Joshua Tree & Mojave National Preserve

For weeks, the local papers had been touting that this year’s Joshua tree blooming season was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, with trees blooming as far as the eye could see.  Not wanting to miss out on such a spectacle, I threw my camera (gently) into my car and headed off to see the blooming Joshua trees.

I drove past a snow-covered Mount San Jacinto just outside of Palm Springs, just before getting off I-10 and heading toward Yucca Valley.  After a brief stop at the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center, I headed into the park via Park Boulevard to the west entrance station.

Mount San Jacinto

It had been the late 1980’s since I had last been in the park, and its scraggly Joshua trees (actually members of the yucca family) were scattered all around.  So were the strange rock formations with the huge rounded boulders.

Joshua Tree National Park

Boulders / rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by the lack of blooming trees.  There were some, but it certainly didn’t live up to the media’s hype about it.

The weather forecast called for the temperatures to be near 90° F / 32° C that day but, as usual, the weathermen boogered up that forecast.  I was thankful I had a jacket in my car, as it was very windy and much cooler.

I drove out to the Keys View overlook which overlooks Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley from about 5,000 feet above the valley floor. With the wind blowing up desert dust, it was a little bit hazy, but I could make out the Salton Sea in the distance and the San Andreas fault running through the valley below.

Coachella Valley and San Andreas Fault from Keys View Overlook

Wanting to find more Joshua trees in bloom, I headed to the Mojave National Preserve.  Both the guide at the visitor center and the newspapers said the blooming there was more prolific.

So I had lunch in Twentynine Palms and took some of the back roads through the high desert (after making sure my car was topped off with gas, first).

There’s a whole lotta nuthin’ along that route, but it’s interesting in its desolation.  I was surprised, however, that when I hit Amboy, I was on the old U.S. Route 66 (of “Get your kicks on Route 66” fame).  I had to stop and photograph Roy’s with its gas station, cafe, and motel.  It was as though I traveled through a time machine back to the 1940’s.

Roy’s Motel & Cafe along old U.S. Route 66 in Amboy, California

On the way into Mojave National Preserve, I passed the Kelso Dunes, a large collection of sand dunes southwest of the tiny town of Kelso, where the park visitor center is located in an old railroad depot.

It was interesting to learn that there are actually more Joshua trees in Mojave National Preserve than there are in Joshua Tree National Park.  And, because of that, more were in bloom, just as the ranger suggested.


It made for a good trip, albeit a very long day, early enough in spring where you didn’t have to worry about the oppressive heat of the desert.  Perhaps I’ll try a slower version of the same trip next spring when the trees are in bloom.Mojave National Preserve is a geologist’s playground with all of the seismic and volcanic features in the park, including a number of volcanic cinder cones.  Who knew?

Once finished with my run through Mojave National Preserve, I needed food and my car needed more gas.  The closest big city with both?  Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Strip

I figured, “What the heck?”  I was only about an hour away from it, so I headed down to the Strip and looked for someplace to eat.  After refueling my stomach and my car, I began the 6 hour journey home.  Yes.  I should have just spent the night there, but no one ever accused me of being smart.  (Cheap, frugal, tightwad, yes.)

Travel Date: 10 April 2013

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