Sunday Hikes: Cap Rock Nature Trail

The Cap Rock Nature Trail is a .3 mile loop trail in Joshua Tree National Park. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that I love these short nature trails and Joshua Tree is full of them. This particular one is located at the junction of Park Boulevard and Keys View Road in the centerish of the park.

This trail is perfect for kids and adults who want to learn more about the plants around them. There are many signs that talk about the various plants along this trail from the New Mexico Thistle to the park’s namesake Joshua Tree and how each plant affects and contributes to the desert environment around it.

The trail is short and flat with picnic tables and a vault toilet at the trailhead making it a great place to stop off to eat lunch in the middle of a hot Joshua Tree day. There are also plenty of the classic Joshua Tree boulders in this area that could entertain a rock climber all day.

I would recommend that everyone who visits Joshua Tree takes the time to hike this short trail and take in the flat land of Joshua Trees surrounding them!

Thanks! – Josh

National Park Half Marathons! How did I not know about this before?

During my recent visit to Yellowstone NP, I was made aware that they had a half marathon weekend in the park planned for the following weekend.    My wife is an avid runner (while I am more of a hiker), but we were shocked that we were not aware that this was a thing.   After doing some more research, we found that there are races in many of the National Parks.   Having said that, it is difficult to find information about National Park races online.   The NPS website doesn’t even mention them unless you want to scroll through long lists of activities which could take a lot of time.   No one organization seems to sponsor the races either, so there is not one central place to find out information about the races.

We are considering doing the Joshua Tree Half Marathon which is on November 4th 2017, and matches up well with our anniversary trip we do every year.   Also, it is a night race so the opportunity to stargaze during this race will be incredible.  If you’d like to join us at this race then check out:


I will say that I am not familiar with runsignup or Vacation Races (which I am not sure if they are separate organizations or just link to each other).  I will have to update you after I participate in one of their races with how they handle the logistics of the race.   This group does offer a long list of half marathons that they sponsor in or near the National Parks (I noticed that some are not technically in the NP’s so check for that carefully).   You can find more information here:

Now some of the National Park’s seem to have locally sponsored races.   For example, Acadia National Park in Maine just had their annual race sponsored by the Mount Desert Island YMCA:   That looked to be a gorgeous race following the rocky coastline of the Park.   Think of all the lobster rolls you could eat after burning off calories doing a 10K or half marathon!


Rocky Coastline in Acadia National Park

If you like to participate in these kind of events, then I encourage you to do some research online or reach out directly to the National Park you want to visit and run through.   This does seem to be a great way to experience a National Park in a new way.   As always, thank you for reading.   rk

The Flora of Joshua Tree National Park

During our recent trip to Southern California, we were able to spend a good bit of time at Joshua Tree National Park.  If you read our “Sunday Hikes” feature then you know we saw a good bit of the fauna at Joshua Tree.

While somewhat less terrifying, we did find some very interesting flora at Joshua Tree.   I thought I would share some of the flora below:


The Cholla Cactus Garden area in the center of the park was really interesting.   There is a 1/4″ mile trail that weaves through a massive infestation of these cacti.   Stay on the trail or you will be like the lady we saw who managed to step on a Cholla in her sandals.   It wasn’t pretty.


The Ocotillo were large and very pretty.  I don’t know if you can tell in the picture, but they appeared to be about to blossom with a red flower at the tips of the canes.


The Park namesake Joshua Tree interestingly enough are only prevalent in about half of the Park.   But they were very numerous in the area that they thrived.   We also saw Joshua Trees growing near Death Valley so they are not only growing in this area.


This Joshua Tree has Josh standing nearby for scale.

