Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park, a one hour drive from Palm Springs. The climate is unpredictable with sudden torrents of rain and strong winds shaping its land. The Joshua trees with the huge rock formations extending over miles and miles of arid desert land, make the landscape mysteriously surreal.
I visited there with a small group of friends in January this year. It was sunny but cold and I was glad I was wearing my down jacket. We drove from a small dessert retreat in Palm Springs where we were staying, to the Visitor Center of the Park. Here we got basic information about the Park like the entrance fees etc. and essential tips regarding where to go.
Here are some things to do at the Joshua Tree National Park:
1. Keys View
Keys View is a popular destination on the crest of San Bernardino mountains with magnificent views of the Coachella Valley. It is a 20 minute drive from Park Boulevard down the Keys View road. In the winter months, it can get really cold and a warm jacket is indispensable. Our group spent close to an hour here clicking pictures and taking in the views of the valley.
2. Barker Dam Nature Loop Hike
Barker Dam, also known as the Big Horn Dam, is a water-storage facility located in Joshua Tree National Park. The Barker Dam Loop trail is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) round trip and goes from the parking lot at Barker Dam, past the dam and several good boulder climbing areas and a wall of petroglyphs. We had a lovely nature walk around the dam and the views were breathtaking. Since it has little elevation gain, it is an easy walk and almost anybody can do it.
3. Skull Rock, Cottonwood Spring and Black Rock Canyon
Since we had only a few hours we could not cover everything, but here is a list of some great places in the Park that you may want to consider exploring when you visit there.
Skull Rock is a huge rock formation with two hollowed-out eye sockets resembling a skull. There is a 1.7 miles (2.7km) nature trail that one can do here.
Cottonwood Spring Oasis, a natural spring caused by earthquake activity, is one of the best kept secrets of the park and is located 7 miles (11.3km) from the southern entrance of the park. You can camp and hike here.
Black Rock Canyon is located in the northwest corner of the park. You can camp and hike here. You can also spot wildlife in the campground quite frequently. It is great for first time campers and has restrooms and water facilities nearby.
The huge boulders of the park also offer a lot of opportunity for zip-line tours.
5. A drive in the sunset
A drive back to Palm Springs in the sunset is pretty incredible with breathtaking views of the distance mountains dissolved in a mellow light of the setting sun.