Category Archives: Joshua Tree National Park

Hidden Valley Trail

IMG_8973While in Joshua Tree National Park I went to check out Hidden Valley Trail. The trail is located off Park Valley Boulevard, the main east-west road near the Hidden Valley Picnic Area. It is a 1 mile loop trail that often draws rock climbers eager to scramble up the tall canyon walls. With markers along the way to help guide through the valley it is easy to keep your eyes peeled for a view of someone overhead.

I reached the trailhead and took a moment to read the sign about the valley’s history. Turns out the narrow rock gap at the trailhead funnels into a legendary valley that was used for rustling cattle in the late 1870’s. William and Jim McHaney and their band of cowboys, known as the McHaney Gang, brought their stolen cattle and horses to this corral for hiding and rebranding. They then sold their stock to out-of-state markets for a respectable profit until the end of the 19th century.

After learning this I couldn’t wait to get started on my hike. I walked down the path that William Keys blasted open in 1936 giving us access to the valley we see today and reached the split off of the loop. Following the arrow I headed left and started my trek soon reaching my first nature trail stop. I learned that Hidden Valley has a special microclimate that supports many plants and animals due to the rocks ringing around the area that allow the space to collect moisture and avoid the harsh desert winds. This valley has had an appeal to humans both now and in the past due to it’s protection and sources of food that can be found within.

Today, the Mojave Desert is much drier than it was in the past. Pinyon-Juniper woodlands used to cover the lower slopes of the present desert ranges and even some of the desert basins. Now they are confined to higher elevations and areas such as Hidden Valley where there is enough moisture to support them.

I continued down the path looking at the beautiful rock formations and different plant life. I came across another pinyon-juniper tree and read a little about how the natives used the tree as food, glue and many other things. I snuck under the tree and off the trail for a moment as I noticed a small crevice in the rocks behind. It was interesting to see how the rocks has split apart, looking above to see a larger rock being supported by the tall walls of the crevice I was in I thought about how one small earthquake might set that hanging rock ajar to come tumbling down. Not being able to go any further and reach the other side I doubled back to the trail.

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I continued on and eventually reached what rock climbers call the Great Burrito. This wall was massive and so majestic. I took a moment to take it in scanning for climbers and then read that the same holes in the rock that climbers used as hand grips are also homes for the lizards in the area. There were no climbers that day, but I’m sure the lizards were nestled into their homes hiding from the hot sun.

I eventually reached a narrow path with stairs where the rocks were much closer together than they had been before. The vegetation of the valley was much greater in this area and I learned that these cavities are ideal for vegetation. As the rocks serve to collect moisture and provide shelter from the winds it is easier for the vegetation to survive the harsh desert conditions.

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As I met back up to the beginning of the loop I stopped to look at the valley one last time. I learned a lot about this little world in less than an hour. The trail was pretty easy and good for all ages. It’s pretty straight forward with only one or two spots that are a little confusing. While I would try to stay on the trail, if you do take a wrong turn it usually puts you back onto the trail after a little bit so I wouldn’t be too worried. Get out and check it out. You won’t be sorry.


Joshua Tree Visitor Center

IMG_8973While at Joshua Tree National Park I stopped by the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center near the west entrance to the park early in the morning to see if there was anything I should know before I started my exploration that day. It was quite busy for a Monday, but the customers seemed to only be interested in the store section of the center. I decided to take a look at the other side.

I started by checking out the map on the wall to get my bearings to see if there were any other small hikes that I could explore on my own, but only came up with the few I already had in mind. Then I spent a little time watching a video about the older days of the park. Last, I took a look at Lichenologist, Kerry Knudsen‘s inventory of lichen that can be found through out the park. Currently, he has found 145 different species of lichen in the park.

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By the time I was finished study the knowledge part of the center most of the customers had left. I took a few moments to see what they had for sale and eventually decided to leave without speaking with the employees. I’m sure they would have been able to give me very knowledgable information had I asked, but I was excited to get my day started.

Next time your at Joshua Tree National Park, stop by the visitor center and see what they have in store for that week. Who knows, if your timing is right maybe you can join one of their guided tours or catch a short patio talk by a park ranger to learn even more about the park. Next time I go back I’m for sure going to schedule a Ranger Program such as their Keys Ranch Tour.

