Tag Archives: geology

Joshua Tree National Park

Overview

This National Park in southern California is named for a tall yucca plant that grows there in large numbers, but it also contains many other interesting desert life forms and neat rock formations.  In the less-developed southern portion of the park, be sure to stop at the palm trees at Cottonwood Spring, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Ocotillo Patch to learn more about how these unique plants have adapted to survive the harsh desert conditions. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Jumbo Rocks, Keys View, Arch Rock, Cottonwood Spring, rock climbing

Must-Do Activity

Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, the park gets very busy on Easter weekend (in addition to Thanksgiving weekend).  Campgrounds, like scenic Jumbo Rocks, fill up early.  Other than rock climbing opportunities, the biggest attraction is the myriad of colorful wildflowers that bloom in the spring (including the Joshua trees).

Best Trail

There are many fun hiking options located throughout the park (which are detailed in our guidebook).  At White Tank Campground you can pick up the Arch Rock Nature Trail, which forms a short loop that passes an interesting arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Chuckwallas are huge lizards that can grow up to 18 inches long and are related to iguanas.  Chuckwallas can inflate themselves as a defense mechanism so that predators cannot remove them from narrow cracks in the rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but there are many dirt roads to explore with the right vehicle.

Camping

There are numerous NPS campgrounds located throughout the park, and some take reservations.  The scenic Jumbo Rocks Campground is popular with rock climbers.

Related Sites

Death Valley National Park (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

This design we created to celebrate Joshua Tree National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How tall can Joshua trees grow?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Amistad National Recreation Area

Overview

Amistad translates as “friendship” from Spanish, which is fitting given that this reservoir is shared by the U.S. and Mexico.  Marinas and boat ramps provide access to the lake for watersports, like fishing and waterskiing.  The 254-foot tall dam across the Rio Grande was built in 1968 and serves as a customs station in Del Rio, Texas.  The National Park Service (NPS) runs a free museum nearby.

Highlights

Panther Cave pictographs, Seminole Canyon State Park, watersports

Must-Do Activity

Amistad National Recreation Area is also famous for its 4,000-year-old pictographs, which can most easily be accessed on guided tours of Seminole Canyon State Park, 45 miles outside Del Rio, Texas on Highway 90.  Admission is charged for the museum and tour, but provides the only way to see the colorful artwork in Fate Bell Shelter.  Viewing fossils in the limestone was an added bonus on the tour.

Best Trail

The pictographs in Panther Cave can be seen from afar by hiking a trail in the state park or up-close by boating to the dock and climbing a steep stairway. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you are unable to hike down into the canyon, the Seminole Canyon State Park museum has a replica of the rock art.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/amis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Boating passes start at $4 for a 1-day pass, $8 per person to tour Seminole Canyon State Park

Road Conditions

All major roads paved

Camping

Two NPS campgrounds are available at Governors Landing and San Pedro and there is a campground at Seminole Canyon State Park.

Related Sites

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Waco Mammoth National Monument (Texas)

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Explore More – How many miles of the Rio Grande do the park’s boundaries encompass?

Mojave National Preserve

Overview

Mojave National Preserve is a massive 1.6-million acres of desert bounded by Interstate 15 to the north and Interstate 40 to the south.  Passed by millions of commuters every year, it does not take many miles of driving to leave behind the bustling freeways for a quiet landscape.  Species diversity is high here given its elevation range from 800 to 7,929 feet and its place at the intersection of three deserts: the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran.  Watch for desert tortoises, Mojave rattlesnakes, roadrunners, ravens, kangaroo rats, mountain lions, mule deer, and some of the 1,000 bighorn sheep that reside in the preserve.

Highlights

Kelso Depot, film, Kelso Dunes, Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail, Rings Loop Trail

Must-Do Activity

If you are driving on I-15 between California and Nevada consider entering the preserve via the Cima Road exit, with a first stop at its gas station’s interesting waterfall urinal in the men’s restroom.   From there drive south on a paved road into a dense Joshua tree forest on the gently sloping flanks of the enormous Cima Dome (an extinct volcano) and then stop at Kelso Depot where the National Park Service (NPS) operates a visitor center and museum.  From there you can continue south to the beautiful Kelso Dunes or take the paved Kelbaker Road back to Interstate 15 at Baker, home of the world’s tallest thermometer.

