Joshua Tree: You say Mojave, I say Sonoran

The most iconic part of Joshua Tree National Park are, of course, the Joshua Trees.  These distinctive trees are the lifeblood of the Mojave desert, providing food and shelter for many animals and early native Americans. These trees thrive in the Mojave desert – and Joshua Tree lays half in the Mojave… but the remote, southern half climbs over a mountain ridge, drops suddenly in elevation, and we have the Sonoran desert.  Who knew?

Teddy bear cholla. So fuzzy you want to hug them.

There are no Joshua Trees here, but we found a whole new world of teddy bear cholla cacti, beautiful elegant ocotillo in bloom and a very different landscape.  It lacked the giant boulders that make up the most famous of Joshua Tree’s hikes and valleys (Skull Rock anyone?) but instead of the flat plains, there are gentle rolling sandy slopes and vistas all the way to Mexico.  Pretty spectacular.

Ocotillo with fuchsia blooms

We hiked to a long-lost oasis with a cluster of giant palm trees, and got to have a taste of the high Sonoran desert.  While there is no above-ground water left, the forest of the giant palms sprouting from the desert valley floor was a sight to behold. Pretty good spot to eat a sandwich and think back to the days when early explorers hiked into these hills seeking refuge at these waters before continuing their journeys. I’m not sure I would have had their fortitude, but it sure makes me grateful for my 3-liter Hydrapak. 

In some ways, this glimpse of the Sonoran is a bit of a preview, since we’ll be headed to Arizona next, where we’ll be living full-time in the Sonoran.  But for those of you going to Joshua Tree, this extra 1-2 hour drive to the southern end is well worth it – seeing the distinctive features of the Mojave and Joshua Tree rock formations change into another landscape is pretty magical.

And the furry Teddy Bear Cholla are the best. Just don’t hug them.

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