Thursday, October 22, 2015

Joshua Tree National Park with Kids

The kids and I recently visited Joshua Tree National Park. We had a whole day to explore, and we started at the Oasis Visitor Center.

The kids picked up Junior Ranger booklets and Desert Boy immediately started working on his.

When we left the visitor center, we were standing around, probably looking a little clueless, when David Larson from the Joshua Tree Natural History Association came outside. He asked the kids if they liked owls and proceeded to tell us about a barn owl that liked to perch in a certain tree. We walked over and found owl pellets underneath. The kids were fascinated. He also showed us a cactus wren and a mockingbird, and the kids were suddenly much more interested in spotting wildlife.

We drove further into the park and I had the kids get out and smell the creosote bushes. They weren't too sure about that, but they realized that we don't have them in the Great Basin desert.

One of the things I didn't realize about Joshua Tree is that the transition zone from the Mojave Desert to the Sonoran (Colorado) Desert is located there. I found it fascinating to watch the plant communities change as we headed south and lower in elevation. We stopped at the Cholla Cactus Garden for the quarter-mile hike. The kids didn't want to hike, but they decided they could manage a quarter mile. It was one of the coolest quarter-mile hikes I've ever done, the cacti are amazing.


I couldn't help pretend that I was hugging a teddy bear cholla cactus. I made sure not to touch it, as it has microscopic spines that can be annoying for days.

 
I saw on the park map that the Ocotillo Patch was a little farther down the road, so we continued on. The ocotillo at the Ocotillo Patch pulloff were looking a little sickly, so I stopped next to a nicer looking one for photos.

A closeup look at them is worth it--these are strange plants!

Then we turned around and headed to the Jumbo Rocks campground area. My research on the park said this was a great area for kids to just play around, and as the kids didn't want to hike, I told them we could just go play on the rocks. They were all for it. We were surprised by how big the campground was--and how cool it was. It would be really fun to stay there.

Desert Girl thought she was the Queen of the World (and sang a song to that effect).

From there we headed towards Hidden Valley for lunch. Along the way I pulled over to enjoy these beautiful Joshua trees.



These Joshua trees are a subspecies known for being taller and with fewer branches than those found in Mojave National Preserve. This one sure let us know that it had read the book.

After a picnic lunch at Hidden Valley, it was time to play on the rocks again.

We found some narrow corridors.

And even some boulder caves, which was appropriate because the reason we were here was the NSS Western Regional meeting (a gathering of cavers). The kids decided to crawl through a tight hole. I didn't follow. That monzogranite was rough!


We then leisurely went to the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, where ranger Bret swore the kids in as junior rangers. I was so impressed with him and David Larson at the other visitor center that I wrote a letter to the park superintendent. He responded that he loved getting letters. He said he wanted to know about the things that weren't going so well in the park, too, because it was his responsibility was to make the park the best place it could be. I was also impressed with this response.

The kids posed outside with their completed books and new badges and hats.
 
We did a few other activities, changed our clothes to go to church, and then had time to visit one other part of the park, Indian Cove. Can you say rocks? They were everywhere!! I was stunned. The huge campground was also completely full.
The secret is out, Joshua Tree is a really cool place to visit. Just don't go in summer and be prepared for long drives.

1 comment:

Richard Hilson said...

My 3 boys loved the Junior Ranger program at Yosemite and Yellowstone. I have to give the rangers a lot of credit of making sure they knew all the answers when it came to the quiz.

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