We had a beautiful rest of the day driving through the Mohave desert to Twentynine Palms, CA. After leaving I-40 we would drive at least half an hour before seeing another car on the road. Even with the drone of the old Detroit diesel engine running hard and pushing us down the road in the bus, it was very peaceful. Once again, we met up with another section of the now defunct Route 66 for more than a few miles before we made another turn.
We settled into the campground and relaxed for a bit, figuring that the next day would be busy with so much to see at the park. We were up early (-ish, at least for our family) and went straight to the north entrance visitor center which is actually outside of the park by a few miles. The visitor center and bookstore were still in a temporary building as the main building was being renovated. The park rangers were all very excited that construction was finally wrapping up and that they would be moving back in the next few weeks.
We picked up the Junior Ranger workbooks for all of the kids and went out for the ranger talk that was starting in just a few minutes. Lucky for us, we were the only ones there for the presentation so we had the ranger all to ourselves! There was a great discussion about the Oasis of Mara and what the area was like when it was first settled, the geological changes in the area that have affected the oasis, how the palm trees protect themselves in fire, and some information on the animals in the park. The ranger, like so many of the park rangers we met, was passionate about her job and loved answering our questions and teaching the kids. Dooder even found an owl pellet around the tree where our ranger talk was, which led to the kids finding rodent skulls and bones on the ground too.
Yay-yay and Dooder looked over the park map and had decided, without a shred of doubt, that our first stop had to be Skull Rock. Really, what kid wouldn’t want to go see that??!?!??!! We all had a ton of fun climbing the rocks and enjoying the amazing views. Cake found a small lizard that was missing its tail and she had a great time watching and examining it. The kids even found a big chuckwalla sunning itself on the rocks before hiding from view in a large crack. The Chuckwalla is the largest lizard in Joshua Tree NP and needs to sun itself so it can digest the plants that it eats.
Next stop was Keys View, and on the way we saw some more Joshua trees. The view from Keys View was spectacular, and we could clearly see Palm Springs down below, where Sonny Bono was mayor for four years before becoming a congressman for California’s state government. We were able to see all the way to Signal Mountain in Mexico, just barely making it out through the haze.
After descending from the lookout we drove towards the town of Joshua Tree and the west entrance of the park. We did stop in a flat and more desert-like area of the park filled with Joshua trees. I still remember U2’s 1987 album The Joshua Tree from when I was in high school, and ever since then I have thought about how cool it would be to see a Joshua tree. The tree from the album cover died a number of years ago and it was actually in the Mojave desert, not in the Joshua Tree National Park. In any case, I wasn’t disappointed at all since we were truly in the land of Joshua trees!
Joshua trees are very interesting in that they grow so well despite the desert and lack of water. Many of the trees are hundreds of years old, and some can even even live to a thousand years old! Their root system is pretty extensive to hold up the top-heavy trees and can reach out more than thirty feet from the base of the tree.
We left the park, grabbed some lunch in Joshua Tree, and quickly drove along route 62 to get back to the visitor center in Twentynine Palms before they closed for the day. The kids were punchy and exhausted and could barely stand still to answer the Ranger’s questions and say the pledge, but they did it!
In the best interest of exhausting our kids fully, and since we had a late lunch, we headed back to their favorite place in the park – the rocks!
We reluctantly left the park, totally exhausted and hungry. It was an amazing day in an incredible and diverse park.
Our visit to Joshua Tree National Park was a month and a half ago, but it remains one of our favorite parks that we still talk about today even after visiting many other amazing National Parks.