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
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,
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
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
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.
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.
National Park is only 90 miles south of Barstow, approximately
an hour and a half drive down California State Route 247 (Barstow
By Cynthia McIntyre, U.S. Marine Corps
Note: Images from the respective
photographers were added to this article by USA Patriotism!
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