We drove the ~5 hours between Death Valley and Joshua Tree in a single afternoon. And if I hadn't just been thoroughly spoiled by the beauty and variety of Death Valley (previous post), I would have gasped at the desert and mountains we passed along the way: pure rock dust passing into fields of green and back again.
We arrived in Joshua Tree just as the sun was setting, making our way to Arch Rock, and I don't know how we could have been better timed to see the sun fade and then splash vibrance onto the tumult of rocks that first evening. I had never seen rock formations like this, and seeing the night come up while straddled atop was magical.
And that was just the first couple hours in the park! But it was emblematic.
In Death Valley, you hike up and in; but in Joshua tree, you hike around. The trails are shorter, and much closer together, and the undulating rocks are made of monzogranite - with this incredibly grippy texture that really makes scrambling around the rocks easy and inviting.
And the park rewards your exploration! An example: We were hiking the Hall of Horrors trail one morning and John was following the path. I was doing my thing, scrambling over the rocks and criss-crossing the path when an impasse forced me to come back down. We reached the mid-point of the trail and we still hadn't seen much of any halls, let alone horrors, and John reluctantly pointed to a gap between boulders and called it a 'hall' as we started our walk back. But I scrambled up two more steps into the rock field and found the undeniable hall!
Like that, one more step off the trail would reveal a whole new view.
The wildlife in Joshua Tree presents in the cracks between the stone. The fields of cholla cactus claiming empty space, the towering ocotillo stalks 20 feet in the air, the trickling rivers of blue and yellow and red flowers between anchoring, twisted juniper. And of course the spiny Joshua trees themselves - birds nesting and flitting between them.
Much of the literature we found in the park talked about how the native Serrano, Cahuilla, and Chemehuevi people found food in and around the oases. It would have been hard to imagine had I not seen it in bloom beneath my feet.
John and I followed our traditional pattern here: into the park before sunrise, out well after dark (even though our AirBnb was an influencer's paradise). Our last night in the park, we packed blankets and hiked deep into Hidden Canyon, climbed a platform rock, and then enjoyed a beautiful sunset and stargazing in the canyon all by ourselves. It was so quiet that mice scurried across our boots by the time we packed out under the moonlight.
The natural playgrounds in Joshua Tree make it incredibly accessible to wander and interpret into your own individual experience. I have no doubts about why I've heard so many albums emerge from those rocks and I hope to climb back in sometime down the road.