Category Archives: visiting national parks

Joshua Tree National Park


The girls and I took a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park. It was a 45 minute drive from our RV park in Palm Desert.

I’d like to throw a shout out to my brother, Joshua.  Hi Bro! Yes, I did expose the girls to the U2 songs on the Joshua Tree album after we got off the phone.

The Mojave and the Colorado deserts come together inside this park, each with a very distinct ecosystem.  This park has just over 700,000 acres, so it’s almost as large as Big Bend NP. We started at the south end at the Cottonwood visitors center so we had to drive through the desert for an hour before we even reached the higher altitude where we saw our first Joshua tree. Then they were everywhere! The Joshua tree is really a pretty cool looking plant.

From jumbo rocks to mountain vistas, this national park as so much more than Joshua Trees.

We took all day driving through the park and exited through the north entrance. The drive home took an hour and a half but it was worth it to be able to see the whole park. The girls wanted to spend the night after seeing the park but we had not packed any camping gear. It was very odd to drive out of the park gate another 5 miles before we arrived at the official Joshua Tree Visitors Center, which is in the middle of a town. I’ve never seen that before. We made it just in time to get the junior ranger badges and ask about the unique jumbo rocks. It’s a really cool process that can be described by watching this quick little video that the national park service made.



Why are these plants called Joshua Tree’s you ask? According to legend, early Mormon settlers thought they looked like the Biblical prophet Joshua reaching his arms up to the sky in prayer. In the park, you can see them standing alone distantly spaced from one another to densely packed fields of them.

Believe it or not we ran into Yoda while we were there!

We loved having Yoda tag along with us all day.  After checking in at the visitor center to pick up our map and junior ranger books we headed to the Cottonwood Spring Oasis trial. It was bizarre to see these Palm trees in the middle of the desert. But we found out that they grow in the small pockets of water found here. The spring, the result of earthquake activity, was used for centuries by the Cahuilla Indians, who left bedrock mortars and clay pots, or ollas, in the area.

Picnic lunch among the Cholla garden was especially lovely. The trail here is very short.

We hiked around Jumbo Rocks campground after lunch. By hiked, I mean climbed.

Without even knowing the size or what the Skull Rock looked like, Mackenzie decided when she saw it on the map that she wanted to have a snack in the eye of the skull. When we arrived it did not disappoint, but seemed very challenging to climb into the eye but she did it! She believes she was a monkey in her past life!

We hiked and played hide and seek in the Hidden Valley.

Here is the YouTube video we made of our trip

The Joshua Trees and Keys View

It is well worth it to take the trail to Keys View. You can see Palm Springs (where we were staying) from atop the mountain, as well as, the San Andreas Fault.

We spent about 6 1/2 hours in the park and were able to eat lunch and take 4 hikes, that equals a great day in my book!

FYI- if you are planning to camp or need gps… there is NO cell phone coverage in the park.

Death Valley National Park, CA

Watch our Death Valley Youtube video

This is the hottest, driest and lowest place in the Western Hemisphere.




Meet the The Mojave Desert. We have visited the Chihauhaun Desert, the Sonaran Desert and now the Mojave Desert. We only have one desert region left- The Great Basin, which is considered the largest.

Here is a link to the park map for Death Valley. Some parks also have Park Newspapers, I love these because they have so much more information in them that isn’t found in the standard park map. I just discovered there is a digital copy as well. Here is a link Death Valleys Park Newspaper.  This park even had a promotion, if you went on two of the hikes listed you could get a free Death Valley decal. This promotion was only written in the park newspaper. We stopped by the visitor’s center on the way out on the second day to pick up our decals we earned (they asked us to show them pictures of our hikes to prove we went) and for the girls to get their Junior ranger badges.

I suggest looking at these before you visit a national park because often the visitor’s center is in the middle of the park, like this one. death-valley-national-park-map

Death Valley National Park is where you can find the lowest place on the Western Hemisphere. It is 282 ft below sea level. If you look closely at the second picture below, you’ll see the sea level marker on the rock wall and then you can see me standing below.



