What is it about boys and rocks? A place with rocks, sticks and bugs is a wonderland for boys small and large. All abound at Joshua Tree National Park. Especially rocks.
Thanks to our friends at Ramshackle Solid for planning this outing. It was at times--groan alert--rocky but thoroughly satisfying.
When we arrived at the park on Wednesday, all the campground were full. So we unpacked on nearby BLM land, the Dale Mining District. And were rewarded with utter quiet, a starry night, and gorgeous desert lilies blooming
The lily is the first picture in this slide show below. Click here for a full-screen version. (For slide identification, click the upper right corner and chose "Show Info.")
The drag came the next day as we packed it all up again and relocated to Jumbo Rocks campground in the park. This is a great site for kids over 5 years old. After chasing my 3-year-old around the tops of boulders, I'm ambivalent about it for younger kids. The granite is wonderfully sticky, but it won't stop a kid from taking a nasty fall. The site is especially challenging when there are older kids around who are allowed to climb higher.
Still, my son and his toddler friend seemed more likely to die at each other's grungy hands than on any granite ascent and fall. They fought incessantly--with fists, sticks, stones and gravel. The primal struggle replayed at night as my son cried out "it's MINE!" in his sleep. Fortunately, the worst was over in a day.
In addition to the big rocks, the abundance of short, flat trails make J-Tree a great spot for kids.
We hiked from Jumbo Rocks to Skull Rock, as well as around Hidden Valley, to Arch Rock and into wash near the Cottonwood oasis. Don't miss the very short Cactus Garden trail with its gorgeous cholla (pictured above).
My son hiked nearly all of the 1 mile Hidden Valley loop and was rewarded with a park pin for his cap. The presence of an older boy spurred him on. And I called it quits after this hike, so he'd be eager for the next day.
For those who don't know, the park is comprised of both Mojave (high) desert and Colorado (low) desert. Joshua tree, desert dandelion, desert paint brush, calico cactus, apricot mallow, desert rock-pea, bladder pod, indigo bush and Encelia farinosa were among the plants blooming in the Mojave.
In the Colorado desert (also called Sonoran), I was thrilled to see blooming cholla, ocotillo, desert monkey flower, desert senna, desert poppy, the teeny Wallace's woolly daisy (Eriophyllum wallacei), beavertail cactus, prince's plume, Arizona lupine, desert canterbury bells, and more.
Most of these plants are easily identifiable with a little assist from books you can buy at one of the visitor centers.
At Jumbo Rocks we were treated to a good look at Western tent caterpillars (pictured in slide show). And we happened upon a couple of chuckwalla in a wash near the Cottonwood oasis.
My big disappointment: no jackrabbits. I love, love these big bunnies.
We spent our last two nights at the fab 29 Palms Inn, which lines part of the Oasis of Mara. It's a great spot for an easy look at wildlife, including cactus wren (above), quail, and lots of cottontail bunnies.
The pool is popular with the underaged, and the restaurant and bar with the overaged. If you stay over the weekend, don't miss a grounds tour with naturalist Pat. The Inn also supplies delicious sack lunches.
More on this trip from Ramshackle Solid.