California Adventure: Hiking The Otherworldly Landscapes Of Joshua Tree National Park [Photo Essay]

joshua tree national park

1. Entering the famous Joshua Tree National Park

California‘s Joshua Tree National Park is something from another planet, or at least that’s how it seems. In my mind, the park always had a cloak of mystery and sometimes even darkness wrapped around it, the very place where Charles Manson and his followers hid out, where curious druggies experiment with peyote and where extraterrestrial enthusiasts claim to have spotted UFOs.

After visiting for myself, I’ll admit the landscape is pretty otherworldly. Abandoned piles of rock, precisely-cut peaks, bold clouds forming unusual patterns in the bright blue sky, barren landscapes full of odd-looking Joshua Trees, twisting branches reaching up out of gravel and dirt. At certain times I was transported back to days hiking around Chile’s Torres del Paine, a beautiful yet eerie national park appearing like something out of a Tim Burton movie. At other times in Joshua Tree National Park, I found myself envisioning the books of Dr. Seuss, and the way he loved to draw characters and plants with fluffy mop cuts.

There was one reason my boyfriend and I visited Joshua Tree National Park: to hike. We stopped at the Visitor Center upon arrival to pay the parking fee — $15 per vehicle — and get some information on the local trails. There are a lot of Joshua Tree Day Hikes to choose from, all varying in length, elevation gain and ability level.

In the end, we decided to summit Ryan Mountain, a “strenuous hike” (I found it to be moderate, maybe only slightly strenuous) 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) in length. From the top, which is 5,461 feet (1,664 meters) high, hikers enjoy vistas of  the Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant Valleys.

Overall it took my boyfriend and I about 2.5 hours round-trip, including lots of photo taking. I recommend bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top, as it’s peaceful — we didn’t see many other hikers — and there are birds that fly over the mountains and get really close to you. It’s just a really serene setting worth spending some time in. Moreover, make sure to bring lots of water. I personally drank 64 ounces of water during the hike, and it wasn’t extremely hot out.

If you have time, also make a stop at the Keys View — pictured below — which offers panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, Santa Rosa Mountains, San Jacinto Peak, San Gorgonio Mountain, San Andreas Fault and, on a very clear day, Mexico.

To give you an idea of what kind of scenery you can expect on a Joshua Tree hike up Ryan Mountain, I put together the below photo essay of some of my favorite shots from the trek.

Note: If you’d like to purchase any of the below photographs for your home, please email me at jessieonajourney (at) gmail (dot) com with the Photo Number — the number listed before the caption — and size details. For a price list, check out my Etsy Shop, as all photos are priced the same. Sample prices include $9.99 for a 4×6, $16.99 for an 8×12, $20.99 for a 10×15, $39.99 for a 16×20 and $54.99 for an 8×10 set on canvas. Discounts are available for multiple photos purchased.

joshua tree national park

2. The beginning of the trail to summit Ryan Mountain

joshua tree national park

3. The beginning of the trail, looking toward the mountains

joshua tree national park

4. Warning: Looking up can induce deep feelings of awe and wonder

joshua tree national park

5. Make sure to also look down when hiking in Joshua Tree, as beauty abounds on the ground, as well.

joshua tree national park

6. A bright sky helps to see an otherworldly scene of odd-looking but beautiful Joshua Trees

joshua tree national park

7. Becoming more and more level with the peaks

joshua tree national park

8. At times along the way, the scenery gets a bit eery

joshua tree national park

9. There are lots of stairs to climb on the hike to summit Ryan Mountain

joshua tree national park

10. Taking a moment to appreciate my surroundings on the trail

joshua tree national park

11. The sun heats the landscape in Joshua Tree National Park

joshua tree national park

12. More beauty below

joshua tree national park

13. Big black birds abound at the summit of Ryan Mountain

joshua tree national park

14. Sumitting Ryan Mountain — Success!

joshua tree national park

15. Keys View vista on a hazy day

Have you gone hiking in Joshua Tree National Park? Which trails do you/don’t you recommend? Please share in the comments below.

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