Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Barrel cactus

Barrel cactus

Thursday, January 8

Yesterday was a travel day: waking up, readying the Casita, saying goodbye to Julie’s relatives, and then driving east for four hours. First through heavy Los Angeles traffic, and then along much emptier stretches of road as we left interstate 10 and got on highway 62 to skirt north of Joshua Tree National Park. As the land opened up and the traffic fell away my spirits rose. It’s back to the desert!

We arrived at the park at dusk, making it my first ever unhooking of the RV in the dark. It takes a little longer than usual, but I’m familiar enough with the routine now to be able to do it in low light.

Today the sun is shining and I can better view our camping spot. We’re at Indian Cove campground, just off of 62. This campground has no direct access to the rest of the park without first leaving it and driving further down 62 which is kind of an odd setup (there are mountains in the way) but it’s one of only two campgrounds that advertised as fitting a RV of my size, and from the pictures online Julie and I liked the looks of this one better.

View from Ryan Mountain

View from Ryan Mountain

There are no Joshua trees at the site, but there are a lot of unique rock formations. It reminds me of the campground in Valley of Fire down in Nevada. There are no hookup sites in Joshua Tree, and the site we reserved is pretty unlevel, but the views are great. I snap a picture of the rocks from in bed and put it up on Facebook.

Now it’s time to explore! We leave the campground and re-enter the park at the West entrance off of 62.

Joshua trees!

Joshua trees!

joshua-tree-national-park4Joshua Tree park contains two different desert ecosystems. The northern part of the park at a higher elevation is part of the Mojave Desert, the southern part at a lower elevation is the Colorado. All of today’s hikes take place in the Mojave, which is where you find the distinctive Joshua trees the park is named for.

Before it gets too warm, we decide on Ryan Mountain as our first hike of the day. This trail is 2.8 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain to the top of… yep, you guessed it, Ryan Mountain (5457 ft).

There aren’t many Joshua trees along the Ryan Mountain trail, but there are some nice panoramic views. On a clear day like today, you can see for miles out over the park. Ridges, plains, and hills are all brown this time of year, but the tallest peaks in the distance are capped with white. Closer to home, yucca cling to the rocky hillside and a few of the low bushes still have some green color. Interspersed with the hibernating bare bushes are a bushy cactus that is a lighter straw color. I later learn that these are called Cholla cactus.

Back on the park road, a thick forest of Joshua trees comes into view. I pull over to get a picture of a particularly impressive specimen.

Jumbo Rocks area

Jumbo Rocks area

These things are neat looking. Joshua trees are actually another species of yucca, but they really do look tree-like, with multiple gnarled “branches” and heights of up to 40 feet. 40 feet may not sound tall for a tree, but you need to remember this is a desert where most vegetation doesn’t get taller than your waist. The leaves are spiky, and the bark reminds me more of a palm tree than a regular tree. If you visit the park in February or March, you might be lucky enough to see the Joshua trees in bloom, which I hear is quite a treat. The flowers are large and milky white. We’re here too early for that, but it’s still a pleasure to see these unique desert plants.

Nice arch

Nice arch

Our next stop is the aptly named Jumbo Rock campground. RVs are allowed inside this campground too, but the maximum length is 25 feet, including trailer + tow vehicle together, so while Cas is only 17 feet and could fit in the sites, I wouldn’t be able to unhitch or turn around because Bertha and Cas together are 35 feet and there just isn’t enough room.

We’re not here for camping though, we’re here to see Arch Rock. The trailhead starts at the campground, and is a short little 0.3 mile loop through a landscape littered with huge boulders. The arch itself is a large boulder that the bottom fell out of, creating the arch. Julie and I scramble up through the arch to the back side, and sit down to have wonderful lunch. It may only be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but everything tastes better when you’re on an adventure.

Next we leave the park through the North entrance, and turn west on 62 to complete the loop back to our campsite, but the day isn’t over yet.

Barrel cactus closeup

Barrel cactus closeup

Along 62 is one last trail that heads into the park, Fourty-nine Palm Oasis. I’ve never seen a natural oasis before, so I’m really looking forward to this hike. It’s 3.0 miles round trip with 450 feet of elevation gain going in, and 300 feet of elevation gain coming out.

