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It’s difficult to describe Joshua Tree National Park — which is about 130 miles outside Los Angeles — without using the word “otherworldly” or referencing landscapes straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.
On my first sunrise drive in the park with a friend, we gaped at the jagged Joshua trees poking out of the earth like spindly, crooked fingers summoning us closer, and the massive outcroppings of boulders that loom on the horizon in every direction. The ecosystem here is complex, the trees odd and the views surreal. Wrapping your mind around what you’re seeing is no easy feat.
Our initial hike was a no-kids-allowed event — just two moms trekking along part of Boy Scout Trail, armed with too-thin jackets, snacks and a selfie stick. We also staked out friendlier paths for the next day, when we would have two dads and three kids under the age of 4 with us.
When our full group was assembled, we began with a hike to Barker Dam. Measuring a little more than 1 mile, this loop trail is a good bet for families. Though there’s no water to speak of at the dam, our girls were giddy about climbing over rocks and squeezing through cactus-lined crevices to get to the site. When a desert cottontail rabbit crossed our path, they squealed with delight. Then, the trio stood still, hoping the fuzzy creature would stay within eyeshot for just a little while longer.
Nearby, Hidden Valley gave us more opportunities to climb boulders — a must-do activity in a national park known for its rock formations. Our party spent a couple of hours gallivanting over rocks while discovering some of the desert’s natural environment — the skull of a small mammal, ants marching one by one in the sand and plenty of brilliant wildflowers.
The kids quickly fell into dreamland on our drive out of the park, while the parents discussed when we’d be back again — honest signs of a successful family adventure.