My kids and I scrambled up the boulders that form Mastodon Peak on a family hike in the Cottonwood Springs area in Joshua Tree National Park. It was fun but it was steep. “You’re not allowed to fall!” I told my kids from the back of the line we made as we scrambled up the large boulders that made up the mountain. “If you fall, fall into the mountain.”
The bouldering was enough that it made me feel I accomplished something once I reached the top. A couple of women were sitting down and eating sandwiches, looking at the view that went on for miles. A group of hikers were sitting further down the peak speaking French to each other as they took pictures and selfies.
“This is a great place to eat a sandwich” I said to the women who were eating their peanut butter and jelly as we passed them to find our own perch on this rocky mountain. Both women agreed with me with enthusiasm and went back to appreciating the view. I opened my backpack and give my kids a couple of brownie-filled cookies as our own Mastodon Peak treat. We sat down nearby the women to enjoy our cookies and take in the panorama of distant snowy mountains, blue hills, and desert.
One woman mentioned to the other that she should put on sunscreen and dug some out of her backpack leaning on a nearby rock. She squirted some into her palm and then rubbed her legs and arms. I chat more with the two women. They are from Colorado and are only at Joshua Tree National Park for a couple of days. They didn’t realize how big it was. I agreed, I’ve been to Joshua Tree a bazillion times and I’m still seeing new things. This was the first time I’ve been up here, on Mastodon Peak.
“What would you suggest we see while we’re here?” Asked one as she put her sunblock away in her backpack.
I shared with them my favorites:
- Key’s View: It’s super easy to get to and the view is outstanding. You can see the Salton Sea over a 100 miles away on a clear day.
- Hidden Valley Loop: A short hiking loop through a valley that horse rustlers utilized back when people used to rustle horses. Across the parking area from the Hidden Valley trailhead are picnic tables and if you wander around the large boulders nearby you’ll come across some “caves” formed by one giant wall of rock placed just a few feet from another. My kids love running through the passages, their laughter and footsteps echoing off the enormous rock walls.
- The Cholla Cactus Garden: It is impressive to see hundreds and hundreds of these large golden-spiked cactus with their dark trunks. I’ve always wondered about the people who came through the Cholla Garden before there were roads. Did they see all the cholla and turn around, not daring to hack through the forest of the large and daunting cactus?
- The Forty-Nine Palms Oasis: Like in the movies, the Forty-Nine Palms Oasis rises out of the desert landscape with its palm trees visible in the distance. It’s a moderate 1.5 mile there and back hike to the palm trees with actual water pooled at their base. Once you get there, it’s easy to find a shady spot and enjoy your lunch as you watch the birds flitter past to the water below and hear the palm trees rustle in the breeze.
The two women opened a map of the park and began to plan their next move armed with my information. “I’m not sure where we are,” said one woman to her friend “The Rockies aren’t here to guide me!”