Last week we took full advantage of a preschool-free week and booked ourselves a trip to Southern California for a bit of sunshine and the opportunity to explore a National Park that we had never visited -- Joshua Tree National Park. It was a quick trip -- Monday through Thursday -- but that gave us adequate time to get acquainted with the park and to tire ourselves out with two days of hiking and exploring from morning till evening. We stayed in Palm Springs and drove up the to park each day -- about 40 miles. I think Wyatt liked the drive most since it took us through an enormous wind farm with every type and size of windmill you can imagine. We discussed turbines a lot.
The park was glorious -- as we had been told. Our friends Jill and Mark have long loved this park and told us about it for years. We finally got to see for ourselves, and we weren't disappointed. We only hiked about five miles each day, but we managed to drive throughout most of the park -- entering at Joshua Tree visitor's center and looping through the middle of the park, down to the cholla gardens (which were just days from being in full bloom), then back up to Oasis of Mara and out of the park via the Twenty Nine Palms visitor's center. Wyatt picked up Wyatt's Jr. Ranger workbook in the morning of our first day, and by day's end he got himself sworn in as an official Jr. Ranger at Twenty Nine Palms. He was pretty excited.
We spent time hiking around Barker Dam, Quail Springs, and Jumbo Rocks, but my favorite hike was the Hidden Valley nature loop. Although it was only about a mile in distance it actually took us close to three hours since Wyatt kept whistling and beckoning us over because he was "exploring this thing here a bit" with his flashlight (it is dark behind boulders you know) or with his magnifying glass. With just about every new stone he picked up he'd say, "hey, I think it's granite!" His grandfather would have been proud of this little rock hound.
We did a bit of bouldering together, choosing routes that a five year old could also safely traverse, even eating a snack way up high above the valley. It was remarkable how over the course of two days Wyatt grew more capable and confident in his climbing: shifting his weight, using his hands to steady himself, picking a route. We counted lizards everywhere we went. I think 12 might have been our single-hike record.
In the Mojave desert part of the park, we found the cactus and other flowers fully in bloom. Our identification guide came in handy as we learned the difference between a hedge hog and mini pincushion barrel cactus and how a beaver tail prickly pear with magenta flowers and no spines differs from the yellow-flowering larger variety found in the Sonoran desert . . . We found diamond cholla and creosote bushes. Junipers and, of course, joshua trees. We regularly mistook white- crowned sparrows for more interesting birds.
In the Colorado desert part of the park we (very carefully) walked through the "jumping" teddy bear cholla garden, which was just beginning to bloom. These cactus are the furthest thing from cuddly so I'm a bit mystified how they got their name. We saw a cactus wren (the only creature that can safely touch the "jumping" cholla), and many other birds throughout the park -- although no road runners unfortunately.