Tag Archive | Joshua Trees

Joshua Tree 2015: A Failed Quest for Bighorn Sheep

In December, I flew down to Los Angeles for a quick long weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park. It was not extensively planned; tickets were booked just a couple of weeks before. But despite that, it was a fabulous trip.

Day 1: December 5, 2015

Willow Hole Trail – 7 miles RT

The first day I started at the Visitor’s Center for some trips on where to go in the park. I wanted to see Bighorn Sheep. The Ranger said that they often hung out at the Willow Hole, which can be reached by a 7 mile round trip hike through several dry washes that connect to the popular Boy Scout Trail. I went. The trail was mostly flat, taking you by a popular rock climbing area; it was fun to stop and watch the climbers try their trade on the giant boulders in the park.

Me on the Willow Hole Trail

Me on the Boy Scout Trail

 

Joshua Trees everywhere!

Joshua Trees everywhere!

 

There are climbers on that rock!

There are climbers on that rock!

After leaving the Boy Scout Trail, I was entirely alone – I did not run into anyone else on the entire hike. It was quiet, save for the birds chirping, letting me know I was getting closer to the spring. Sadly, I did not see any Bighorn Sheep on the hike, but I saw some songbirds and it was a nice pleasant hike nonetheless.

A cute bird near Willow Hole

A cute bird near Willow Hole

 

The clouds gave way to sunshine

The clouds gave way to sunshine

Barker Dam – 1 mile RT

Barker Dam is a dam that was built by homesteaders in the early 1900s, to provide a consistent water source for their cattle grazing in the area. The dam is still there – the National Park Service left it intact when they took over management of the land, and it now provides water for the wildlife living in the area. It is another spot that Bighorn Sheep are known to frequent in the park. Except when I was there; then the Bighorn Sheep are not…

Barker Dam

Barker Dam

The Barker Dam hike also leads past several ancient petroglyphs. Unfortunately, they have been damaged by vandals. They are still neat to see, but keep in mind that the paint colors and outlines were the result of the vandalism, and not what these petroglyphs would normally look like.

Petroglyphs near Barker Dam

Petroglyphs near Barker Dam

As I was finishing the short Barker Dam trail, the sun was sinking lower in the sky. The birds and the rabbits were finding their way to their shelters for the night. I was able to find a good vantage point along the main road to watch the sunset. It wasn’t a spectacular viewpoint, but it did let me get some photos of the Joshua Trees silhouetted against the setting sun.

The golden light before sunset

The golden light before sunset

 

The sun sets over Joshua Trees...

The sun sets over Joshua Trees…

Dinner that night was pho at Pho 85 restaurant in Yucca Valley. It really hit the spot after 8+ miles of hiking that day! I finished off the day with some wine and TV in the room before heading to bed.  Peace…

Joshua Tree National Park History

The Yucca brevifolia makes its home within the unique habitat of the Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree National Park.  More commonly known as a Joshua Tree, this yucca was named by Mormon pioneers who believed that these succulents looked like the biblical figure of Joshua raising his arms to heaven in prayer.

Joshua Trees!

Joshua Trees!

Joshua Tree National Park protects two primary desert habitats, the cooler higher elevation Mohave Desert, located between 2,000 and 5,000 feet in elevation, and the hotter Colorado Desert (part of the larger Sonoran Desert) at the lower elevations.  The Mojave Desert is known for its Joshua Trees, while the Colorado Desert has cholla and ocotillo.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree also has several spectacular rock formations, which are monzogranite, created when groundwater seeped into cracks in the monzogranite and eroded the corners away to form the round rocks.  Then when flash floods eroded away the ground around the rocks, these large rounded boulders were left exposed.  The exposed piles of rocks are called inselbergs.  Joshua Tree became a mecca for winter rock climbing, when places like Yosemite were covered in snow.  However, it eventually became a destination in its own right.

Joshua Tree was designated as a National Monument in 1936, after Minerva Hoyt’s activism on behalf of preserving desert habitats achieved protection for the park.  Although she was originally born on a plantation in Mississippi, she moved as a young woman to Pasadena, California and became interested in desert plants through gardening.  Mrs. Hoyt was also instrumental in obtaining protection for Death Valley and the Anza-Borrego Desert.  The park was elevated to National Park status on October 31, 1994, after passage of the Desert Protection Act; at the same time 234,000 acres were added to the park for a total size of 790,636 acres (1,235.37 square miles).

In addition to rock-climbing, the park is popular for hiking, birding – hundreds of bird species travel through the park on their spring and fall migrations, and astronomy.  The park’s dark skies, along with Southern California’s relatively stable atmosphere, makes for excellent conditions for observing the stars.  The park has nine campgrounds for visitors, and annual visitation is 1,383,340.

The sun sets over Joshua Trees...

The sun sets over Joshua Trees…

Park wildlife includes many species of birds, lizards, snakes, rabbits, ground squirrels, coyotes and Bighorn Sheep.  Many of the animals within the park are nocturnal, due to the high daytime temperatures.  Native Americans inhabited the area beginning about 400 years ago, but were gone by the early 1900s.  Prospectors began moving into the area in the 1840s, looking for gold and silver.  Over time, about 300 mines were established within the current boundaries of the park – most didn’t produce much, but a few were quite profitable.  There are still several areas within the park where visitors can see the remnants of the old mines.

I was lucky enough to visit Joshua Tree for a long weekend in December, and I had a wonderful time.  My posts will be coming soon!