By the time we start, the afternoon is already wearing on. It’s 2:30 pm, and the sun will be going down in less than three hours. The signs at the parking lot say that the hike should take 2-3 hours to complete, so we have to be quick.

The ridges and valleys have the same dry bushes and smaller yucca that we saw earlier in the day at Ryan Mountain, but the star of the show here is the Barrel cactus. While averaging a foot tall along this trail, it’s hard to miss them because of their bright red color in a landscapes of browns and dull greens.

They prove a sufficient distraction from the fast march, until the palms come into view.

Wow. On the side of a rather unassuming dry hillside, sits a thick stand of very large palm trees. They look extremely out of place here in the middle of the desert, and yet they were not planted here by man. Nature really is amazing. A natural spring comes out of the hillside here, providing the water that the palms need to survive. The valley is already in shadow by the time we arrive, but on the plus side, all of the more responsible hikers have already left for the day to beat nightfall. The oasis is all ours.

So out of place...

So out of place…

Or not. Small birds send up a chorus, protected from view by palm fronds. Julie reaches out a hand to stop me and points ahead of us, a quail darts across the path. There is an incredible amount of life here, all of these plants and animals drawn to the rarity of open water in the desert.

It takes some time, but we finally do find the water, in the form of a small stream following gravity’s course. The water is clear and inviting, but deep down in a gully and inaccessible to people, which is just as well. This is a treasure that deserves protecting.


We beat sundown back to the truck, and complete the drive back to camp. What a good day.

Other Articles You Might Enjoy

Desert Dreaming

January 5, 2017 |

December 30, Friday My boondocking spot at the end of Robbins Road in Buckeye Hills Recreation Area calls to me to come out and explore, but there hasn’t been time for a hike yet. Yesterday was spent preparing for my best friend Julie’s arrival, today I drive into Phoenix to collect her from the airport.…

Read More

Arches National Park, UT (part 2)

April 29, 2017 |

April 27, Thursday At 7:02 am, Marshall, Kelly, and I are through the fee booth and into Arches NP for our hiking excursion. Because of repaving, the park is closed overnight on weekdays right now. The gates open at 7 am, so we’re among the first ten or fifteen cars into the park. Our destination…

Read More

Caprock Canyons State Park, TX

October 8, 2015 |

Sunday, October 4 So much for that view. I’m surprised to see fog when I step out of the Casita this morning, this being a drier environment and all. The fog comes and goes as I continue south on I25, past Trididad, CO. Near the boarder with New Mexico, the interstate climbs into mountains. Low…

Read More


At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on January 16, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    You were in our neck of the woods. Apple Valley is about an hour to an hour and a half northwest of Joshua Tree. Great rocks there. Lots of climbers and wanabees like us.

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      The post going up tonight has a little more information about rock climbing Ed, there were climbers in the site next to us the next morning! It was very cool.

  2. mike german on January 15, 2015 at 11:41 am

    As always interesting post. Living in the desert I sort of take Joshua Trees for granted but many place it is the only shade around for a place to get out of the sun.

    I love opening up my email, usually at work and seeing you have posted something.. It does make me wish I could just go hook up the Casita and hit the open road too..

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 9:08 pm

      Maybe someday Mike. 🙂

      I saw a sign in the park about how integral a part Joshua Trees play in the local ecosystem, a lot of animals use them for food or shelter, and even other plants will grow under the partial shade they offer.

      Glad you enjoyed this post, thanks for reading!

  3. Rene Kipp on January 14, 2015 at 11:22 am

    I still remember the first time I saw a Joshua Tree, I was like a giddy school girl. Ron (hubby) and I were driving to Las Vegas over I-15 and they were scattered along the highway. We pulled over so I could get a photo or two. They are so beautiful in their own way. I am looking forward to visiting Joshua Tree NP one day. Great photos!
    Rene Kipp recently posted..Secrets RevealedMy Profile

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 9:07 pm

      I first saw them when I was driving from Zion to Las Vegas to pick Julie up for the airport last summer, probably the same ones you saw. Did a double take because I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at! Glad you enjoyed the photos.

