Usually folks gather to celebrate the Christmas with their immediate families, however, we celebrated a little differently in 2017. We decided to spend some quiet time at Joshua Tree National Park and to take in the beauty of this National Park’s thousands of Joshua Trees, Cholla garden, Desert Lavenders and Ocotillos. But, we didn’t end up alone…
Our original holiday plan was to boondock at Trona Pinnacles in California for Christmas and New Years to relax, explore and hike. However, our plans were interrupted by an unforeseen frigid cold front and wind storm that plagued the southwestern United States. We didn’t want to take the chance of getting out there only to be stranded with frozen water lines and blown to smithereens.
However, all was not lost because Joshua Tree National Park was less than two hundred miles away. Our next destination was to spend time at Joshua Tree anyway and as we say in our RV life, “that’s why they have wheels”. So, off we went to score more pleasant and warmer weather.
We had always wanted to go to because growing up on the east coast, Joshua Trees weren’t familiar and certainly not what grew in our backyards. Oh, and the fact that we got to add California to our state sticker map was a bonus!
Once we got to Joshua Tree, we needed to stay at a campground for a couple overnights to catch up on laundry, empty our sewage tanks, take on water and research the area. We also wanted to scout out potential boondocking spots outside the park and do a drive-through in the park. We stayed at Joshua Tree Campground on the north side of the National Park.
By the second day of our stay, we found our spot through assistance from our friends Brandon and Kerensa of RV to Freedom who sent us coordinates of where to park.
However, the day before we were to leave for our boondocking spot, while driving through the park, I suddenly fell ill (and I mean FELL ill) with the worst case of vertigo. Though, I’ve had a few bouts of vertigo before, this bout knocked me on my ass literally. Dan rushed me to the emergency room at Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Corps Base not far from the north entrance of the park.
Needless to say, I was ordered bed rest and medication to help manage and alleviate my symptoms. We ended up staying two more days at the campground until I could be steady enough on my feet to relocate. Doing exactly what the doc told me, I recovered surprisingly quickly. I still had to rely on my Meclizine but at least we could move on to enjoy our visit to explore the Joshuas.
So, four days after checking into the campground, feeling back to my old self, we were ready to relocate to our new backyard; this time on the south side of Joshua Tree National Park. We parked our fifth wheel on BLM land just outside the south entrance gate.
Spending Christmas with our RV Family
Not but a few hours after parking and getting our new backyard set up, we noticed our friends, Gary and Stacey, of Pau Hana Travels were coming our way. So, we texted them our coordinates and by sunset, they were parked next door to spend Christmas with us. As they were pulling in, we welcomed them and gifted this beautiful sunset.
This actually was another blessing because it forced us to relax over the holiday and not overdue it.
The following afternoon (Christmas Eve), we decided to go explore inside the park and deliver our holiday greetings for our families on video.
Well, Christmas came and went and the Quimby’s needed to get down the road to go see family and friends. It was a nice gesture for them to join us so we didn’t have to be lonely for the holiday. We bid them ado and sent them on their way.
The next day, we set off on our own to resume exploring the beautiful desert full of spiny trees and prickly bushes!
Of course, anytime we visit a National Park, the first stop is always the welcome center to get checked in and pick up our trail map and brochure. We also get our National Park Passport stamped just in case we may need an alibi or proof we actually were there.
Once we finished with our park check in, we were off to explore the Joshuas! By this time, I was feeling healthy again so I was more than ready to lace up my hiking shoes and go do some hiking.
The Joshua Trees
The Joshua Tree got its name from Mormons who were crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid 1800’s. The trees reminded them of Joshua as he reached his hands up to heaven in prayer.
Miners and ranchers used the branches for their fences and the trunks for fuel for their ore-processing steam engines. They were known in Spanish as izote de desierto meaning ‘desert daggers’ because of their sharp pointy bayonet ‘leaves’.
The Joshua Tree, part of the Yucca family, is truly unique. They don’t have growth rings and their trunks are made of thousands of small fibers making it difficult to figure the tree’s age. They are fast growers even in the dry desert. The blooms are pollinated by the Yucca Moth, which spreads pollen while laying her eggs inside the flower. While the moth larvae consumes some of the seeds, there’s plenty left to disperse to grow into seedlings.
