Saturday, November 5, 2016

Joshua Tree's Willow Hole Trail

The last time we visited Joshua Tree National Park we were staying in Desert Hot Springs so it was a 40 mile one way drive to visit the park. This time we're staying at Twenty Nine Palms RV Resort and the national parks east entrance is just a few miles away.

One thing we've figured out about Joshua Tree NP is that very few of the interesting features in the park are actually on the park map. For example the fabulous hike we did in 2014, known as the Maze Loop, is not on the park map. The trail is signed but the only way to know about it is to do your research before you arrive.

The Willow Hole trail came up during the research phase this time so we headed out early one morning to beat the heat and potential crowds. This trail is accessed from the Park Blvd. Boy Scout Trailhead, then veers right into the Wonderland of Rocks and ultimately ends about 3.3 miles in at a grove of willows.

We arrived to an empty parking lot and a kiosk with the Willow Hole trail clearly marked...even though it is not on the official park map. We also found the trail to be well marked the entire way. I guess Joshua Tree NP wants people to explore in depth on their own, or perhaps they don't map everything in order to keep foot traffic light on the trails.

Though this hike was about seven miles out and back, it was pretty flat with very little rock scrambling, so an easy hike overall.

We crossed a broad, flat plain dotted with Joshua trees, some of them were huge!

A couple of miles into the hike we approach the Wonderland of Rocks. 

There was water in the bottom of this depression and the dark line on the rock indicates high water line.
We had to scramble over the rocks in front of Hans, this was the most difficult part of the trail...and really wasn't all that hard.

Once in the Wonderland of Rocks the trail continues through a wash with fantastic boulders everywhere.

There were even flowers scattered through this portion of the November!

Lots of birds in this lush canyon.

At about 3.3 miles the wash widened and grew even more lush and we came around a corner to find a large stand of willows.

Beyond the willows we crested a small rise and were greeted with a view of a small valley and the mountains beyond.
See tiny Hans in the center?

More willow among the rocks. There were small pockets of standing water in the lowest spots.
We saw signs of bighorn sheep...but no actual live sheep!

Back through the willow forest.

Instead of retracing the same path, we scrambled through a side wash,
ultimately finding a peaceful place to stop for lunch and a little siesta.

On the way back to the parking area we did see a few people, including these two rock climbers.
See them in red and white?

It turns out week day mornings are the perfect time to hike in Joshua Tree National Park, we had the trail to ourselves until the very end. Weekends are a different we found out a couple of days later. Fortunately an early start gets you a parking spot and some solitude on the trail!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Nightmare Gulch Just Gave Us Sweet Dreams

Red Rock Canyon State Park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada Range converges with the El Paso Range in Kern County California. This area of colorful and dramatic rock formations was part of the Native American trade route for thousands of years, then in the 1800's prospecting and mining took over. Sheep herding, stage coaches, a railroad and a truck stop have all had their time in this passage. More recently movies, videos and commercials have been filmed here.

For us, Red Rock Canyon State Park was the perfect opportunity to get back into desert hiking...and we had the place entirely to ourselves! The entrance booth was unmanned and there were only a couple of small rigs in the dry campground so we grabbed a map and headed back across the highway to Red Cliffs Natural Preserve.

There's a single lane dirt road that winds back into the hills for a couple of miles and ends at a gate where we parked with nary a soul around. This was our starting point to walk up Nightmare Gulch. The Gulch is closed February through June to protect breeding raptors, the rest of the year it is open to foot and horse traffic; fortunately for us they no longer allow off road vehicles into this unique environment.

Come along for a two and a half mile walk up Nightmare Gulch...

Just off highway 14 the colorful cliffs welcomed us to Red Cliffs Natural Preserve.

More red striped cliffs along the road to our trail head.

Eroded white cliffs lined the far side of the wash as we walked north towards Nightmare Gulch.

Brilliant colors were underfoot in the wash.

As we entered the Gulch the colors and formations and variety of rock were amazing.

Hans added sky blue to the multitude of colors all around us in the Gulch.

A big old tarantula captured our attention.

Reds and whites in fascinating layers and drip formations lined the Gulch.

About two miles up the main canyon we diverted into a smaller tributary canyon and the walls closed in on us.

Reaching the end of the tributary we had risen enough that we had a view back towards the Gulch and the surrounding hills.

Heading back down canyon we got up close and personal with some fun formations.

Looking up a water carved channel.

Another view of the white cliffs near our trail head (note Hans at left).

Lovely desert colors along the road heading out.

Layers of color everywhere you look!

We spotted a roadrunner on the drive out and watched him catching bugs flying around the bushes in a wash
for a good long time. Sometimes his crest was up...

Sometimes he seemed to be in stealth mode!
It seems early November on a week day is the perfect time to visit Red Rock Canyon State Park. We had the trail to ourselves and only saw a couple of people at the main parking areas. The ranger station was open by the time we finished our hike and we enjoyed their exhibits describing in detail the areas history.

They also had a 118 year old desert tortoise, Mr. Bob, on display. Mr. Bob has lived at the park for 16 years. Though I was searching I never saw a tortoise in the wild. There is a Desert Tortoise Nature Preserve near by though where one might get lucky!

Mr. Bob has strawberry lips!

We spent two nights at Sierra Trails RV Park in order to visit the State Park. It's a small, rustic, no frills park just off highway 14. Nothing fancy but perfectly fine for a short stay. Good Verizon signal, non existent park wifi.

Onward to Twenty Nine Palms, CA!