Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Desert Days: High Desert Trail Time

Settled in our RV park, Sam's Family Spa, in Desert Hot Springs, we are a bit of a drive from many of the trails and things we want to do in the area. Fortunately we're getting an excellent rate by staying a month, so the savings are going in our fuel tank! We've done a couple of hikes in the high desert North of us, where it's a good 10 - 15 degrees cooler than Desert Hot Springs.

When we visited Thousand Palms Preserve the other day, the extremely helpful host (who has lived and hiked in this area for 40 years) told us of his favorite hike in Joshua Tree National Park. It's a combination of the North View, Maze and Window Rock trails (in that order). This hike is not on the park map yet, possibly because there is limited parking, but there is good signage throughout the trail and it turned out to be an excellent 7.5 mile loop hike.

To reach the trail head from the town of Joshua Tree, head South on Park Blvd. and go 1.7 miles past the National Park entrance kiosk. There will be a dirt pullout on the East side of the road with room for about four vehicles. This was about 40 miles from our home base.

We're back in the land of boulder strewn hills!

The fantastic stacked rocks frame views into the desert towns to the North.

This amazing landscape was created by magma intruding into the existing rock eons ago,
then ages of erosion from groundwater, then the surface soil eroded away leaving us with this wonderland to explore!

Bright pink baby barrel cacti caught my eye all day long...

Sometimes the eroded rocks look like a wall stacked by a person!.

Good camouflage!

The Park's namesake Joshua Trees show up in pockets on this hike.

All aglow.

Balancing act.

The deserts version of fall colors.

The Maze was a great spot to stop for lunch and do a little boulder exploring.

Bad hair day.

Window Rock is visible at the top of the peak on the right.

Rock fan.

Hans walks through bouldery beauty.

It's always a treat to hike among trees and greenery when you're in the desert and we found a beautiful high desert oasis waiting for us at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. Located about 20 miles from our RV park near the small town of Morongo Valley, the Preserve has about four miles of trails looping through and around wetlands, plus you can hike another four miles down Big Morongo Canyon towards Desert Hot Springs. We decided to save the "down the canyon" hike for a cooler day and instead hiked all of the trails around the wetlands.

Boardwalk trails protect the fragile wetlands.

Yucca Ridge Trail took us above the wetlands for some fantastic views of the contrasting landscape.
It's easy to see where the water is around here!

With miles of dry, scrub covered hills around the Preserve it is easy to understand
why this is a major bird stopover site in spring and fall.

Looking North, the Preserve is densely packed with fremont cottonwood, honey mesquite, dwarf willow and much more.

The river of green continues into Big Morongo Canyon.
Plenty of sitting areas are scattered throughout the Preserve, great for bird watching.

The Marsh Trail winds through the thick of it all with inviting places to sit along the way.


  1. Two more great hikes I am marking for next spring. We plan on being in Indio, CA next March.
    I never tire of the desert and all it's beauty. I love the pink barrel cactus...so showy! And were you surprised to find an old rusty car?

    1. These two hikes will be a very long drive from Indio, though you two seem to be comfortable with long drives! Hans really likes to keep our drives closer to 20 miles round trip.

      I took dozens of pink barrel cactus shots! They really catch the eye.

      That car was a big surprise because we had not seen anything manmade (other than park facilities) in the whole preserve!

  2. Now I want to go back to Joshua Tree!
    Probably too far from you but we did a challenging hike on the Bear Creek Palm Oasis trail in La Quinta. Also check out the Araby trail in Palm Springs that goes by Bob Hope's house. Happy hiking!

    1. It was really neat to learn about a hike not on the park map. AND, we never saw another person during the hike.

      Thanks for the trail tips!

  3. I love the pink cactus! They look furry.

  4. Love, love, love these pics! You really captured the diversity of that beautiful area (and you just got started!). Barrel cactuses were nearly all gone for years, from "landscape scalpers" taking them for home gardens, so it always makes me so happy to see them making a come back. Their crowns of yellow flowers are glorious in the spring. The wetlands are a nice place to spend these last hot days of early Autumn - looks like cooler temps this weekend finally :-)

    1. We are definitely hot weather wimps! We are looking forward to the cool down and will finally be able to tackle some of the trails down here in the desert!

  5. I'm with Hans, 20 miles round trip or better yet no miles round trip. But your drive to see the Joshua Trees and that great little barrel cactus I'd do for sure. Your pictures are fantastic. I especially like the one you call fall colors. An oasis in the desert is always a huge draw for me. It's just so hard to imagine wetlands in that landscape until you see them. Great post. Thanks so much.

  6. Love that first hike. Those are great rock formations!! It is amazing how they arranged themselves to appear as if someone stacked them. Nature is so cool! Thanks for including so many different arrangements:)

    We saw a ton of young, pink, barrel cactus the other day on our Liberty Bell Arch hike. I was so excited to see them. They were so pretty. You saw how many made the blog!!! Not everyone finds plants as neat as I do!

    One of the problems we found with our stay in Indio was the distance you had to drive for hiking.

    Glad you are having a good time:)

  7. We've spent a lot of time in Joshua Tree, but have never heard of the hike you did. How cool to discover a new hike -- we'll put that one on our list for this winter! As birders, we would love Big Morongo Preserve, too. Beautiful photos; the pink cacti are so pretty in the desert landscape.

  8. Those are the most adorable little pink cacti! Great photos!