Coachella Valley hikers can enjoy a walk through a large Joshua tree forest in the desert above the Palm Springs area.
A segment of the Boy Scout Trail at Joshua Tree National Park runs through a grove for a 2.4-mile round trip. To reach the trailhead, from Interstate 10 in the Coachella Valley turn north onto Calif. Hwy. 62. In Joshua Tree, go right/south onto Park Boulevard (in town, aka Quail Springs Road). After the park’s western entrance station, drive for several miles then turn into the Boy Scout Trailhead parking lot on the road’s left/north side; the lot is just past the Quail Springs Picnic Area.
his marks the trail’s southern terminus. The trail heads north into the desert. To the east, Mt. San Gorgonio looms on the horizon, even at this distance.
After crossing a couple of washes and swerving northeast, the trail ascends into a Joshua tree forest. The park’s namesake are gigantic members of the lily family, so named because their outstretched branches reminded Mormon pioneers of the Biblical figure Joshua calling out God.
Joshua trees can be found all across the Mojave Desert in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah; indeed, some biologists suggest that the Mojave can be defined as the range of Joshua trees. The Joshua trees primarily grow between 1,300 and 5,900 feet elevation, though, so they won’t be found on the desert’s mountain tops or its low areas, such as those in Death Valley.
For desert plants, Joshua trees are fast growers. They can rise 3 inches a year for their first decade. Barring a natural calamity, the trees survive hundreds of years. The oldest ones are thought to be about 10 centuries old; when they were seedlings, the Anasazi were building their cliff dwellings and Leif Eriksson was sailing for North America.
If hiking the trail between February and late April, you might spot the Joshua Tree in bloom. Its creamy white flowers are about 1-3 inches long. Joshua trees don’t bloom every year, though; first a winter freeze and then just the right amount of rain must fall.
Though its looks like a tree, the Joshua tree is one in name only. It’s actually a type of yucca.
You may want to soon hike the trail while the Joshua tree is still around. Scientists predict that climate change will reduce its range by 90 percent before the end of this century. If that occurs, the national park’s ecosystems will change dramatically.
A split appears in the Boy Scout Trail as approaching a small, crescent-shaped butte. Veer right/northeast to stay on the main trail.
After passing the butte, the trail continues northeast toward the basin’s eastern edge. Small mounds of monzogranite boulder rise amid the Joshua tree forest.
At 1.2 miles, the hike reaches a side trail going right/northeast to Willow Hole. That trail heads into the rock formations forming the basin’s east wall and is known for its washes and wind-sculpted boulder formations. This marks a good spot to turn back.
If feeling more adventurous, you can continue on the Boy Scout Trail. The path runs for another 6.8 miles round into the hills ahead, then descends to a basin floor, ending at Indian Cove Road near Twentynine Palms.
The trail is entirely open to the sun, so be sure to don a brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, as well as bring plenty of water. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.