Walking / Hiking / Climbing, Joshua Tree National Park
There are six "established" hiking trails ranging in distances from 3 miles to 16 miles. They are as follows:
Mastodon Peak - 3 miles
Ryan Mountain - 3 miles
49 Palms Oasis - 3 miles
Lost Horse Mine/Mountain - 4 miles
Lost Palms Oasis - 7.5 miles
Boy Scout Trail - 16 miles
You may also see some Scrub Oaks in Hidden Valley. They only grow in this part of the park. The nuts are highly prized by various types of rodents living in the valley. If you watch closely you may even see a chipmunk.
The Pinyon Pines like those in Hidden Valley have been evolving to survive in a drier climate for millions of years. They are a valuable resource for the animals living in the valley. The ancient indians used the products of the pine for construction material, fuel for cooking fires, as a form of glue, and as food. The nut from the Pinyon Pine has more nutritional value than several commercially sold nuts.
As the rock formations in the Hidden Valley continue to erode, more and more cracks and crevices are formed. These become the home for various types of lizards and snakes. Watch where you put your hands around these rocks so you don't have a close encounter with a rattler.
Hidden Valley was once a great location for cattle to graze; but overgrazing and the introduction of exotic grasses like Cheat Grass and Red Brome made the conditions right for wildfires. The exotic grasses fill in gaps between the other grasses and the thicker stalks take longer to break down and make good fuel for the fires.
Due to the unique climate within the valley, Hidden Valley has both the Juniper and Pinyon Pine Forrests closer to the rock formation where there is more moisture and the more arid environment favorable for the Joshua Trees.
The Hidden Valley Loop Trail has some of the most spectacular views in the entire park. This is an interpretive trail with educational signs about the plants, animals and other aspects of the area. The trail is a little over 1 mile long. On some parts of the trail you are scrambling over rocks so if you are mobility impaired you may want to think twice about the trail, or limit yourself to the easier parts. For more views along the Hidden Valley Trail see my travelogue.
The small vertical holes surrounded by small mounds of dirt you may see near the plants are the home of the pocket gophers. Pocket Gophers and other animals burrow into the ground and construct tunnel systems. As the sign says; please tread lightly so you do not accidently destroy a home.
Turbinella Oaks are most common in the upper Mojave above 4000 feet. Early desert dwellers ground the acorns from the trees into a fine flour. Squirrels store the nuts for food during the winter. The tree is also home to a small wasp which builds a small section called a gall on the branches and lays her eggs inside.
The Parry Nolina, when there is sufficient rain, will grow a 5 to 6 foot flower stalk. This stalk provided food for the Cahuilla Indians. The lack of a stalk on the plant in the photo shows the shortage of rain expereince during the Summer of 2007.
If you catch a faint whiff of something that smells like cheese, look around. You may be near a cheesebush. These plants are usually found in sandy washes where they take advantage of the runoff from occasional storms.
If you look closely in the front center of the picture you can also see a Pholisma Arenarium, a small parasitic plant (usually purple) that sends its roots down to the roots of the cheesebush or other host plant and steals nutrients from them.
The Cat's Claw Acacia grows along desert streams and washes and can grow to up to 20 feet tall. The name is derived from the long curved thorns on the plant. Bees are attracted to the flagrant yellow flowers found on the plant and make a popular type of honey. Birds can also be seen nesting in the upper branches.
The trail leading to Barker Dam has some very impressive views along the way and is an interpretive trail, meaning it has signs giving information about the plants, animals, and history of the area along the way.
The Creosopte Bush is also well adapted to the desert. The roots are shallow and widely spaced to absorb more water without disturbing neighboring plants and the leaves have developed a waxy surface which holds in the moisture.
The California Juniper, a member of the Cypress family has formed a particularly symbiotic relationship with the wildlife in the Mojave. They depend on it for food and the animals thin out the brush so the tree can thrive; eat damaging insects; and disperse the berries so the trees can spread.