We missed the 2017 Superbloom in Southern California by only a week or so.   Bad timing on our part.   As you can see from the pictures though, the weather was gorgeous.  Thanks for reading.   rk



Kelso Sand Dunes

The Mojave Desert stretches from Southern California to the southwest corner of Utah and takes up almost 50,000 square miles. We recently visited the Mojave National Preserve while driving from Joshua Tree National Park to Las Vegas. We had been hiking a bunch that past four days and were pretty tired so we decided to hike at the Kelso Sand Dunes. The sign at the trailhead said the trail was 3 miles to the top of the 600ft high Kelso Dune and back but we thought it looked like much less.

It was high noon in the desert with barely a cloud in the sky. We set out towards the big sand dune and about half a mile in the sand dunes began to get so tall it was almost a struggle to get up them. After the next half mile we were all tired and really hot with the temperature being close to 90F that day. Being low on water we were tempted to turn back but we wanted to conquer the giant sand dune ahead of us so we kept going. We reached the bottom of the largest sand dune and Anya decided to sit down in the sand while dad and I attempted to climb the sand dune. We followed the very hard to see trail up the side of the sand dune. Some parts of the sand were black and a little easier to walk on for me but dad wasn’t wearing shoes and burned the bottoms of his feet on the sun baked sand.

I reached the crest of  the sand dune’s ridge and the peak was in sight. Dad who seemed like the heat was getting to him sat on the sand for a minute and drank the little water we had left and we finished the last stretch to the top. The views at the top were beautiful and we could see pretty far in every direction. We agreed the view made the trek up definitely worth it as we took pictures and enjoyed our sand dune conquering.

The next step was getting down via the steep 600 foot slide to the bottom of the dune. You can’t really slide down on your bottom (I tried) but if you walk down and lift your feet quick enough it feels like you are gliding down. This was a lot of fun to me and I would have gone back to the top just to do it again!

I reached Anya and the bottom and dad soon followed. We all began going back but dad decided to run back so he got there before us but when we arrived we all hopped in the car, chugged some water, and dumped out the pounds of sand in our shoes. Despite being a little more strenuous than expected I really enjoyed this unique and beautiful hike!

Thanks for reading – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Lions, Tarantulas, and Giant Hares on the Boy Scout Trail in Joshua Tree NP


I went to Joshua Tree NP in November 2016 with my mom; we only spent a half a day, which only gave me a tiny taste of what the park has to offer! Mom and I drove around and looked for the best hike for our short time! One of the trails we looked at but did not have the chance to do was the Boy Scout Trail. This is an eight mile, one way hike that starts in desert surrounded by Joshua Trees and goes into a mountain, small Valley and ends with more desert. Not really my kind of hike because of the 16 miles round trip. The trail caught my eye because of the “warning” sign that was informing hikers of sick bighorn sheep spotted on the mountain portion of the trail. Rangers wanted hikers to call in if they saw any ill bighorn, so they could get them medical help. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do the hike in November.

When Dad, Josh and I decided to go back to Joshua Tree in March, the only thing I wanted to do was the Boy Scout Trail. Dad and Josh agreed and we were all so excited and anxiously awaiting the small chance we could see a bighorn!

We decided it would be a cool evening hike! Instead of doing the 8 miles in and 8 miles out, we parked our car at ranger station by the exit of the trail and took an Uber into the park to the trailhead. I thought it was a clever idea! Our Uber driver was very friendly and chatty- a little too chatty. By the end of the 30 minute ride, we knew just about his whole life story. We told him we were hoping to see a bighorn and he proceeded to tell us we probably wouldn’t but to watch out for mountain lions and good luck; we laughed as he drove off.

We started the trail around 6 pm. We were having a blast talking, joking and enjoying the scenery. I loved seeing the Joshua Trees in bloom and seeing all the plants in  the desert! About a mile into the hike we saw a couple of jackrabbits, which dad tried to chase down to get a good picture of. I don’t think he succeeded.


The sun started setting around 7 and it was beautiful. The silhouette of the Joshua trees in front of the sunset was very pretty and unique! The sunset was a bright pink and orange and made a glow on the rocks which formed the start of the mountain.


