Joshua Tree National Park is quickly becoming one of America’s favorite national parks, with record annual visitors topping one million in recent years. With over 1200 sq ft of protected park, it would take a while to explore every inch of the park. Yet, the area surrounding the park is open and vast, with the town of Joshua Tree being unincorporated, the locals know there are places without an entrance fee worth discovering. I have three hikes around town that I absolutely adore and they are all outside of the national park, they all look different, and they are all beautiful places to see after a good rain.
Coyote Hole – One of my favorite places of all time, Coyote Hole is an unexpected hike. It begins on Easterly Dr in Joshua Tree. There’s a house just up the hill on the right and gates blocking the dirt path off from cars. The area is mostly soft sand and surrounded by high hills and cliffs. This is often called a wash and is an irrigation route during extreme rains. About 30 feet above the ground on some rocks are Serrano pictographs, visible with the naked eye. Zoom in with a camera and get an even better view. There are signs posted asking “Who walked this way?” and explains the natural history and preservation of the area. At the end of the hike, about a half mile from the start, is where the water falls down. It’s beautiful, minus the assholes who feel the need to spray paint. Thankfully, the graffiti is painted over quickly. Climb up the rocks and see the water if it has rained recently and enjoy the natural habitat and flowers on the hike back. In fact, if you managed to get there directly after a good rain, you’ll be able to see a natural waterfall in the desert.
Serrano pictographs located at Coyote Hole
Big Morongo Preserve – Definitely one of the most beautiful places in the Morongo Basin, the Big Morongo Preserve is an ecological anomaly. Upon entering, there are places to sign in, a map of where the visitors have been from, and informational flyers on the animals and plants you might see along the way. It is green. There are trees, plants, streams, ponds, and another flat wash area with built in hiking paths and seating areas, perfect for photos. The light at sunset is breathtaking. There’s a large bird population and is a must-see for avid bird watchers. It’s also an amazing place for photography.
Tarantula Hawk (wasp) photographed just off the trail at the Morongo Preserve.
Rattlesnake Canyon – Regardless of the foreboding name, this is one of the absolute best hikes in Joshua Tree and you can do it for free. It requires some minimal rock scrambling, but it is the quickest way to get the best view of the Wonderland of Rocks. There are waterfalls, sometimes if there is enough rainwater, the beginning of the trail turns into a small creek. The hike features small running waterfalls and pools throughout and the top ends in a gorgeous maze of rocks and puddles, some of the rocks perfect for sunbathing. The top also sports a gorgeous view overlooking the desert.
Looking down the rocks at Rattlesnake Canyon a few days after a rain.
The desert isn’t as brown and boring as most assume and people are beginning to come around. As a local, it’s fun to find great places and share them with people who will seek them out and truly appreciate them. This desert is a magical place and these three spots just happen to hold a special place in my heart because I have seen them all that their best—full of water after a great rain. They only add to the mythical feeling and lure of the desert, a place I never pictured myself seeing and now a place I will never forget.