Thanksgiving at Joshua Tree
I never really appreciated the beauty of the desert and the abundance of life in this fragile biosphere, until my first visit to Joshua Tree National Park. My first introduction to Joshua Tree National Monument, before its coveted status as a National Park in 1994, was with my friend Tom on a climbing trip.
JTree, as climbers call it, is a Mecca for technical climbers with literally thousands of climbs and during its busy climbing season (usually between October through April), the place is littered with humans behaving like ants, scaling the coarse quartz monzonite surface where giving sacrificial blood to the thirsty climbing gods is the norm. At the end of the climbing day, there was no shortage of recounting some crux moves on a climb, proudly pointing out a flap of skin dangling from the back of your hand or the dried up blood on the shin by the light of the fire pit. Then there's the endless night sky.
You just can't fully appreciate Carl Sagan's, "...billions and billions of stars..." until you've experienced the magic show that is the Joshua Tree night. On a moonless winter night, if you look up, there's an overwhelming number of twinkling stuff and a stretch of faintly lit band of dark cloud stretching from one side of the horizon to the other. It's as if you were standing on the bow of a starship, and it's an awe inspiring sight. Only the dead can be unmoved by the grandeur.
I guess it was inevitable for the climbing family to get together and spend a Thanksgiving or two at JTree. Climb all day, catch a sunset, enjoy a potluck of a Thanksgiving meal with all the fixins of a meal at home and much more. No NFL football, but staring blankly through the dancing flames in the pit provides a similar mind numbing experience and of course billions and billions of stars. On occasion, someone would break out with a guitar or even a ukulele, but most of the time, without saying a word, we all felt connected, love, and thankful for the life we had. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Jtree is located about an hour drive past Palm Springs on Hwy 62. The town has grown since being established as a National Park. You can purchase a day pass, a Golden Eagle Pass good for all national parks, or just an annual Jtree pass.
It's a high desert so day temperature can be a balmy 70's during the fall and even winter months, but dip below 40's overnight. It does snow in Jtree when it wants to and it's a special sight as is the desert bloom in spring.
If you want to visit for a day, visit the excellent visitor's center near the entrance. Stop by the busy intersection to see climbers scaling the giant boulder called, "Intersection Rock." Nearby, there are some good flat hikes at the "Real Hidden Valley area." Then, I suggest a short hike up to the tallest point of Jtree, Ryan Mountain. Beautiful vista of the whole park from the top and on some week days, not holiday weekdays, you may be the only one on top to enjoy the scenic view. Suggest packing some lunch and snacks to enjoy up here, take photos, hike back, and if lucky you'll see some big horned sheep! The trail itself is well maintained and hike is just shy of five miles round trip. Take about a quart of water per person and more during warmer days.
Wrap up the day by driving to Key's View to catch the beautiful sunset dipping behind Mt. San Jacinto. Try to get to Key's View at least half an hour prior to the sunset and spend some time marveling at the twilight as well; crowd thins out quick and it's beautiful to see the stars popping out from here. You can see the gap between So Cal's two tallest mountains, San Jacinto (San J) and San Gorgonio, where all the smog squeezes through to fill our lungs in Yucca Valley. After the glorious sunset, if you see a string of light on the mountain from the base up, that's the tram you take up to San J. Nearby, the city light is from nearby Palm Springs and between where you're standing and the mountains, that big gap is part of the San Andreas fault running through the Coachella Valley. Also, that glint on the horizon to the south is the Great Salton Sea.
You don't have to hike, climb, scale, or any of the above to enjoy Jtree. Frequent stops to see the bizarre rock formations, the Yucca trees, coyotes darting in and out of sight is enough to provide a renewed appreciation for this gem of a place.
Food Recommends: Breakfast at ma and pa "Country Kitchen." "Natural Sisters Cafe" for healthy veggie vegan meals. "Coyote Corner" for picking up souvenirs. Last minute camping gear or serious climbing gear at a very well stocked Nomads Adventure across the street. All of these places are on each of the four corners where Park Blvd intersects Hwy62. Enjoy!