Best Trail

The one-mile Rings Loop Trail has metal rings cemented into its canyon walls in some places to help you ascend and descend steep portions.  Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail and the six-mile Barber Peak Loop Trail are also found in this area near the NPS campgrounds.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We love sand dunes (see our Top 10 list) and one of our favorites is the nearly 700-foot tall Kelso Dunes, which create a booming sound when the sand shifts and moisture conditions are right.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, however, most of the 1,000 miles of roads are unpaved and some of them require a high-clearance vehicle, especially if you want to access neighboring Castle Mountains National Monument.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed throughout most of the preserve, but there are also NPS campgrounds around the Hole-in-the-Wall Ranger Station.

Related Sites

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

Joshua Tree National Park (California)

Death Valley National Park (California)

Explore More – How many acres of Wilderness are designated within Mojave National Preserve?

Canyonlands National Park

Overview

Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964, part of a large expansion of the National Park Service (NPS) system during the Johnson administration.  It is divided into four distinct areas that are not easily connected by roads: The Needles District, The Maze District, Horseshoe Canyon Unit, and the most heavily-trafficked Island in the Sky District near Moab, Utah.  Backpacking is a major draw to this park, as is whitewater rafting on the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Chesler Park, Druid Arch, The Maze, Great Gallery

Must-Do Activity

Horseshoe Canyon is a separate unit of Canyonlands National Park accessible by good dirt road from Highway 24 southwest of Green River, Utah.  Its main attractions are four large pictograph panels estimated at 3,000 years old at the bottom of the 800-foot deep canyon.  The largest panel, dubbed the Great Gallery, stretches over 200 feet with numerous life-sized human figures painted in red and white on a sandstone wall.  It is a 3.5-mile hike to get there from the trailhead on top of the canyon rim that drops down to and then follows a meandering stream which passes three smaller panels.

Best Trail

There are miles of incredibly scenic trails in The Needles District, many of which leave from Elephant Hill Trailhead.  We recommend the six-mile roundtrip hike to Chesler Park where you will see the pointy formations that gave this district its name.  Druid Arch or Angel Arch make great destinations for long day hikes, but you should at least stop at Slickrock Foot Nature Trail to get a feel for sandstone beneath your soles.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You may have never heard of the Island in the Sky District, but you have surely seen a sunrise photograph of Mesa Arch since it makes it on many calendars.  Walk the half-mile loop to the edge of the cliff where this famous formation frames distant mountains.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There are seriously rough 4×4 roads throughout this park, so ask a park ranger about road conditions before attempting any drive.  The scenic drive that dead ends at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District is entirely paved.

Camping

There is running water at Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District, but none available at the small Willow Flat Campground in the Island in the Sky District.  White Rim Road and Chesler Park are also famous for their backcountry campsites accessible by 4×4 vehicles (permit required).  Due to high demand, backpacking permits within this park are among the most expensive in the entire NPS system.

Related Sites

Arches National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

This design we created to celebrate Canyonlands National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – It may look small in photographs, but just how tall is Druid Arch in The Needles District?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Chiricahua National Monument

Overview

Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument was established in 1924 to protect a spectacular collection of rhyolite rock formations.  Millions of years of erosion left behind tall pinnacles that rise above surrounding evergreen trees.  A six-mile long paved road leads up from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center to Massai Point for great views of the volcanic pillars.  At an elevation of around 7,000 feet it can get cold in the winter, but still quite hot in the summer, so spring and fall are the best seasons to visit.

Highlights

Massai Point, Echo Canyon, Big Balanced Rock, Heart of Rocks Loop

Must-Do Activity

We recommend an all-day loop hike through Echo Canyon to the Heart of Rocks Loop where you will find rocks resembling camels, ducks, and anything else you can imagine.  The wildlife and vegetation here is diverse and representative of many ecosystems because of the elevation range of this “sky island.”  Many visitors that spend the night in the NPS campground report seeing coatimundi, a unique long-tailed omnivore related to the raccoon with a species distribution stretching into South America. 

Best Trail

There are 17 miles of trails in the park and hiking is the best way to explore the rock formations.  A self-guided loop at Massai Point is an option if you are short on time and cannot make it all the way to the impressive Big Balanced Rock.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is a formation on the Heart of Rocks Loop that is appropriately known as Duck on a Rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/chir/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The small 24-site NPS campground is known for its nocturnal visitations by coatimundi.

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Explore More – Big Balanced Rock is 22-feet in diameter, so how much is it estimated to weigh?