Coyote Corner in Joshua Tree

IMG_8973While at Joshua Tree National Park I wanted to check out the main store I had heard about and saw online. I believe this shop is the best and possibly only place to stop for souvenirs, Coyote Corner Joshua Tree National Park Store. This unique gift shop has everything from camping and hiking gear to desert candy to all types of Joshua Tree National Park logo apparel. They also have firewood for purchase, offer showering facilities, and give out information about the park. If they don’t know the answer I’m sure they would direct you to the visitor’s center across the street.

I pulled up to the store located off route 62 near the west entrance to the park pretty early in the day and parked right out front. The front steps and porch were covered in merchandise. I walked inside and it was packed, not with people but with more items to purchase. Without much room to move I looked around the small store a bit finding an interesting article on a love story in the area.

As I continued to explore the store I stumbled upon some childrens’ science toys and found a dinosaur egg that you excavate to reach the bones hidden within. It was so cool that I couldn’t resist and bought one. I found some candy such as coyote and tortoise poop and rattlesnake eggs, at least I hope it was candy, and then I found the sweatshirts with the Joshua Tree logo on them. I was only interested in the blue and purple one so I asked the cashier if they had my size in the back. They did, so I made my purchases and left the store noting that it would be a great one to come back to next time I was in the area.

If you need any souvenirs while you’re at the park this is the place to stop. You’ll find special gifts for people of all ages, young and old. No need to go anywhere else.

Short Cut to Ryan Ranch

IMG_8973During my trip to Joshua Tree National Park I decided to try the short hike to Ryan Ranch, a homestead established in 1896 made of adobe brick walls to secure a natural spring once located there, and explore it’s surroundings which according to the sign consists of a windmill, a stone covered well, several graves, and machinery.

This ranch, also known as “the gold brick house” supported the Lost Horse Mine. It pumped water 3.5 miles to process the ore and acted as a mining office and home. Raising cattle helped feed the 60 family members and works that lived at the ranch and mine during the gold boom. In 1908 operation of the mine ceased and the Ryan’s turned their attention fully to their cattle until the establishment of Joshua Tree National Monument halted grazing.

There are two entrances to the ranch. One off the main east-west road which makes the hike out and back about 1 mile long and another from inside the Ryan campground which is only about .5 miles long. I pulled up to the longer of the two hikes and parked my car in the spots along the road near the restrooms. I got out to inspect, but I couldn’t see Ryan Ranch due to the Joshua Trees blocking my view. I knew it was in the distance behind there somewhere, but my friend had left late the night before and I was by myself. With no cell service, the threat of rattle snakes, and hot desert temperatures, hiking in Joshua Tree alone made me super nervous. I decided to stay safe and check out the shorter route instead.

From the entrance of the shorter route inside Ryan campground, I could just make out the homestead. I was delighted to be able to see where I was going and that there were other people on the trail with me as well. I headed out quickly pasting the others and making little notes of the trail along the way. I stopped to take pictures of the interesting sights, taking my time getting there.

As I came up near the ranch I accidentally verde off the trail taking a less used, but more direct route over some rocks. The ranch looks completely different today than the picture from 1935 at the trailheads. In it’s current condition it’s hard to imagine that people lived there less than 100 years ago. I imagined that the ranch would have been much bigger than what I found, but the original structure is pretty small with about three main rooms.

You can easily see the adobe clay and brick in the wall as some of the adobe has weathered away. There is no floor just dirt and sand, no doors just doorways, no windows just openings where windows once were, and no roof. After exploring the building and trying to picture what it would have been like to wake up in the morning here, glancing out the window at the magnificent rock behind it I finally moved on to explore some more.

I found a watering trough which must have been used to water the cattle and the remains of the bunkhouse which was much smaller than the ranch. I can’t quite think of anything that they would have been able to use this space for it was so small. Maybe they used it to store food or as an extra room for guests to sleep. The space is so small even an old car would not fit inside it.

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I walked back to the main entrance of the ranch and the old wire fencing was still there which was really interesting to see how the wire was wrapped so tightly around the pole. I continued out to the Lost Horse Well on the other side of the rocks behind the ranch. A big black tank sat there with some more recent small buildings nearby it. I wondered why they were there and if someone had been using them recently.

