Adventure Tales

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Boulder Scrambling in Joshua Tree National Park

Boulder scrambling in Joshua Tree

Boulders! Lots and lots of boulders. Huge round sandstone objects that come in endless interesting shapes and sizes. Some are small and some are gigantic. They come in all shades of colors like red, pink, grey and even yellow. Some are stacked one on top of another and some sit quietly by themselves. Where oh where could one find a place with boulders like this? In Joshua Tree National Park that’s where you’ll find them. Oh and the best thing is that you can climb all over them to your hearts content! Just like a little kid on a playground gym. Under, over, around and through! Come with me, I’ll show you.

REI Kingdom 4 Tent
The REI Kingdom 4 tent stood up to windy conditions nicely in the Joshua Tree campground

Joshua Tree is only a 2 hour and 55 minute drive from Los Angeles. If you stop to take pictures of the odd looking energy windmills on the way, add an extra 10 minutes. Start your adventure by grabbing a campsite in Joshua Tree. Camping fees range from $10 – $15 dollars. Not bad. Oh and a vehicle pass will run you $15 for seven days (includes all your passengers though) so not a bad investment for a weekend of bouldering! We pitched our tent in a first-come first-served campground. Best advice is to get their early as these spots can fill up fast. But once the tent was up we were ready for a little exploring.

There are lots of trails to hike in Joshua Tree

Lo and behold…boulder heaven! That looks like an impassable wall, but fear not. There are easy hiking trails all over this park. The trails weave in an out of the boulders. Sometimes they pass around them and sometimes they will take you right through them. Well not literally through them unless your a ghost or something. However, these trails will take you so close to some of the most interesting boulders you will ever see. Well at least that I’ve ever seen.

Skull Rock Joshua Tree
Hiking next to Skull Rock in Joshua Tree

Did you ever see a boulder that looked just like a skull? Take a look at this rock formation above. This guy is aptly named Skull Rock. It just one of the spectacular rock formations you’ll see on the 1.8 mile Skull Rock Loop Trail. By the way, this trail is very easy. Most of the trails in Joshua Tree are easy simply for the fact that there is little if no elevation gain at all. So if your a beginner hiker, this is the place for you!

Shady Spot in Joshua Tree
The boulders provide lots of opportunities for shade

See what I mean? Even in this hot desert location you can find beautiful places to grab some shade and enjoy the natural beauty around you. Added bonus if you travel during the spring when the desert wildflowers are at their peak blooming.

Joshua Tree
The terrain in Joshua Tree looks almost Jurassic

Sometimes when you are walking around the trails in Joshua Tree you begin to imagine who were the first people here, or did dinosaurs roam around this area? How come this area is so very different than the flatland areas around Joshua Tree National Park? Great questions. That means you’ve really tuned into the beauty and peace this park has to offer. Now you are beginning to see the land and ask questions about how it came to be.

Well as you can imagine, it must have taken tremendous forces from the earth to shape and form this land. Weather, winds, rain and the like definitely had a hand in this. What it left was a kaleidoscope of awesome shapes and colors making up this beautiful place where the Sonoran and Mojave deserts meet. Sure you’ll start contemplating the mysteries of the world like I did. And then you’ll be reminded that you originally came to scramble on some boulders. That’s right…let’s get to it!

Rock climbing wall in Joshua Tree
A massive rock climbing wall

Well this one above is not exactly a boulder but a massive rock wall. If you squint you can see little people that look like ants trying to climb the wall. These guys know what they are doing and they have ropes. If you know how to rock-climb, you will love it here. Joshua Tree offers some of the best outdoor rock-climbing in Southern California. If you want to learn, this is the place for you too. I’ve seen lots of meetup groups that encourage beginners to try a day of rock-climbing and they will provide all instruction and gear. Well bring your own underwear…cause if you get stuck halfway up, you’ll probably need to change them out!

Scrambling among boulders in Joshua Tree
Scrambling among the boulders will make you feel like a kid in a playground

I’ll take a different route. One that is a little closer to ground level. I told you we’d be scrambling on boulders. There are so many places to climb. I love the large boulders that are contorted in crazy shapes. Makes it easier to grab and pull yourself up or get a foothold. The more you climb the more you want to continue to explore.

Boulder Cave in Joshua Tree
For the most part, caves like this one seem pretty safe. Then again…?

And sometimes you’ll find a little surprise like this little rock cave. Nice and cool and a great escape from the heat of the sun. And perfectly safe. Well maybe I shouldn’t say that. Remember that movie 127 Hours? The one about the guy who had to cut off his own arm because a rock fell on it? I’m sure he thought it was perfectly safe too. Moral of the story…use precaution when climbing. Some rocks haven’t moved for years, decades or whatever comes after that. But the earth is ever changing and a rock or boulder can become unhinged, move and even fall when it is good and ready too. Okay I don’t want to creep you out thinking that the rocks are conspiring for a Final Destination type finish to your life. All I’m saying is be careful but go ahead and have fun climbing.

Hanging around in Joshua Tree
Plenty of photo opportunities to be had among the boulders

After watching the serious rock-climbers you might get the urge to try a little bouldering like we did. Let me define bouldering for you assuming you think it’s the same as scrambling around on boulders. Bouldering is a form of rock climbing done without the use of ropes or safety harnesses. Sometimes you’ll use brute arm strength to pull yourself up over a ledge. Other times you must use your legs to find the right footholds on the rock to position yourself so you can take another step up. The key to this sport is to use the whole mind and body (don’t forget soul), to work in unison to get you to the top of the boulder. It’s a great workout.

Sure you can boulder if you are up to it. Or you could simply stand close to a large rock like the picture to the left, grab the top of it and give your best Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible impression. Then snap the picture and show it off to your friends on Monday. They’ll be properly jealous.

Barker Dam, Joshua Tree
Take a hike out to Barker Dam

You can take a break from all that scrambling, bouldering or rock-climbing and take a walk back in time, figuratively speaking of course. This trail to Barker Dam will take you to a small dam built and used by the cowboys and ranchers in the late 1800s to provide water to their cattle. This being a hot California desert, you can just imagine how thirsty those cows must have been.

Barker Dam, Joshua Tree
Water found in the desert like this once provided relief for cattle and horses

Wow! Looks like a scene from Land of the Lost! I’d almost expect a large stegosaurus to come marching through that water. Well there are no creatures that large. Mostly you will find desert creatures like birds, lizards and ground squirrels. Unless you come around at night when the nocturnal animals are roaming around. Then you might see snakes, bighorn sheep, coyotes, kangaroo rats or black-tailed jackrabbits. It was pretty quiet when we were there. Nothing but lizards warming themselves on the rocks.

Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park
Climbing up to Elephant Arch

Did I say there were no large creatures here? Take a look at that huge rock we decided to climb above. It looks like a huge elephant laid down on the boulders with it’s trunk stretched out in front of him. I’m telling you, these rocks and boulders look so interesting that you can imagine so many things out here.

Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

There we are under the elephant’s trunk…just another natural arch in Joshua Tree National Park. Eventually your visit will come to an end, but it probably won’t be your last! This is the perfect location for stargazing at night with a telescope. I will definitely be returning soon.

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