Visiting the desert is a little like taking a trip to the moon, only a good deal more accessible. Both have an odd, barren sort of landscape, both create a sense of wonder, amazement, and other-worldliness, and both make me their visitors feel as though they don’t belong — at least not long-term.
11:00 am. The temperature has swollen the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center’s thermometer into triple-digit territory. We searched for a hike that was both doable for a three-year-old and captivating enough to satiate my years-long curiosity about this Southern California wilderness.
Sunscreen-slathered and explorer-hat-adorned, the three of us set out for a one-mile hike to the park’s only arched rock. From the entrance of the campground, the scrubby, pudgy Joshua Trees flecked rich browns and greens throughout the bleached landscape. Lumpy, rotund boulder formations with a gritty, stucco-like surface were plopped in neat piles every 100 feet or so, appearing as though they dropped from the tail ends of mammoth elephants.
Many of the national parks post strict rules about sticking to the path, not touching, not interrupting. And understandably so, as the ecosystems protected by the guidelines are among the most beautiful and complex in the world. But without even a single placard in sight, I sprang to my feet, headed for the nearest boulder pile, and started scrambling to the top.
Our three-year-old watched intently for a moment, and then sprinted toward the same formation, eagerly pawing his way at the path upward. Before long, the three of us were jumping from rock to rock, grunting our way to the peak of this heap and that tower, and celebrating our accomplishments with family high-fives.
The visit to Joshua Tree never made it to our list of must-sees. But an hour in this adult-sized sandbox had us ranking the hike as a favorite among our collection of road trip experiences to date.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped near Yosemite National Park, California and headed toward San Francisco. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!