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I little freaked out I headed back to my car near the beginning of the trail. The other people hiking were still exploring the ranch and slowly making their way to the bunkhouse as departed. I planned on coming back to explore a little more at another time. Maybe even taking the longer route as long as I have a friend to join me. Ryan Ranch is a great place to explore and experience desert life in an earlier era without all the crowds.

Climbing Cliffs at Hemingway Buttress

IMG_8973As I was driving through Joshua Tree National Park I noticed a pullout from the main east-west road for a trail that was not on the map. The main map that you get at the Visitor Center actually is missing  a lot of the attractions in the park and I don’t think this is a main draw so I was not surprised, but since it was early in the morning I pulled over to see what I was missing.

The trail seemed short without much explanation or direction except that it was leading to a place called Hemingway Buttress and Banana Cracks that many rock climbers ascend each day. There were a few other people there already getting a closer look at the nature sculpted “classic lines.” Two of those people just happened to be rock climbers complete with backpacks full of gear and helmets and were heading down the path.

Eager to see them climb these giant monzogranite rock piles formed 85 million years ago from magma crystalizing 15 miles below the earth’s surface, then becoming stressed and cracked by earthquakes, being pushed up to the surface by movement where groundwater seeped into the cracks rounding and sculpting and weather continues to erode, I scurried after them keeping my distance as not to be noticed.

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Reaching the base of the cliff and a pile of boulders I stopped and picked a smaller boulder to sit on. I patiently waited for the climbers to scamper up the boulders to their final starting destination. They looked like they were talking everything through, equipment, routes, etc. They kept pointing at the rock and nodding. Eventually I got tired of waiting and decided to explore and come back. The wall was huge, at least 20 people tall. There was no way that I would miss them.

I walked down the path one way to basically a dead end. I turned and followed the wall the other way and eventually reached the Hemingway Boulders, or what I thought was them. To be honest it all looked the same to me. I didn’t see a big difference from where I left the climbers to where I decided to stop walking.

I turned back and reach where I had separated from the climbers. They were still in the same spot at the base of the cliffs talking. I realized that I would be waiting all day for them to finally make a move up the wall and headed back to the car stopping and looking back along the way. Maybe next time I’m in Joshua Tree National Park my timing will work out a little better and I’ll be able to see some climbers that are a little more advanced and prepared. Until then, at least now I know that Joshua Tree is a meca for rock climbers with some 5,000 routes described within the park and many more being pioneered every year.

Keys View in Joshua Tree

IMG_8973Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park is a quick stop that everyone should check out. While it’s not the closest to everything else in the park, it  is definitely worth the drive. Turn south off the main east-west road, out past Lost Horse Mine and to the end of the road. You will literally drive right into Keys View. It has ample parking and a restroom for you to enjoy your stop whether you only plan to stay for a few minutes or a few hours.

Keys View overlooks 50 miles of the Coachella Valley it’s gorgeous whether you are visiting at sunrise, midday, or sunset. From the overlook, you can see a few cities and landmarks. The main ones are the Salton Sea which is to the southeast 35 miles away and 235 feet below sea level. Moving west across the view is the Signal Mountain 95 miles away near the U.S.-Mexican border. Continuing further west is Indio, directly south and the center of the upper Coachella Valley. Next, to the southwest is Palm Springs followed by the Gorgonio Pass where the smog-filled air comes into Coachella Valley from southern California. Last is the San Gorgonio Mountain, the tallest point in southern California.

Keys View has a short .25 mile nature trail that loops from the parking area to the top of the valley and back with a couple of amazing views along the way. Stay for as long as or short of a time as you wish. I actually went twice while I was at Joshua Tree National Park. Once at sunset and once during midday. Both times the view was absolutely beautiful. During the day time I could see all the way to Signal Mountain and could even make out the Salton Sea it was so clear. In the evening the haze had rolled in adding depth and different colors to an already breathtaking sunset. As the sunset further the cities began to light up. It was easy to make out which was which.

Petroglyphs and A Dry Barker Dam

IMG_8973After the Wall Street Mill Trail at Joshua Tree National Park my friend and I walked the entire 20 feet over to the trailhead for Barker Dam. This loop nature trail is about 1.3 miles long. We took a brief look at the trail map and then headed out sending all caution to the wind as we walked to where the trail forks and had to decide which way to go.

