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Mon, Oct. 14

Johnson: Hiking, rock climbing at Joshua Tree
Column: Hiking Arizona

Back in the early ‘80s I ended up here on a rock climbing trip, but never hiked here until recently. Two aspects immediately caught my attention, the unique terrain and the unique people.


As you might expect for any place designated as a national park, it offers something significant in the way of scenery and other aspects of the natural environment. While Joshua Trees are not unique to this Park, their concentration here is noteworthy. Even if you are not a “plant person,” the sight of these peculiar relatives of the Lily Family is arresting. Most botanists now place them in the Agave Family, a desert relative of the more familiar Lilies and Tulips. The Agave Family includes things like Century Plants and Yuccas and both are just odd, but that’s what deserts do to all sorts of organisms, plant and animal alike.

I will spare you the dirty details, but both Yuccas and Century Plants reproduce in ways that are quite specialized. You are not likely to observe them in flower, much less involved in sexual reproduction, but you can’t help but notice their strange, even grotesque forms. These spine-covered plants communicate: keep your distance. I did so as I made three day-hikes, located from one end of the Park to the other: Lost Palm Oasis, Ryan Peak and Warren Peak. In the interest of space, I’ll only mention the latter.


Based on the information I found online from the Park Service, I had to look carefully for the trailhead to Warren Peak, which lies at the extreme western end of the Park. Residential development has encroached on Park boundaries, which made it necessary to ask for directions from Park staff. Once you hit the trail, the tricky aspects of route-finding are far from over. Numerous trail junctions and options present themselves all the way to the summit, where you are rewarded with amazing views. Of the three trails I hiked that day, this one is the best to observe that odd fellow, the Park’s namesake. Even though most of the route follows a sandy wash, don’t expect to find any surface water along the way. This is the Mojave Desert after all and the drought across the Southwest is alive and well, unfortunately.


Even while hiking solo, I endeavor to make hiking a sociable experience by greeting and chatting with other hikers I encounter on the trail, as appropriate. Joshua Tree is in Southern California so there are people everywhere. However, they did not seem very sociable. I inserted myself in a conversation among other hikers on one summit, but was totally ignored. Apparently they did not appreciate clever quips, at least those coming from a native Arizonan. I must have had “Arizona” written all over me. I think they have a cute nickname describing tourists from the Grand Canyon State (Zonie).

On another trail, I approached a solo hiker coming from the opposite direction. He made fun of my shirt like it was not suitable for hiking in the Eureka State. I think it was a little tattered, but I was hiking in the desert not on my way to a fancy party. Perhaps the standards are just different in California. There is a lot that’s different in California. Yet, hiking is hiking and you are missing a lot if you fail to put Joshua Tree on your hiking bucket list.

Next, hiking in the Superstition Wilderness.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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