Ever heard of Star Wars? If not, it’s a series of movies you should check out. The very first one made, The New Hope, was filmed here in Death Valley. AKA Tatooine. We hiked the Golden Canyon where R2-D2 rolled down the canyon and we hid under a rock cave where a Jawa once hid.





We also hike the Natural Bridge Canyon. This was a steeper hike and if you hike about 200 yards past the natural bridge, you will find a waterfall (it was dry while we were there).




Harmony Borax Works

Ever heard of slime? My kids make it all the time! One recipe for making slime calls for Borax, well this is the location where Borax was discovered. Borax can be found in the laundry detergent isle of your local grocery store.



Salt Creek

There was a little water in it… we walked out to the water to look for Pupfish. This species of fish is only found here and is endangered. We were disappointed not to see any. IMG_5808




We drove out to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and walked  where R2-D2 and C-3P0 separated in the desert, at the beginning of the movie, also on Tatooine. The next planet we will visit is Endor in the Redwoods of California.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes




We played a fun game of hide and seek on the sand dunes. All the trees you see in the pictures are Mesquite Trees. While we were walking through the dunes (we headed East away from the crowd of people going straight- we always take path less traveled) the girls spotted tracks for kangaroo rats, lizards, and snakes. They tracked down a kangaroo rat path and found it’s home which was a hole in the sand. They are nocturnal animals that only come out when it cools down.

Furnace Creek Golf Course

Chris played his lowest round of golf… lowest elevation that is! This the lowest elevation golf course in the world and one of the 50 hardest courses. He enjoyed a little time by himself doing something he enjoys.



Devil’s golf course

This is an area where the mud and salt harden after the water evaporates and forms this hard spiky rocky basin. It’s so hard there is a sign that says you can seriously injure yourself walking on it if you fall. Obviously that didn’t stop us.





Artist’s Palette



The Oasis at Death Valley

We stayed one night in the park because there is no cell service in this desolate area so we needed to stay at an RV park outside of Death Valley, during the week, where we could get service.



We had dinner by the pool (warm spring fed) then Chris played in the pool with the girls doing ‘jumping beans’ while I went to the ranger led night sky program.



Fun Fact: My friend,Cara, told me that her alma mater, Clemson, has a rock from Death Valley they call, Howards Rock, that the football players rub on game day for good luck. The nick name of their stadium is ‘Death Valley’ because other teams go there to die.

Scotty’s Castle (in Death Valley) was closed because of flood damage. It won’t reopen until 2020.

After exiting the park, heading east, there is a cross road called Death Valley Junction. This building used to be a Borax distribution center, now it’s a motel (Amargosa) and has a small cafe that we decided to eat at. Despite the outward appearance, the food was delicious.

This is the extent of the town, it was built with the hopes of being something big and the promise that the railroad was coming. It never came and the Borax plant closed after 5 years.



We found a place in Pahrump, NV (outside of Death Valley) to help pack meals for underprivileged students that don’t have access to food over the weekend. It was at New Hope Church on Wednesday night. Our hearts were filled. We were working so hard we didn’t take a picture.


We had a nice clubhouse at this park that we could use as our classroom. We enjoyed playing pool and shuffleboard. It rained once while we were here. It is very unusual for rain here this time of year. We have only seen rain four times, in four months, on this trip; Saint Augustine, Montgomery, San Antonio, and here. Two of those were because of IRMA. The rain here covered those mountains, in the background, with snow, it was so beautiful to wake up to that Wednesday morning.

Since we have no play room for rainy days… the girls play in the bathroom😳. #reallife





Mackenzie was able to Skype with her classroom back home this week! She gets nervous being the center of attention but she loves seeing all their sweet faces. Abby wishes she could do this as well, but middle school doesn’t work the same way.


Abby has read the Hunger games series this week so we’ve been doing Katniss Everdeen hair braids every morning.


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