. This was an impressive example of pareidolia. The depressions where made in the large granite rock by erosion but they just so happen to be placed to make them look like two eye sockets and a nose with the rock being shaped somewhat like an elongated head. While this was definitely the a busy and popular stop for many people, we were able to find parking, take some pictures and take a short hike through the Jumbo Rocks and back to the truck.



By now we were starting to see Joshua Trees everywhere! The things we’d seen so far were really cool but these are what we came to see and our trip would not have been complete without them. These trees really do look like something Dr. Seuss would’ve dreamed up. Being from the yucca family as opposed to being actual trees gave them some unique properties. Their wooden-like, barked trunks growing up into their old leaves and topped by bushy, round and green puffs of live leaves was quite a site to see. As we drove on they kept multiplying on numbers until that was all that could be seen except for the mountains and giant rocks.



This was such an amazing park to visit. Of the national parks that we’ve been to so far, we’d have to rate Joshua Tree under Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Sunset Crater Volcano but above the Petrified Forest, Colorado National Monument, Great Sand Dunes, and Hot Springs, AR. Our list is growing and our adventures are getting better as we get to see more and more of this country and what it has to offer. We hope that you will be inspired to visit some of these places too and create your own adventures!



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