Friday, January 16, 2015

Joshua Tree National Park.

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You will probably remember that I purchased Kip a print of National Parks for our wedding. We planned to go to our first National Park together on our honeymoon, and we both loved our day in Joshua Tree National Park.
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Kip told me when we were planning the trip that I should know the Joshua tree is not like a big tree. I had a pretty good idea that we were headed to desert and not Redwoods thanks to the constant stream of Joshua Tree features on wedding blogs. Apparently everyone wants to drive to the desert to take photos or get married. For me, no thanks.
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We planned our visit around a tour of the Keys Ranch. About 100 years ago, a crazy rancher got the idea of setting up a homestead in the middle of the desert. He managed to convince someone to marry him, and we spent a couple hours learning about how they made a life among the boulders and Joshua trees.
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I found the tour on the website and thought it would involve more hiking and exploring. It really was a lot of listening and very little walking according to the Fitbit. Our guide was an extremely knowledgeable park ranger who kept the stories engaging as we walked. I may be the history teacher in our relationship, but this is really right up Kip's alley. He said he could have listened for another hour easily.
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Mr. Keys who ran the ranch was extremely resourceful and went to great lengths to keep everything humming along on the ranch. We learned about mining, farm, irrigation, and a gunfight in the wild west. I loved this collection of broken dishes from all over the ranch. Any of the dishes made with lead turned purple with sun exposure!
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The park ranger described this as their mansion. I think Mrs. Keys might have gotten tricked, but they seemed to have a pretty happy life in the middle of nowhere. I mean, it really is the middle of NOWHERE.
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The Joshua trees scream Dr. Seuss to me. To be really tall, they must be really old. I thought this view of the valley with thousands of trees was fantastic. It was kind of hazy, but you can see how the Joshua trees stretch all the way to the next mountain group. Joshua Tree gets less than four inches of rain each year, and the park rangers are concerned there are very few baby Joshua trees growing with limited rainfall in the last couple years.
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After our tour, Kip and I went to the Hidden Valley picnic area for the nature trail. It's a one mile loop with great views of Joshua Trees, huge boulders and little mountains. We read all the nature trail signs along the way.
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We met lots of families along the way, and it was easy to see why. Huge boulders along the way invite people of all ages to climb up on top. Kip and I couldn't resist either. It was all very safe unlike the adventurous folks free climbing. They made me really nervous.
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There's no food available for sale within the park, but we planned ahead and brought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, plus some fruit, chips and lots of water. True story: we tried to bring the peanut butter home in our carry-on and had to throw it away. It was chunky, practically just a jar of nuts. That's a fun fact you should take with you the next time you travel to Palm Springs: TSA will keep your peanut butter.
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Joshua Tree is a huge park, and we spent most of the afternoon meandering through the park. The roads are well done, and we really enjoyed watching the views change as we went through the park. The northern part of the park was far more crowded with visitors. As we drove, the Mohave dessert melts into the Colorado dessert. The Joshua trees are gone, replaced with desolate valleys.
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We stopped to see the Cholla cactus garden. Kip told me that these are also called teddy bear cactus because they look fluffy and cuddly, but they also can attach on to anything quickly. I was actually fairly terrified of getting too close to these monsters. They have an ombre color and also made me think of Dr. Seuss!
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Our plan was to leave the park on the south side instead of the entrance we came into the park. The further we drove, the fewer people we saw. We walked the Cottonwood Springs nature trail and learned a little bit about the Native Americans who lived there and made a life from the desert.
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I was thankful to climb back in our car and be out of the wind, dumping the gravel out of my shoes. We listened to our book, I ate some more of that gummy candy from Idllywild, and drove out of the desert. It's beautiful in a way that makes you thankful for all the types of terrain but also grateful for green grass in the front yard.
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It was definitely warm but still winter so the sun starts to disappear into the haze in the early afternoon. Our wandering through the park took us a long way from Palm Springs but gave us an excuse to stop for a date shake on the way home.
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First national park, check! We loved exploring and observing all the changes that happen within the park, and I would really recommend Joshua Tree. It's really unique and gorgeous. My friend Jennie recommended following the U.S. Department of the Interior on instagram recently, and Kip and I are constantly seeing other places we would like to visit!

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It was so nice of you to stop by and say hi!