Saturday, January 25, 2014

Outside the Crooked House: The Hidden Valley of Joshua Tree National Park

Date: March 11, 2013
Place: Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Coordinates: 34.01262, -116.16763
Length: about 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy

In 1940 the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein published a short story called, "-And He Built A Crooked House". In the story, people get lost inside a 4-dimentional house. When they manage to get out they find themselves in a very strange place with a scenery so strange that they first think they might have gotten to another planet.
That place is now Joshua Tree National Park.

Just 2 hours drive east of Los Angeles, this park is one of the most stunning deserts I have ever seen. In beauty, complexity, vastness ... you name it. Too bad it is so far away from the Bay Area, otherwise I'd be visiting there more frequently.
When I took my botanist friend on a California deserts tour last March, we traveled from north to south. We visited Death Valley National Park and Mojave Desert Preserve and at last, we got to Joshua Tree National Park.

Our first port of call was a place called 'Hidden Valley'. It is a short loop trail nestled inside a ring of granite walls that form a unique niche, separated from the open desert outside. It is, in my humble opinion, a must see place.
Part of the Hidden Valley wall
Once, Hidden Valley used by thieves to hide away and rebrand stolen cattle. The only cow that can be seen there today is made of rock.

Rock formations are the most conspicuous and spectacular sights there. The weathered granite can truly be awe inspiring.

And sometimes a little bit suggestive ...

Climbers from all over the world are inspired by these rocks. We've seen quite a few climbers there, some ascending the sheer rock faces and some merely hopping on the granite ledges wherever they saw fit.

Being relatively protected from the elements, Hidden Valley is home to rich vegetation. The three most common trees there are the pinion pines, the California junipers and of course, Joshua trees. There were many of them in the valley, but I liked in particular those that chose the most impossible places to root:

And there was this tree, no longer alive but still with strong presence:

A photo taken from another angle shows a Giant Nolina plant with its inflorescence pitting that dead pinion in perspective.
Giant Nolina (Nolina parryi)
These Agava-like plants are very impressive in size and appearance.
Giant Nolina (Nolina Parryi)
The most common animal we saw there was Homo sapiens ... which might account for the low appearance of other species. We did, however, see some lizards. And not all of them run away immediately.

We also heard many tweets in the air. Seeing the little tweeters has proven quite a challenge, though. Photographing them was nearly impossible. Eventually, with much patience, I managed to catch one of them on camera:
The loop is short, but we took a long time completing it. We enjoyed the sights, waited patiently for the birds to show themselves, climbed some rocks and photographed ourselves near every pretty landmark, just as any good tourist would.
Desert has very little rot. This dead tree has been there on my previous visit to Hidden Valley too. 
But every good thing must come to an end. We completed the loop and I got a quick shot of this shy pricklypear on the way out.

Opuntia sp.
If you plan to go to Joshua Tree National Park, or just driving through, make a stop at Hidden Valley. It will be worth it in every possible way.

Many thanks to my friend עננת and to Papa Quail for identifying the plants and the bird :-)


  1. I loved this hike! so so so beautiful!!!

    1. I never miss it, every time I go there :-) And next time, I might take the chikas rock-climbing too!

  2. it is beautiful :-) One day I will get there too.

    1. I sure hope so. Not during summer, though :-)