Before the mountain portion of the trail began, we climbed a big rock and brewed some coffee at the top. One of my favorite memories from the entire trip was watching the sunset on top of the rock while making the coffee. It was getting dark quickly, so we took our coffee and snack to-go on the trail!


We hiked the mountain portion of the trail and started entering the valley. There is always some point of a longer hike where everyone is quiet for awhile and you focus on the trail, the views and take in the sounds of nature- or in this case, the silence of nature. We were at that “point” of the hike.

It was quiet when all the sudden, within a few seconds, so much happened. I ran into Dad and Josh who were walking a few feet ahead of me, and there was a loud noise. I had no idea what the noise was, but quickly caught along when the boys started screaming, jumping, and throwing rocks. There was a mountain lion 4 feet away from us. We had startled it since we were being quiet. I quickly joined Dad and Josh, trying to scare the mountain lion away. I was so scared! The lion eventually creeped out of our sight, but did not go far. I grabbed a rock for protection, just in case!  We kept hiking, terrified and confused. We all took turns explaining what we saw and heard to process what happened.

Not long after our encounter, we saw a tarantula. In any other circumstance, I would not be thrilled to see a big spider, but I would choose a tarantula over a mountain lion any day! Josh and I wanted to keep moving and get as far away from the lion, but Dad tried to stop and take a photo. Josh and I were not pleased with that.

We hiked quickly, played music, and talked at a loud volume to insure our “friend” left us alone. The three of us were paranoid and ready to see that car. Thankfully, we never saw the mountain lion again!

We finally reached the car around 9:30 and I don’t think I have ever felt so relieved. We ditched our rocks that we carried the last 4 miles of the hike for protection and hopped into the car to head back to the hotel!


Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park


One of the most fun parts about Joshua Tree National Park is the rock climbing.   If you have never been there, it is an amazing sight to behold the piles of rocks that look to have been stacked up by giants.   I’m scared of heights, but I impressed myself in climbing up some of the rock scrambles.   Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for the serious rock climbers with all the accompanying equipment or for people like me who are basically jumping from rock to rock.   Some of the best places to climb in the park are near Hidden Valley, near Skull Rock, and on the Cottonwood Spring trail.

rock climber

This rock climber is more brave than me.   He is climbing in the Hidden Valley area of the park.

hidden valley

The Great Burrito rock formation






The Best Bargain in Travel

The best bargain in travel is the United States National Park Pass.   The cost is negligible really.   We purchased an annual family Interagency National Park Pass last June for $80.   If you are a senior, it is only $10 for a lifetime pass and the US Military get in free always.


Having the National Park Pass gets you into all National Parks, Monuments, and Federal Recreation sites at no additional cost with no limitations on visits.   Before I had the National Park Pass I had been to 6 National Parks in 43 years.   Since June, I have been to 9 National Parks with 7 of them new.   In addition, my adult children have used the pass to visit 3 other National Parks and between all of us have scheduled trips this winter and spring to at least 7 more.   The National Parks are spread all over the country so while some of our trips have been based around the Parks, others have been because we have been in the area.   Work trip to New Hampshire, then drive up to Acadia in Maine.   Weekend getaway to Seattle, lets squeeze in Mt Ranier etc.

The United States National Park system represents all that is great about America.   To quote writer and historian, Wallace Stegner, national parks are “the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”   The National Park system preserves the most beautiful, special, and culturally important places in our country.   To visit them widens your view of the world and fills you with awe to the beauty created by God.


Parks visited so far this year by our family include Acadia NP, Congaree NP, Cuyahoga NP, Zion NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Capitol Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Canyon NP, Saguaro NP, Mt Ranier NP, Olympic NP, Shenandoah NP, and the Great Smoky Mountains NP.    Scheduled trips over the next six months include Joshua Tree NP, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NP, Badlands NP, Big Bend NP, Guadalupe NP, and Carlsbad Caverns NP.   I’m sure we will sneak in a few more as well!