Joshua Tree National Park: Scary Beauty!?!

We drove in the east entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. The park is huge and with varied landscape. At first one notices rocks that seem to have bubbled up from within the earth and are now laying around at various angles. It is easy to have an urge to climb some of them, and you can if it is one of the 10,000 climbing routes in the park. The rock here is called White Tank Granite, comprised of feldspar, quartz and biotite minerals. The igneous rock was pushed up from deep within the earth, forced into the over-lying rock about 135-150 million years ago …. dinosaur time. There are numerous trails to hike; we selected the Arch Trail. At this moment in time it is an arch. However remember, this is only a moment in the geologic lifetime of the arch. Erosion will continue and someday there will be no arch! (I have included 2 photos of the arch so you can get a sense of its size when you locate the man in the photo!)

See the size of this arch!

The 3 minerals mentioned above were a molten mass of magma forming the granite. There can be other minerals pushed into cracks, taking form in fractures, and more resistant to erosion thus forming what are called dikes. Precious minerals are often found in these areas. See the fracture line with the more resistant rock in the photo below? That is a dike.

Every time I visit this park I remember the cholla cacti forest. Thousands of cholla cacti grow in a particular area and you can walk on a trail in this forest of cacti. Although you may wish to touch the cacti … do not … the barbs on their needles will stick with you and hurt! (We carry a hair pick when we mountain bike in areas with cholla just in case we accidentally hit this cacti.)

The Joshua tree is seen more often as you continue your drive west through the park. In reality it is not a tree at all, but a yucca plant. It is a strange looking plant and anyone with an imagination could probably conjure up all sorts of stories especially if telling it in the dark! Arms seem to squirt out of the plant at crazy angles; the trunk is formed in time from the dead leaves folding down on itself. They grow to a max height of 40 feet and have been known to live hundreds of years! Here are a couple of photos of the trees:

We passed many campgrounds requiring reservations. There is a 14 day limit and more important to know: no water is available. Every campground was full and obviously this seems like the best time to be in the desert … whether on the lower Colorado Desert or the higher Mohave Desert … both are in this park.

Our final stop was Barker Dam. The dam was originally built in the 1900’s by ranchers needing water for their stock. Years later the natural water tank was expanded with catch basins for rainfall and run-off and eventually a dam was built. There was so much water at that time it was known to have covered 20 acres of land! Unfortunately, cattle ranching died out because rainfall decreased. It sort of makes you think about watering holes for wildlife and to wonder with our current drought worries how long they will last. Now just the dam and a water trough are evidence that water used to be here. I imagine certain times during the year water does collect here and more than the 8 birds I saw on this visit do come through. Here are photos at the dam:

There are many places to spend time in this park. Some trails have pictographs providing evidence of Native American tribes being in the are, evidence of very clean air with beautiful lichen growing on the rocks, and along the road plenty of signs to explain what you are looking at. We could leave the park by either the north or west entrance and since we have been here other times we headed out the west entrance. When you decide to visit: plan for the weather and remember to bring snacks and water … go and enjoy this unique area of the world! 

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

We timed this adventure to the Petrified Forest National Park perfectly! Weather was comfortable for hiking the Agate House and Long Logs Trail, Crystal Forest Trail and viewing Newspaper Rock and Blue Mesa at the park and finishing our drive at the Painted Desert. During Covid-19 time now, masks were required to be worn when within 6 feet of other people and quite honestly not many people were at the park. Almost felt like we had the park to ourselves as we looked across the land with its petrified wood!

Petrified wood at the park.

Many prehistoric people lived in this park known for its petrified wood. Trees once stood over 200 feet tall before flood waters carried them into a log jam where they were covered with mud and ash from volcanoes. As a result, the wood lacked oxygen to decay. The wood’s tissues broke down with minerals, such as silica, filling some voids in the tree. Over millions of years the minerals crystallized. After erosion, the logs are visible for us to see the colorful minerals crystallized within what is no longer wood of a tree. This petrified wood was once used by prehistoric people to make tools and use as building blocks. The agate house is one interesting gathering place from prehistoric time that still stands.

Part of the Agate House Trail is handicapped accessible and beyond a certain point it is not so well paved. While walking on this trail I saw a horned lark!

Long Logs Trail and Crystal Forest Trail are where you can see the tall trees now in their petrified state, all intact, while others are chunks throughout the park lands.

Agate Bridge is a petrified log that jammed in a spot now as a bridge, yet park officials had built a support underneath it to hold it longer for visitors to see it. Newspaper Rock is a designated area on the park’s road and worth a visit to see the petroglyphs. Blue Mesa is a short drive/loop off the park road and also good to see. All of this is a small glimpse of a large park.

Blue Mesa

Painted Desert can be accessed here at the Petrified Forest. It too is so much larger, but interesting to see even with this small glimpse of it.

Driving from Flagstaff, Arizona to the Petrified Forest National Park, we entered at the south entrance of the park, off Rte 180, and headed north through the park. Visitor centers were open, portable toilets available, and social distancing and masks required per park rules. Long ago people traveled the now historic route 66 by car to visit the park. Here is one car: