Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hike 2011.027 -- Willow Hole, Joshua Tree

Hiked Tuesday, April 19. Put together a long day trip to Joshua Tree. However, after filling my gas tank, it occurs to me that the change in fuel prices over the past year have changed the calculus of visiting Joshua Tree. In the future, I'll have to give more considerations to making these trips overnight affairs, to get two days of recreation out of a tank of gas instead of one.

My first hike for Tuesday was to Willow Hole. From I-10, take CA-62 north (or east). Along the first bit of CA62, I noted a strong bloom of brittle bush. Those turned to desert dandelion after going through the pass into the Morongo Valley.

Continue east, through the town of Yucca Valley and into the town of Joshua Tree. At Park Blvd, there's a traffic signal, and a sign directing you to the south. A national park visitor center is about 100 yards up and to the left. To actually reach the park, continue south an additional five miles or so. Although Google Maps suggests the street name changes several times along the way, make no turns. Enjoy the eclectic collection of homes and roadside art before reaching the entry station.

This is the West Entrance, and normally where you'd pay your entry fee or show your park pass. This week, you just have to chat with the ranger for a few seconds.

Continue an additional five miles. Seven tenths of a mile past the Quail Springs picnic area (on your right) is the Boy Scout Trail parking area (on your left). Park there.

There's a pit toilet here and a relatively large parking area that was nearly full when I arrived, sometime around 10:45am. At the trailhead is a self-register for overnight wilderness stays. For a day hike, no registration is required.

Thus trail head offers several alternatives. My plan was to take the Boy Scout trail 1.3 miles, then split off to the right, to Willow Hole. Alternatively, I could have continued about 7.7 miles, all the way to Indian Cove. Or you can take the Boy Scout Trail 4.6 miles, then split off to the left, on to the Big Pine Trail. From there, you can connect to a number of trails that start a bit further to the west, closer to the entrance station.

This trail starts out heading mostly towards the north. Today, the area looked pretty great, with a mixture of annual growth and Joshua Trees in spring colors. The wildflower bloom was well past peak, but there were clumps of desert dandelion and a few assorted other flowers along the way. Distant in the west were the snow capped peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains.

The ground here is heavily traveled, so you are walking over a sandy surface, which makes the going somewhat slower and more tiring than you might expect. Also, even with the temperatures still in the 60s as I started, a drying wind was blowing. Sunblock, dark glasses, and a wide-brimmed (but well-secured) hat are all good ideas, as is bringing more liquids to drink than you think you will need.

After 1.3 miles, the sign junction indicates a right turn to get to Willow Hole. The trail heads to the northeast, then loops briefly due south. In this area, you are walking along a wash. At least today, moss still grew on north-facing slopes, and moist soil along the rock walls indicated a high water table. Patches of swamp-like grasses also grew in spots, particularly as the trail nears its end.

Like many of the trails I have taken in the Mojave, the Joshua Tree forest that predomi-nates at the start slowly transitions into pinion pine and juniper. And, all along the way, rock outcroppings accompany your journey. I saw something that either looked like something out of Easter Island, or President Obama. Really. Look at those ears! :D

There is no sign indicating the end, so you can keep walking as far as your abilities and interest take you. However, the sight of a thick pocket of willows in a natural amphitheater suggests a time to stop. Dark, unappealing water filled the lowest areas of the hole.

I climbed the rocks to the south a bit, just to get some altitude. As usual, I did my best to stay on the rocks and avoid damaging the delicate growth and soil. I suppose I still affect the lichen.

The trail signs and my National Geographic map for Joshua Tree both say this trail is 7.2 miles roundtrip. Since I did a bit of rock scrambling, I'll call it 7.3 miles for me.


  1. Thanks for the information! Good description. We were on this trail a few yeares ago, and are going to go on it tomorrow!

  2. It'll probably be quite a bit drier this year than last year!

    April 21st kicks off National Parks week, with free entry into the national parks. I'm going to try to manage a trip to Joshua Tree then. Not sure which trail I'll walk, though.