Friday, October 17, 2014

Best trails to see Joshua Tree NP’s wonders

49 Palms Oasis. Photo courtesy of Joshua Tree NPS.

Mazes of massive
granite boulders,
desert oases
await day hikers

Among the best ways to see Joshua Tree National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just six short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – a Joshua tree forest, granite monoliths, desert oases, Old West ranches, rugged mountains, and dune-like formations.

Joshua tree groves
The park’s namesake are gigantic members of the lily family, so named because their outstretched branches reminded Mormon pioneers of the Biblical figure Joshua calling out God. You can hike through a large Joshua tree forest on a segment of the Boy Scout Trail, which runs 1.9-miles round trip from the parking lot off of Park Boulevard to an intersecting trail near the base of a butte.

Granite monoliths
Clusters of monzogranite boulders form mazes all throughout the park. Besides being fun to clamber over and around, some of them offer unique shapes, such as Skull Rock, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the one of “Peter Pan” fame. The Skull Rock Trail runs 1.75-miles round trip to it with the trailhead starting at the Jumbo Rocks Campground.

Desert oasis
What would a desert be without an oasis? Sitting in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree has a few, with the 49 Palms Oasis among the easiest to reach. The 49 Palms Oasis Trail heads 3-miles round trip to stands of fan palms and water pools. Warning: Getting there includes crossing a pair of steep 300-foot hills.

Ranching history
Despite that the desert receives less than 10 inches of rain a year, settlers tried decades ago to farm it. The Barker Dam Nature Trail loops 1.3 miles to a dam built by ranchers in the early 1900s so they could provide water for their cattle. The trailhead is off of Park Boulevard near the Hidden Valley Campground.

Rugged mountains
Bare, rock-strewn mountains rise all across the desert floor as the Pacific and North American tectonic plates collide just miles to the southwest. A 2-mile (4-miles round trip) segment of the Lost Horse Mine Trail heads to the summit of one of them, Lost Horse Mountain, which rises nearly a mile above sea level to 5,278 feet.

Sand dunes
The Pinto Basin Sand Dunes technically aren’t dunes but a layer of fine sand covering an elevated ridge. No marked trail heads to the dunes, but they’re visible from Turkey Flats and can be reached with a 2.2-miles round trip north-northeast cross country walk.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.