Lost Palms Oasis hike, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
In the south of Joshua Tree National Park, the Colorado Desert takes over the land. While the north – made up of the Mojave Desert – is full of the Joshua trees for which the park was named, they don’t grow this far down. This is the land of the palms.
The Mojave Desert is hot and arid. Summer days can be searing and the dry sand feels like dust. But, despite the extreme conditions, somehow these enormous fan palms not only survive but thrive in certain plans.
It’s because there are literally cracks in the earth here, caused by the San Andreas Fault that runs nearby. These cracks allow water to come up from subterranean reserves and provide enough moisture for the trees to live.
I think the best way to see the fan palms in Joshua Tree National Park is to do the ‘Lost Palms Oasis’ hike. Not only is it a really enjoyable walk but it takes you through a part of the park that is noticeably different from the main attractions in the north.
The Lost Palms Oasis hike begins a couple of kilometres from the Cottonwood Spring Visitor Centre and there’s a carpark there. It is not a loop so you’ll walk out and then have to turn around and come back the same way. It is about 6 kilometres (3.5 miles) in each direction.
I walk quite quickly and it took me a bit over 3 hours in total, including a decent break in the middle (I’ll come to that soon). For the average walker, it would probably take a bit longer. So – a big warning here – make sure you take enough sun protection and water for a long hike. You will need both, regardless of what month it is. You should also give some consideration to whether you should even attempt the hike if it’s really hot weather.
The Lost Palms Oasis hike takes you through a range of landscapes, which is one of the things I enjoy about it so much. It starts along a sandy track where shrubs are scattered across the dunes. Small yellow flowers brighten some of them.
As you go along, larger rock formations appear alongside the track. The piles of stones create a backdrop for the cacti that spring up in front of them.
Further along, the track climbs up and down rocky crests. You’ll find yourself in a small canyon one second and then, the next, with a panoramic view across the land. Purple and red flowers are now blossoming on the plants.
And then suddenly, without warning, you hit the top of the large ravine that has all the fan palms inside. You’ll easily be able to see them from above, they rise up so tall compared to all the other vegetation in the area.
The path down to the bottom of the canyon isn’t well marker and I actually missed it. You need to look out for a track that heads down the hill to the left from what appears to be a lookout spot, hopefully with a pile of rocks still there as a marker. If, like me, you continue onwards, you’ll need to scramble down a rather slippery slope.
Down amongst the trees, it’s much cooler than the rest of the walk. Not as much sun can get down here, for starters, but there also seems to be a bit of a breeze coming through the trees. There are lots of shady spots on the soft sand are quite a few people have staked out a spot to rest for a while – some are reading books or having a light meal. After the long walk, it could be a good idea.
To get back to the car, you just need to retrace your steps. There aren’t really many alternative routes on the way back to take detours and it is safer just to stay to the trail.
The Lost Palms Oasis hike is much further south than most of the popular spots in Joshua Tree National Park and not as many visitors venture this far down. While you’re unlikely to have the trail to yourself, you’ll definitely feel more like you’re in the wilderness than in some of the other parts of the park. As well as the unique scenery, that makes for quite an adventure and one of my highlights.
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Accommodation at Twentynine Palms
I would recommend staying in Twentynine Palms. There are quite a few reasonably priced motels and restaurants. You could try one of the following options: