While a bunch of Angelenos were all excited about a rock from Riverside County making a very slow trip to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), Sean and I decided to go to Riverside County and see some more impressive rocks… and trees.
In the middle of the week, I suggested taking a trip to Joshua Tree National Park to celebrate our second anniversary. A few things made it attractive: neither of us had visited; it’s close (2 hours is close in Southern California); it’s inexpensive; and it’d offer lots of great views/sites to photograph. About the first one, I’ve been to the Coachella Valley and Palm Desert several times with friends and family but I’d never been to the park. My Mojave Desert camping experience had been limited to Kern River. Sean was down.
We headed out Sunday morning and arrived in Joshua Tree early in the afternoon. Our first stop was at the visitor’s center to get more water and some maps. Our plan for the day: lunch at the Hidden Valley picnic area; exploring the Hidden Valley nature loop; and then hanging out at Key’s View until sunset.
It was pretty cool to check out the rocks and imagine rustlers hiding their cattle in the valley surrounded by huge boulders. The park wasn’t crowded by any means, but there were still plenty of people out rock climbing and enjoying the nature trail.
From Hidden Valley, we drove ten minutes further south to Key’s View. The websites and guide map listed it as spot to catch great views on a clear day. Unfortunately, with all the haze we could barely make out the Salton Sea and Signal Mountain across the border.
We did have good views of Coachella Valley, Palm Springs, the Santa Rosa Mountains, the San Jacinto Mountains, and the San Andreas fault line. As a kid, I was always interested in earthquakes and geeked out explaining to Sean that the San Andreas fault is where the Pacific Plate and North American Plate meet creating mountain ranges and causing lots of earthquakes.
We left the park as it darkened and got dinner on our way back to the Travelodge in Yucca Valley. It’s nothing special but it did have a continental breakfast and complimentary wi-fi.
On Monday morning, we returned to Joshua Tree. We stopped at a Vons to pick up sandwiches for lunch and finalized our plans for the day: hike up Ryan Mountain (3 miles roundtrip); lunch at the Hidden Valley picnic area; and walk the Barker Dam nature trail.
The guide lists the Ryan Mountain trail as a moderately strenuous 2-3 hour hike. I thought it was tougher than moderate, but I’m a novice hiker/sea level dweller sensitive to altitude changes.
We lucked out with overcast skies and weather in the mid 60s. That was great since there’s no shade on the trail. I’ve read that the trail is popular, but on a Monday at noon it was pretty quiet. We saw a dozen or so hikers coming down, but were mostly alone at the summit.
There was one other group there, but they left after taking photos and resting. I enjoyed the hike and came down thinking I need to explore more of LA trails.
After Ryan Mountain we returned to the Hidden Valley picnic area to have our lunch before heading out to Barker Dam.
While the Barker Dam nature trail is only a 1 mile loop with hardly an elevation change, it wiped us out. By the time we started, it was much sunnier and warmer and we were already tired from Ryan Mountain.
There’s nothing like tons of sunshine and no shade to zap my energy. There were fewer people at Barker Dam.
Most of the time, we were the only ones out there. While I enjoyed the peace, it felt a little strange, as if we were lost in a vast desert surrounded by boulders, Joshua trees, cholla cactus and sand.
I thought about the migrants who cross in to the country through Arizona desert on foot. It’s such a treacherous trip and many people die on the way to a better life.
We returned to the car and opted to leave the park and begin the trip back to LA rather than explore more.
On the way back, we stopped for some touristy photos with the Cabazon Dinosaurs and dinner at the Morongo Casino buffet. It was mariachi and Mexican food night… they even had sopes!
Sunset at Key’s View and Ryan Mountain elevation sign photos by Sean.