We followed the first sign we noticed far off in the distance, missing the rocks along the path to the right, the correct way to go. We went left where people were exiting. This one incorrect turn resulted in our entire hike being backwards. We still saw everything there was to see, we just got to see the petroglyphs first and a lot sooner than we would have.

A short walk quickly put us at the big rock with petroglyphs on it and were too excited to not take a closer look. We scrambled up and over the rocks and into the little over hang. They were so cool. All different designs and colors. I wondered if they were real and if they were how many years they have been there. This was the one spot in the whole park that didn’t have a sign explaining the attraction that day like all of the other stops along the way. A little google search when I got home aided me in learning that they are real ancient Indian Rock Art.

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After our short stop we continued our trek. Walking backwards the trail was a lot harder to follow. Luckily we were able to figure it out and hang to the right at the forks where we normally would have took lefts. We eventually came across a sign that stated we were still going the correct way and we were relieved. We headed up some stairs and reached the base of Barker Dam where we could see a cattle trough behind the dam and the structure of the dam.

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In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s cattle ranching was an important business in Joshua Tree Park. Water sources were extremely valuable and often pitted ranchers against ranchers, ranchers against miners, and miners against miners. Barker and Shay Cattle Company built the dam out of stones in a natural basin to end the fighting in 1902. William Keys improved the dam adding the upper concrete layer in 1949.

We climbed a little farther and finally got our first look at the inside of the dam. There was no water in the dam when we got there, but there were lush green plants living at the bottom of the dam. Back in the early 1900’s there used to be 10 inches of rainfall a year in the desert. Today there is only 2-5 inches of rainfall a year. You can still see where the waterlines lay across the rocks today and imagine what it would look like completely filled. I wonder if we had come to the dam earlier in the spring if there would have been water collected.

We hurried the rest of the way around the loop stopping to take a few pictures here and there as the sun slowly lowered itself behind the rocks. We made it back to the entrance and noticed where our first turn had gone wrong. Either way you take to reach the dam it is still an amazing hike. One all ages can do and pretty easy with a little rock scrambling near the dam.

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Wall Street Stamp Mill and Extras

IMG_8973My friend and I reached Barker Dam in Joshua Tree National Park all set to hike the 1.3 mile nature trail. When we got there it was our lucky day as we realized there were two trails to choose from. Barker Dam and a 2.2 mile trail to the Wall Street Stamp Mill. We couldn’t resist trying the new trail we discovered so we jumped at the chance and decided to try to do both, starting with the Wall Street Mill trail.

In the late 1800s William McHaney dug a well and the area where the Wall Street Stamp Mill lives today became a popular area to water cattle. In 1928, while the country was in the depression, Oran Booth and Earle McInnes filed a claim for the area. They built a cabin and named the site ” Wall Street” in a brief search for gold. Two years later they left and William Keys filed a milling claim on the site, July 1, 1930. Keys completed the bunk house, built an outhouse, and transported a two-stamp mill ore crusher to the site.

Keys used this mill sporadically from 1930-1966. He processed ore from his mines and other small-mine operators including the Desert Queen Mine. After the gold was removed from the ore it was sent back to the miner, to a smelter in Mojave, or to the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. Keys died in 1969 and in 1975 the Wall Street Stamp Mill was entered into the National Register of Historical Sites.

My friend and I started our trek out to the Wall Street Stamp Mill. It was pretty straight forward to start with the trail being pretty clearly marked. There were Joshua Trees everywhere, some doing well, others not so well. As we got further away from our start point all trail markers just disappeared. We reached and old wind mill and luckily crossed paths with some other hikers. We were on the right trail so we continued to just go straight.

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We could see a small pinkish building off in the distance and an old truck far to our left. We kept walking and eventually the path turned into a wash and we stumbled upon an old green truck under a tree. We had made it! First thing to do, take some pictures of the truck. Second thing to do, get inside the truck and pretend to drive it of course. Just be careful the old wires from the seat don’t poke your butt.

Once our truck fun was over we scurried under the tree and up to the hill to the back of the mill. We found the well and as we came over the top of the rocks we could see where the ore used to be loaded into carts and sent up the track and into the mill. There it was separated and crushed accordingly until it was a fine sand. That fine sand was sent over mercury coated plates where the ore would easily pass through. As we walked around to the backside we could just barely see where the gold was scraped off those plates and extracted into buckets to be sent away.

