travel & recreation
Joshua Tree National Park
The northwestern half of the park is in the high Mojave Desert. The eastern and southern portions are in the low Colorado Desert -- an offshoot of the Upper Sonoran Desert. Dividing the two desert regions is a remarkable transition zone, which is a mixture of the two -- sharing plants, animals, and birds. A drive through the park offers possibly the finest overview of our western desert landscape. A drive through the park, taking less than a day, is a vacation highlight for many.
Covering 850 square miles, the park is accessible from several northern entrances, and one in the south, via Interstate 10. The communities of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms offer nearby overnight accommodations, and the two northern gates to the park are at these towns. The Parks Service operates nine campgrounds, and all but one are a short drive from the two communities.
The park is named for the Joshua tree forests that are located in the Mojave portion, at about 4,000 feet elevation. The best places to see these forests are the Queen Valley, and Lost Horse Valley. Both are accessible by the loop drive that connects Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. The twisted trees, members of the agave family (cousins of the lily species), stand in unorganized array in the western part of the park. The trees provide the basis for an amazing food chain. Birds nest in the trees, insects infest the wood, night lizards live in the toppled, dead remains of the trees, and worms and termites turn the dead wood back into soil. Jackrabbits and kangaroo rats are there too, caught and eaten by coyotes, bobcats, hawks, and eagles. The desert is deceptively busy.
Asie from the dry desert ecosystems, Joshua Tree is blessed with several palm oases, each of which harbor wildlife. At the northern edge of the park is the 29 Palms Oasis (Oasis of Mara), next to the main visitor center and park headquarters. This was a classic Indian oasis that became a sopping point for prospectors and desert pioneers at the turn of the 20th Century. Also to the north is the 49 Palms Oasis, on a spur road which leads into the park between the two towns. A trail of middling difficulty leads 1.5 miles from the end of Canyon Road to this oasis.
The two southern oases, in the Colorado Dessert, are located near the Cottonwood Visitor Center and Campground. The largest oasis in the park (Lost Palmas) is reached by driving on a back road, southwest from Cottonwood (which has its own small oasis, and then walking through a series of desert wasshes for four miles.
The low desert is more barren, but the sshort transition zone offers several fascinating features. The Cholla Garden, at the southern edge of this zone, along the road to Cottonwood, offers a short walk through a display of trhe cactus. A grove of Ocotillo (the sticklike shhrub) is situated slightly south and at a lower elevation. The prime flowering season for yucca, wildflowers, and cacti, is March and April.
There are several picnic areas: in the Queen Valley, in Hidden Valley -- south of the town of Joshua Tree -- and at Cottonwood.
Joshua Tree Hikes
Areas of the park were mined during the gold and silver era, in the first half of the 1900s. A trail to the Lost Horse Mine is a relatively easy 2-mile climb from the end of a 1-mile road. The historical gem of the park is the Desert Queen Ranch, a mill and homestead during the teens and 20s, and the home of Bill Keys, who raised a family here. Because of the fragility of the site, permits are required to walk into the ranch, which is in a canyon off Queen Valley. Guided tours are given during the high season (October - March), and our suggestion is to phone the park office (760-367-7511) in advance of your visit to try to catch a group tour. Now that Joshua Tree is a national park, this area should be open to the publlic in the future, with the proper protections and interpretation program in place.
Other hikes are available, the longest being the Boy Scout Trail, which leads 15 miles (25.1 KM) through the Wonderland of Rocks area east of the Quail Springs Picnic Area. Backcountry hiking and camping are permitted with camping allowed no closer than 1/4 mile from water sources.
Staying in Twentynine Palms
There are several chain hotels in 29 Palms, including Holiday Inn Express, Best Western Gardes Hotel at 29 Palms, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. We're covering here several unique, locally-run places that offer some real color: sometimes rustic, and sometimes fascinating.
29 Palms Inn
73950 Inn Avenue (760-367-3505)
Since the late 1920s, this unusual desert inn has entranced visitors. Spread over 70 acres are rustic adobe cottages -- each with its own name -- with fireplaces and antique furnishings. There is a pool, restaurant, and lounge.
Circle C Lodge
6340 El Rey Ave., 29 Palms, CA 92277 (760-367-7615 or 800-545-9696) The Circle C is a small, motel with eleven units in a private oasis, with a pool and whirlpool, and guest laundry, Refrigerators are available. Continental; breakfast is provided to guests. It's located 1.5 miles west of town, via State Route 62, and then one block north on El Rey.
El Rancho Dolores Motel
73352 Twentynine Palms Highway (760-367-3528)
A basic but comfortable motel with prices just higher than most Motel 6s. Amenities include swimming pool, guest laundry refrigerators and micrwave ovens in the rooms, rooms with kitchenettes, WiFi, parking in front of your room, and friendly staff.
74744 Joe Davis Drive (760-367-3238)
You enter the beautifully desert landscaped grounds with the Manor House in the center and you can't believe that the desert could be so gorgeous. And that's only the beginning of your stay in this gem of a B&B. The rooms (in the manor or cottages are charming and there is a variety of accommodations. There are two pet-friendly units and the breakfasts are of top quality.
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29 Palms RV Resort
4949 Desert Knoll Avenue, 29 Palms CA 92277
Located on 20 acres, the RV and trailer resort has close to 200 sites, all with hookups, with some on the eighth fairway of the Roadrunner Golf Course. The park has a pool, laundry, sauna, whirlpool, tennis court, recreation room, and exercise room, plus shuffleboard, horseshoes, and volleyball areas. The golf course is open to the public.
The campground at Black Rock Canyon offers 100 sites with flush toilets, fireplaces, water, and a dump station. This is the only campground for which reservations can normally be taken, but the service is not available right now (see Special Note, below)
Other campgrounds are filled on a first come, first served basis. The Queen Valley has three camping areas: Jumbo Rocks, Ryan Mountain, and Sheep Pass (group camping). All are situated in the midst of twisted rock formations. Hidden Valley Campground (on Quail Springs Road) has 39 sites with water, tables, and fireplaces. Belle and White Tank campgrounds (no water) are located on the road that leads south to Cottonwood.
Indian Cove Campground, with 13 sites, serves groups only. At Cottonwood, a campground offers 62 sites, and an adjacent picnic area. There is water here, in addition to flush toilets, but there are no showers in the park. Horses are permitted at Ryan, and Black Rock Canyon campgrounds.
Special Camping Note:
A camping reservations system is in effect for many of the national parks. For information, go here.
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