BARSTOW, Calif. - When Marines think of Twentynine Palms, they probably think of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center north of its namesake town. But tourists think of rock-climbing, hiking or "Dr. Seuss trees." They think: Joshua Tree National Park.
February 25, 2015 - A rock climber on the Saddle from Ryan Mountain Trail in the Joshua Tree National Park. (National Park Service photo by Lian Law)
Named for the gnarly looking yucca trees, Joshua Tree preserves nearly 800,000 acres of wilderness and recreation lands in the High Desert. It is a mecca for adventurous souls who think it is great fun to wedge a metal cam into a rock crack, attach themselves to it via rope and carabiner, and then dangle by their fingers and toes while finding the next crack on the cliff face.
There are about 5,000 such climbing routes in the park, mostly over clumps of rocks not much higher than a five-story building. It's not the destination, but the journey, right?
In the northern section of the park, the Joshua tree is abundant. Its quirky limbs and shaggy bark are offset by clusters of creamy green flowers in late February, which turn into giant green seed pods by mid-spring. Even in a drought year the wildflowers are abundant, but a winter of lavish rains might yield a spectacular display.
Numerous short trails in the park are perfect for families, but longer and more challenging hikes are available for hardchargers.
October 24, 2010 - Joshua trees along Park Boulevard in the Joshua Tree National Park. (National Park Service photo by Robb Hannawacker)
The Barker Dam Nature Trail near Hidden Valley is an easy 1.3-mile loop, with signs noting the vegetation and
features, such as the holly-leaved turbinella oak. The dam itself was a water tank built by early ranchers at the site of a spring.
Although there may not be much visible water there most of the year, the lush aquatic vegetation attracts birds and animals, including bighorn sheep. At the dam you have to step around a tricky boulder, but then you're in the open desert among the Joshua trees. Manzanita, with its peeling red bark, grows close to the rock walls, and side-blotched lizards poke around the creosote and cheesebush for bugs.
The Wall Street Mill trail in the same area is 2.2 miles roundtrip, and moseys past an old windmill and a rusting truck carcass before reaching the ruins of a gold processing mill. If you find anything that isn't obviously modern-day litter, leave it be. Even rusted cans are considered to be antiquities.
The three-mile long 49 Palms Oasis trail is steeper but prettiest earlier in the season when the numerous brittlebush are in their golden glory. It ends at a palm oasis, but exploration at the oasis itself is restricted due to the fragile wetland that created it. One may be tempted to count the palms, just to be sure there really ARE 49 of them.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Niccolo Bonomo, recreation attendant, Single Marine Program, descends a rock face during a rock-climbing event for members of the SMP at Joshua Tree National Park, Calif., Nov. 9, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Medina Ayala-Lo)
The Indian Cove campground offers sites tucked among pillow-shaped rocks, and a short loop trail that has potential views of bighorn sheep perched atop ragged peaks. For birders, this is phainopepla habitat. The males are a glossy black with red eyes, which match the mesquite mistletoe berries they eat.
Several other campgrounds offer a sweet getaway as well, but they all tend to fill up on Fridays, especially those such as Hidden Valley which are near favored rock-climbing sites.
Joshua Tree National Park is only 90 miles south of Barstow, approximately an hour and a half drive down California State Route 247 (Barstow Road.)
By Cynthia McIntyre, U.S. Marine Corps
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Note: Images from the respective photographers were added to this article by USA Patriotism!
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