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You can’t go inside the mill since it is a historical site and there are signs all around stating “No Trespassing” including barbed wire fencing to discourage you from entering, but it is still amazing to look at the mill from a distance and to strain you eyes trying to look inside without stepping into the restricted zone.

After we had our fill of the mill we found another old truck and then headed back the way we came. We had some extra time so we took a detour and checked out the old foundation of the pink building we saw on our trek out to the mill and the other old truck as well. So interesting how people just up and left their stuff. Seems like they just didn’t care, but maybe the trucks were broken-down and it would have been more work to take it with them then just leave it behind. Seems like that happens a lot in the desert.

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Climbing Jumbo Rocks

IMG_8973Jumbo Rocks is one of nine campgrounds located at Joshua Tree National Park. My friend and I stopped there for a picnic lunch during our visit. We drove around the campground for a bit and eventually found an empty site to rest. The site, like most of them in the park, was right up against some rocks. It would have been so awesome to camp there. Too bad all the sites were full the weekend we wanted to camp. We’re just gonna have to try another weekend.

We ate our lunch while listening to the white-tailed antelope squirrels scuffle in the bushes near by. They weren’t confident enough to come ask for any of our food, which was sad, but also a good thing. It means campers aren’t feeding them and they are still able to find their own meals in the park without relying on the humans. We also watched as some lizards chased each other around the rocks, stopping to bask in the sun.

We finished our lunch and decided to check out the area a bit. We climbed up the nearest rock and could see trails leading around and through the campground. I found a rock with hand and foot holes that could be used to get to the top. I decided to give it a try and then realized how unsafe it was and found another way up to the top instead. We also found some impressions in the rocks and laid down to look at the sky. It was so blue and clear. You could see for miles. What a beautiful day!

We cut our exploring short because we had a couple trails we wanted to check out and as we  drove out of the campground we realized that there were a lot of free sites. So, if you want to camp in Joshua Tree National Park and can’t get there early Friday or  Saturday morning to claim a spot, try Sunday, not on a holiday weekend, and you shouldn’t have a problem.

© Caroline Foley
© Caroline Foley



The Sassiest Rock in the Park Skull Rock

IMG_8973As my friend and I drove through Joshua Tree National Park, one of our main stops was to see Skull Rock. This rock is located right off the main east-west road, Park Blvd, near Jumbo Rocks campground. You don’t even have to hike to see it, reach it, explore it, or climb all over it. Parking is all along the street with two main paved pull offs on each side of the road with spots marked. If those are full, feel free to park in the dirt closer to the rock and on either side of the road as well.

If you haven’t guessed it yet Skull Rock resembles a huge skull. The eye sockets and nose that we see have been eroding over hundreds of years. Rain drops must have gathered in tiny depressions in the rock and started to erode the granite. Over time more and more granite was washed away. We can clearly see the two hollowed-out eye sockets and nose impression that resemble a skull today.

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Looking at Skull Rock directly from the road he appears to be hiding behind his hands. Maybe one of those hands is a little inappropriate for children, but most people will just chalk it up to his sassiness. As you walk up the trail and closer you can see just how massive this rock really is. His eye sockets are big enough to fit a whole family inside them and if you have the right footwear and are pretty athletic you might be able to scramble up Skull Rock’s face and sit inside his eye for a photo opportunity. If you can’t make it to the left eye don’t be discouraged it is a tricky climb with basically nothing to hold onto. And to be honest, who wants to be stuck in an eye all day trying to figure out how to get down or waiting for the park employees to come and save you? No one! So if you can’t make it to the eye socket on the left eye, try the right eye. Most people can reach the ledge just below the eye on this side.

Skull Rock, the sassiest rock in the park, is definitely one of the main attractions in the park with many visitors coming to see it from all parts of the world. We were only there for a short time, but it was full of people from the moment we pulled our car off the main road until the moment we drove away.  Many small groups with people of all ages, young and old, were sharing the Skull Rock experience with us. I wonder if they spent more time than we had as there is a 1.7 mile nature trail to be explored if you wish to extend your stay at Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rocks campground. According to the National Park Service website it begins either just across from the entrance to Jumbo Rocks campground or inside the campground, across from the amphitheater. I’m sure many did check out the nature trail and I plan on getting back to Joshua Tree someday soon  and trying that hike too.