Last week we were in Southern California for a family vacation. The trip was booked many months ago, and we had planned to visit Joshua Tree. When news broke that visitors had destroyed some of these slow-growing desert plants, we were appalled, and feared what would we see when we arrived. We saw many joshua trees, and no evidence of destruction, but I know that the species is under threat and is expected to be dramatically reduced due to climate change, and the loss of some trees to people’s idiocy is such a shame.
We actually took a short drive into the park just after sunset the first time we visited. It was a bit of a whim, and we weren’t prepared for how chilly it was! We saw a desert cottontail and some kind of rodent–perhaps a kangaroo rat?–scurry across the road. We got out and tried to explore, but it was cold and windy and it felt a bit strange… I kind of wish we had gone back at night after we’d gotten a feel for it during the day, and been more prepared for the drop in temperature.
Still, the next day we had a wonderful adventure, driving through the park from south to north. We had a big breakfast and then spent well over four hours moseying through. It worked really well for us to stop at spots of interest along the way, get out for a bit, then drive on. Our seven-year-old can lose steam on a long hike, but this way we were able to keep going half the day with no complaints! Some places we stopped, particularly those with big rocks for climbing, had plenty of other people. Others, like those where there’s just a placard and a small area to park, were deserted. We’d wander away from the road, hoping to catch sight of some animals.
It’s amazing how entertaining it was for all of us to just clamber around on some big rocks. There are certainly some spots for real rock-climbing, but we loved being able to just play, while feeling like it was fairly safe yet exhilarating. I also think there’s something about the desert landscape, you almost feel like you’re on an alien planet. The sense of wonder dominates the whole time you are present there. And even within the park, the habitat varies quite a bit. Did you know that two deserts–the Mojave and the Colorado–intersect in the park?
Again, I wish we’d managed a better nighttime expedition. There are many more animals to see after dark in a desert, and the park is open 24/7. Can you imagine wandering around by flashlight in this wild isolation? We’ll just have to go back. Of course, now we are trying to plan other national park visits. This was such an amazing adventure, we are ready for more!