Though seedlings come from ‘seeds’, new trees can also spawn from underground rhizomes that spread out around the host tree.
Although the trees look top heavy, they have an incredibly deep root system reaching up to 36’. The Joshua Tree has been speculated to survive even to a thousand years despite the harsh desert rigors. The tallest Joshua Trees grow up towards 50 feet. The tree blossoms from February to late April in panicles. The trees typically don’t branch until after blooming and surprisingly, they don’t bloom every year. Like most desert plants, their blooming depends on rainfall and timing of the rainfall. Interestingly, they need a winter freeze before they bloom.
But it’s more than just the Joshua Trees that make it a cool National Park
One of the intriguing things about Joshua Tree isn’t ‘just’ about the thousands of Joshua Trees but also the huge boulders and the unique geological differences within the park.
The Cholla Garden
We stopped at the designated Cholla Garden. Those unfamiliar of what Chollas are, we best describe them as sturdy tree-like bushes that ‘look’ soft and fuzzy at a distance but quite the contrary.
The Teddy Bear Cholla‘s, also known as the Jumping Cholla, stems break off in little porcupine looking balls and root to start new bushes. Since their spines have barbs, they attach to passing wildlife who carry them to other destinations, replanting after they’ve fallen off. Oh! And, let me tell you through personal experience, you do not want to have these attach to your skin. OUCH! Those spiny little suckers bite! Well, not really but they sure feel like it!
We learned that the Desert Pack Rats will carry these Cholla balls to their burrows, creating a defense against predators.
They bloom in late spring. Bright yellow 1-2” ‘fruits’ that once hosted the blooms on their tips hold the seeds that fall off for germination.
The Ocotillo Patch
Found in a corner portion of the Pinto Basin in the Park, the Ocotillos are also known as Candlewood, Canewood or Desert Coral. You’d know them from sight as it this spindly tree/bush combination grows upwards to 30 feet tall.
To those not familiar, the Ocotillo appears dead most of the year but don’t let that deceive you. There’s a whole lot of life going on inside it’s branches. After the slightest of rain, bursts of bright red flowers grow on the branch tips leaving a perfect nectar feeding ground for Hummingbirds and bees.
Native American Indians used the bark to concoct soothing tinctures for stomach ailments. They also used the roots and leaves on wounds to stop the bleeding.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see them in bloom because of our timing however, we learned that last year’s Super Bloom provided an awesome photographic event with their crimson spears of flora.
To read about other desert plant life in Joshua Tree National Park, you can check it out at Joshua Tree National Park website.
Geological Formations – The Boulders
As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just about the Joshua’s that make this park so interesting and unique. My favorite part were the boulders! The rocks were fun to climb, crawl through the crevices, and playing leapfrog on. It was a great playground even for us older kids.
This one that I am pointing to looks like a whale coming up from the ground.
We also crawled between them making for interesting photos…
And we posed under them…
The next stop took us for a few hours to climb the big boulders and hike around them. It was an easy trail; nothing like our hikes in the Badlands or Spearfish, South Dakota. However, we learned that good shoes are a must as footing is unstable from the loose sand, gravel and rocks.
We enjoyed the many rock formations; one of which was the Face Rock in which we found by accident as we turned onto Face Rock Trail.
Here’s an interesting explanation of how these huge boulder rocks were formed
The park was busier as we had expected forgetting it was Christmas vacation for families and college students. Though its was crowded, we still enjoyed the many cool sights that the park offered and learned great things about geology, ecology and desert life. The National Park staff at the visitors center were helpful and friendly although, we didn’t see much of them on the trails.
Our week-long stay came to an end a couple days before New Years. Joshua Tree National Park taught us many things about the desert environment. The weather was outstanding blessing us with warm sunny days with a day or so of gentle breezes. We are so glad we got to stamp our National Parks Passport with this one!
“Somehow I wound up in the desert just after daylight. Where the Joshua trees grow that little place you always liked.”