Since January 2nd was an official holiday, my family and I decided to make the most of it by going to Joshua Tree National Park, a surreal desert landscape that lies just two hours northwest of Irvine. I had actually originally planned to return to Paris on January 2nd, but I decided I just wasn’t ready – I needed a few more days of family and sunshine. And I am so glad I made that decision!
On Monday morning we all got up early, caught a little bit of the Rose Parade, and packed some sandwiches for long day ahead. Although we didn’t get on the road until 10:30am, I would say that is still impressive for a family of six! As we got closer to Joshua Tree we passed through several small desert towns, many with abandoned homes. I wondered what life was like for the people that lived there, and where they were now? Living in such an isolated environment must be freeing – you really get the sense that you can do pretty much whatever you want – but I would also feel a bit vulnerable (especially with all those coyotes, snakes, and spiders wandering around!)
After eating some delicious KFC for lunch (it tastes so much better in America!), we made it to the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. We picked up some maps of the park, and a few souvenirs (I got a cool vintage-looking postcard), and drove to the park entrance. There was a bit of a line to get inside, which gave us time to admire how beautiful the scenery was already becoming – so many strange-looking Joshua trees and piles of boulders!
Once we were officially inside these views became even more beautiful, and we saw both experienced climbers and amateurs already scrambling up the rocks. That’s the cool thing about the national parks, you pretty much have free reign and don’t have to stay on the marked paths (although it probably helps to know what you’re doing before you go gallivanting off into the desert haha!)
We quickly turned off at the closest rest stop so we could take a look around:
It was cool to get a closer look at the Joshua trees Joshua Tree National Park is named for, which are actually not trees at all, my sister pointed out, but a type of Agave. Mormon immigrants are thought to have named them after the biblical figure Joshua in the mid-19th century, and clearly the name stuck! The park spans almost 800,000 acres and includes two deserts, the Mojave and Colorado, each of which contains radically different plants and animals.
The weather was definitely chilly – about 47 degrees (or 8 degrees Celsius for my non-American readers, if any :P) – but the air felt clean and refreshing. It was just so exciting to be in a totally different environment from what we were used to!
After doing some low-level rock climbing and strolling through the Joshua trees, we headed to our next destination: Hidden Valley.
The Hidden Valley trail is a one mile long and loops through a rock-enclosed valley once used by cattle rustlers. I could see why it would be the perfect place to store stolen cattle. Getting there requires that you walk through a winding path through giant boulders, which empties out in a beautiful, almost prehistoric-looking valley. I just loved the layering of rocks, trees, and cacti, combined with the way the wind swirled around the boulders. It was one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited and seeing it all with my family made it even more special. 🙂
With only an hour to go before the sun set, we next headed to Keys View, which provides a stunning view of the Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault. On a clear day, you can even see Mexico!
However, once we arrived it quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be seeing Mexico, because we were literally up in the clouds! It was such a beautiful experience, one I don’t think any of us will soon forget.
Our final stop of the day was a cute general store outside the park that Adam was eager to visit, which was packed with crystals, dreamcatchers, candles, books and survival gear. It was a great way to end our Joshua Tree adventure – I’m already planning our return trip! 😀