  4. Kristin on January 14, 2015 at 11:20 am


    Joshua trees are so cool! The pictures you took of Joshua Tree National Park are beautiful. I live in this region, but have not yet taken the opportunity to visit the park. I am putting it on my list of places to see this year after reading your post. That is really neat about the palm trees that naturally occurred in the area; I did not realize we had any native palms out here. 🙂

    Thank you,

    Kristin recently posted..Pictures from Around Town – Exploring Southern NevadaMy Profile

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 9:05 pm

      Yes Kristin, you need to go out and see it! Those palms are so big at the base that you can’t wrap your arms around them.

      That corner of Nevada/California/Arizona is really pretty, it must be a fun place to live. Have fun exploring it!

      • Kristin on January 21, 2015 at 10:09 am

        Thanks Becky. Will do! 🙂

  5. Chris Lisowy on January 14, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Why paid campground. You worked so hard at Amazon, got to make that money last. The entire Joshua Tree park is surrounded by BLM land. You can park anywhere for free.

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Because the campground was beautiful and close, because my rig is not set up for boondocking yet, and because my RV was still winterized (no toilet!).

  6. Jodee Gravel on January 14, 2015 at 8:17 am

    I’m glad you enjoyed Joshua Tree and got back to the Oasis. I loved living there. Because of their color and curving thorns, barrel cactus were very popular for home cactus gardens and were nearly wiped out from people digging them up. I’m always so happy to see any place where there are more of them now 🙂 Safe travels!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..THIS Year!My Profile

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      Wow Jodee, I had no idea they’d come that close to disappearing. There are quite a few of them in Joshua Tree, the rules about no digging up plants were posted all over the place and now I guess I know why!

  7. John Hussey on January 14, 2015 at 3:16 am

    Strange you mentioned a length limit of 25′ for Jumbo Rocks campground. I was there with Jeep & Casita at 30′ a few months ago and had no problem. There were even some sites that were pull through for the large behemoth campers and there was no problem getting in or out of it. Its a shame you did not stay. It was a delightful experience for me for about a three days. When I stopped at the north entrance where I entered the park, the welcome center folk suggested it to me without knowing my camping arrangement length as the prettiest of the campgrounds.

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      I think there were only 2-3 sites I could have safely gotten into, and I would have had to block traffic to do it so I can see why they wouldn’t have wanted me in there. Still, Indian Cove was quite pretty, I got a pic of my site there on the post going up tonight. 🙂

  8. Pleinguy on January 13, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    An interesting place for sure. Not the only place in the desert with isolated palms or Joshua trees though. Nice pix!
    Pleinguy recently posted..Saguaro EastMy Profile

    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      The Joshua trees were great Plein. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it!

  9. dawn from camano island on January 13, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    Hi Becky! Love your photos! You’re so smart to get out on the trails–that’s what makes a place unique. How’s the weather there?

    We’ve been up at Sawtooth Canyon since Friday but are leaving tomorrow. It’s just too cool this time for year at this elevation! Sure love this CG & plan to come back when it’s warmer. We’ve seen a lot of climbers having fun & that’s cool. We thought about going to Joshua Tree but decided against it since our dog would have to be on the leash. She’s been off-leash here & loving it. So we’re headed to Quartzsite tomorrow for warmer weather.

    You two take good care & have fun–

    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      The weather at Joshua Tree was great Dawn, high near 70, lows in the upper 40’s. Glad you enjoyed this post.

      Quartzsite was warmer when we drove through, but where we’re at now is a lot cooler. Sorry that Sawtooth didn’t work out this time, you should definitely go back when the weather is better!

  10. Ron on January 13, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    Your photos are great, Thanks for sharing. Ron

    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      You’re welcome Ron, thank you for reading.

  11. Rand on January 13, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Joshua Tree is a special place. Its always a different experience. Some boondocking sites a few miles north of Joshua and also near I10 on the east side.
    My first camp w/ a 15ft fiberglass trailer was at Jumbo Rocks. Last time I had to back in next to a car–a 30ft class A was across the road.

    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      Yeah Rand, the website says no more than 25 feet total in that campground. Indian Cove is nice though too! I have a picture of it coming up soon.

Enjoy what you just read? Have new blog posts delivered right to your inbox!

Your email is safe with me and you can unsubscribe anytime. :)

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.