For four years now I've had the privilege of teaching line dance at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio California which just happens to be a mere 27 miles from Joshua Tree National Park...and I had yet to go! Well, that all changed this year, I made a point to check out this beautiful park. I only had one day, so I found three very different short hikes to see as much as I could.
Joshua Tree National Park is a combination and meeting ground of two different ecosystems. The Mojave and Colorado desert. The Mojave is the west half of the park, that with its higher elevation, is more lush, green, and filled with the famous Joshua Trees. Mormon pioneers designated these trees with the name Joshua Tree after saying that they looked like the up-stretched arms of Joshua leading his people to the promised land. The Colorado desert, east side of the park is all below 3000' and with it's lower elevation tends to be a harsher, drier environment filled with Creosote Bush, and Ocotillo and Cholla Cactus'.
The first hike that I did, 49 Palms Oasis was on the eastern end of the Mojave near the border of these two deserts. The terrain was filled with rocks and very little plant life but beautiful in it's quiet vastness. The hike is a 3-mile roundtrip hike to a fan palm oasis and takes between 2-3 hours to complete. It's considered moderately strenuous and ascends 300 feet each way. This hike has it's own access road off Park Boulevard and therefore does not require an entrance fee.
The beginning of the hike is a slow incline up to a ridge that is dotted by Barrel Cacti. Looking to the East, you get a glimpse of the flat, harsh, Colorado desert. Along the way I spotted two Chuckwalla Lizards which a fellow hiker described to me as an Iguana on steroids. I was also warned about a Rattlesnake that was passing along the upcoming trail. Knowing that I would be hiking alone in a desert area I brought along a snake/scorpion bite kit (which thankfully I did not need).
A side note about Rattlesnakes...fatalities rarely occur (an average of 5 people a year) and the key is to remain calm, put pressure on the bite area and calmly walk (or be carried) to safety. If you can safely identify the type of snake it can help with treatment but never go after the snake! After my mountain lion encounter, I feel very strongly about knowing what wildlife you may be faced with and how to handle worse case scenarios.
Ok, and back to the hike! At the top of the ridge the trail will slowly begin turning inward and descending toward the palm oasis. While you can picture an oasis as much as you like, nothing quite prepares you for the contrasting towering trees against the rocky desert. It was beautiful! Normally, there are streams around the palm trees but the current California drought meant that there was no water. There was a lot of low brush around the oasis and I did spot a large rattlesnake here but luckily he was going the opposite direction and was quite beautiful slithering AWAY and not rattling. There are giant boulders around the oasis to relax on take a break before returning back on the same trail.
Watch my Joshua Tree episode and check out all three hikes! [embed]https://youtu.be/F20yopacrlw[/embed]
WHAT TO KNOW:
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, Joshua Tree California
Trailhead: Joshua Tree Visitor Center - Travel 11 miles east on Hwy 62 and turn right onto Canyon Road which becomes 49 Palms Canyon Road. Oasis Visitor Center - Travel 5 wiles west on Hwy 62 and turn left on to Canyon Road.
No Permit or Entrance Fee Required
Distance: 3 miles roundtrip
Elevation: 300' each way
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Best Time to Hike: Year-round. This is a less popular and quiet trail. Summers can get very hot.
What to Bring: Lots of water! Most rescues occur to dehydration in the park. Sunscreen-most of the trail is in direct sunlight with little shade.
NEED TO KNOW: Did I mention lots of water? BRING WATER! Beware of rattlesnakes and other wildlife. Keep a safe distance and stay on the trail. No pets.