With the Coronavirus Stay-at-Home order lifted we decided to venture out of the house and into the great outdoors –thankfully, there are no shortage of sites in Southern California. As we hopped into the car the only question was “where do we go?”
We headed east a couple of hours and opted for the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain National Monument in the heart of the San Bernardino National Forest and wrapped it up with Joshua Tree National Park.
Our first stop was the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain National Monument; established in 2000 the monument can be accessed from either Coachella Valley or Idyllwild and Palm Springs. We decided to drive through the monument up Route 74 (the “Palms to Pines Scenic Byway”) towards Mt. Jacinto State Park. We traversed amazing vistas straddling both valleys, stopped at the Cahuilla Tewanet Vista Point and later at the Sugar Loaf Café.
At the vista point you can gleam at both the Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto peaks. The interesting part is that as you move your eyes up the mountain, from floor to peak, you see the ecosystem changing right before your eyes. From desert shrubs and cactus to pine. From a desert basin, to an alpine mountain. The scenic drama created by the immediacy of the change is nothing short of a pure natural spectacle. As for the Sugar Loan Café…drive into the park if only for this treat. Amazing BBQ, Sandwiches and Pies…all from the side of the road overlooking the park. The food was incredible.
We headed down Route 74 and made our way to our next stop: Joshua Tree National Park. Better known for the dramatic postings found on influencers Instagram accounts (we saw 8 full blown photoshoots –excluding wedding and engagement picture shoots). We had previously driven through the backside of the national park but did not have a chance to explore. With a full day ahead of us, this was an awesome opportunity to take it all in.
Joshua Tree National Park is best known for the groves of Joshua Trees (Yucca Brevifolia), which are very unique and very fragile. However, upon further observation, the national park is where the Colorado and Mojave Deserts come together, and it is a sight to see. The amount of flora, fauna, and geologic features are too much to explore in one visit –at a little over 800,000 acres, it is just about the size of Rhode Island. Added to the natural spectacle is the “designated wilderness” areas and the number (not many) of human ruins dating from Native American Tribes to American Pioneers and Expansionist intent on using the land for cattle grazing. This whirlwind of history and nature has preserved the park as a premier destination for photo shoots, movie shoots, archeological discovery, hikers, and history buffs –there is something here for everyone. And considering how large and rugged the park is, it remains incredibly accessible.
We meandered up Cotton Spring Road (south side of the park) and stopped at Visitor Center –grabbed a map and continued driving. What Joshua Tree has done well is demarcating points of interest. You can drive the entire park form one point of interest to another without having to go off-road or struggle to find parking. Although we stopped at a few places to take full account of the vistas, our first stop and hike was at the Cholla Cactus Garden Trail –beauty abounds and so does the chance to get pricked so be careful and stay on the trail! Continuing up Pinto Bains Road, our next stop was White Tank, followed by Arch Rock and then the Geology Road Tour. Word to the wise, respect the right of way and expressed directions –you will find yourself off road at certain points and most are one-way roads. Skull Rock was a crowd favorite, but we by-passed and headed for Barker Dam and the Petroglyphs for an up close and personal view.
When Hiking the park, any part of it, have plenty of water and shade (hats, sunglasses, etc.). Although the trails tend to be pretty well marked, as you venture deeper into the park the likelihood for getting “off course” is high and due to the vastness of the park and opportunity to explore fairly remote places, it does not take much to find yourself in trouble.
The National Park website explains that there is a lot that has not yet been explored in Joshua Tree and that ancient sites, archaeological artifacts, and petroglyphs are all around. Truth be told they are, and it is. So, visit, I know we will again but be cognizant of the amazing insight the park provides into our history and our environment and respect your opportunity to visit and partake.
Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.
Rising abruptly from the desert floor, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet. Providing a picturesque backdrop to local communities, visitors can enjoy magnificent palm oases, snow-capped mountains, a national scenic trail, and wilderness areas. Its extensive backcountry can be accessed via trails from both the Coachella Valley and the alpine village of Idyllwild. The Monument was established by an Act of Congress on October 24, 2000.