For four years we spent Thanksgiving weekend in Northern Sierra hoping for snow and hiking among the pines. And last year was a disappointment. I wore a thing flannel shirt all weekend long. It was so warm so all snow that fell in previous days melted without signs. Was it the reason for such dramatic change? Maybe.
Anyway, this year we drove to the southern deserts and finally visited Joshua Tree. Eugene struggled with his injured leg, and we can’t do a lot of hikes but it still was a fun trip.
Explore boulders along Park Boulevard
There are no accommodations in the park except campground (which were full because of park popularity and weekend). So we booked the hotel outside the park. It added about an hour to the route to the park west entrance but still was doable. The west entrance became the main entry point for us during the trip.
The park is famous with its landscape: valley covered with Joshua trees and yuccas, boulders of all form and shapes, distant mountain ranges. The park is very popular. There are a lot of places where you could stop and explore right after entering the place.
Jumbo Rocks Campground
It was my dream to explore strange looking boulders at Jumbo Rocks campground. The photo of a rock ball on the top of triangles of boulders lived deeply in my mind.
Jumbo Rocks is a huge campground with a lot of camping spaces that are really close to each other. If you want to explore rocks above or near someone campground, you should pay a lot of caution and not cross someones private space. At least I felt nervous a lot about this fact.
The ball on the top of the rocks is visible from campground amphitheater. We were there right before the sunset so the last rays of sun colored the wall of the rocks. Though we weren’t there early enough for me to check different angles and find the best view.
It was a great sunset. Clouds were colored from bright purple to yellow. That was unbelievable.
The second place in the campground I wanted to visit was the Boulder and Juniper Tree. They are situated right beyond the campsites 19 and 20. And I felt uneasy to walk trail so close to the people having fun celebrating Thanksgiving.
And I found out the place was already taken! There was a guy with a tripod and a folding chair that waited for starts to come out. Unfortunately, the best view was exactly from his place. I tried different angles, before deciding that I can’t find anything better.
The sun set when I was near Juniper, and I already moved to the next place in my place. Our car was parked in a small parking lot outside the campground. On my way back to it, almost near the car I noticed how sky started to turn pink. The boulder surrounding the campground looked like reflected colors of the sky, and I could not just leave.
Skull Rock is one of the very famous boulders in the park. It is very close to the Jumbo Rocks Campground. Actually, there is a trail that starts in the campground that goes to the Rock. However it was a night, and the drive was the safest and fastest option.
It was one of those night before the full moon, and it was mesmerizing when it rose above the park mountains and boulders.
Even in the dark, Skull Rock had it, visitors. We needed to wait for 5-7 mins before getting our chance to explore it.
Sunrise at Chola Cactus Garden
It was a love at first sight. The sunrise at the unique field of teddybear chollas is a must experience. The sun will gradually change the colors of the sky, and eventually, start to rise above the mountain range on the east bathing everything with its warm orange light.
Another unique sight is cholla cactuses. These soft and fuzzy looking plants are not that nice as they look. Their spines that will latch onto any surface close to them. After spending half an hour there, I removed spines from my shoes and pants almost during the whole day.
The chollas are a very rare plant, you could see them mostly in one place, in the Pinto Basin, at the merge of the upper Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. There is a short (a quarter a mile) nature trail that loops through the field.
Drive backcountry roads and Hike to Wall Street Mill
So this chapter will describe two activities. And I should say it wasn’t like planned. The plan was only to hike to Wall Street Mill. However, the trailhead starts from the extremely popular Barker Dam was full. After very short brainstorm we turned to the dirty Bighorn Pass Road. The road passes through the valley covered with boulders and Joshua Tree. Actually, it became a great small adventure. The road was almost empty, and we had an opportunity to enjoy Joshua trees the way we could not do it in a hugely popular Hidden Valley.
Bighorn Pass Road crosses Odelle Road where we turned left to return to the trailhead on Queen Valley Road.
Wall Street Mill is one of the many mines n the park. After a brief researching, I stopped on it because it was almost flat and easy, and has a lot of interesting artifacts. The trail is not on the maps but it is well marked and easy following. From the trailhead, you need to follow paths to the right.
Find the old windmill and use it as a reference point. Soon after passing it, the trail follows the waterbed well until reaching the mine.
There are boulders surrounding the mill that could be climbed to get a full view of the site. There are also few old rusty cars around the mill that are great objects to photography.
Moongazing/Stargazing at Arch Rock
It was one of the hardest trips for me. Usually, we are very fast, covering a lot of trails and places that I want to see. And this time, we were the slowest on the trails.
What was planned as sunset to the night stay near the Arch Rock became a quick sprint for me in the dark of the night. And I would definitely think next time before doing it again.
We finished hike to Wall Street Mill in the dust. When we drove to the White Tank Campground starts started to pop up. Eugene’s leg felt worse, and I didn’t want him to challenge it anymore. So I took my headlamp, tripod, and camera and moved alone searching for the arch. I had a great description of how to find a trail to it. What I didn’t expect is that trail didn’t lead to the Arch Rock. It stays on the side, and in the dark, it’s hard even to notice it.
It took me a while to find a route and the arch. I usually expect photographers on such objects. What I didn’t expect is to see a huge crowd with flashlights and mobile phones that came right after me. I honestly felt confused what could do phones camera in the night and what is the reason for the night visits of the arch. But I was glad my thoughts kept me occupied while I waited for the group to finish with their shooting.
It was a full moon night, so there was a lot of light though I wished it would be darker so I could see more stars.
- Official page of Joshua Tree National Park
- Wall Street Mill trail on alltrail.com
- Map with the locations: