Spring Break 2017 - Day 2: Valley of Fire, Joshua Tree NP, & San Diego

Day Two of Spring Break 2017 started out with a bit more exploring in Valley of Fire State Park followed by a stop at Joshua Tree National Park before finishing off in San Diego.
- Day 2 -
Monday - April 3, 2017

As is usual for me on camping trips, I woke up early and did not regret it.  I thought I knew why it was called Valley of Fire, but then the morning sky made its own case for why it was called Valley of Fire.

Valley of Fire or Sky of Fire?

Sunrise over camp

Colors of dawn



Once the sunrise show was over, everyone else started to wake up and we gradually got around to getting ready for the day, eating some breakfast, and cleaning up camp before taking a bit of time to just play on the nearby rocks above our camp.

We then loaded up and pulled over into the parking area for Atlatl Rock just a stones throw away from the campground.  Atlatl Rock is a prominent rock formation with a nice petroglyph panel high up on one of its walls.  An atlatl is a spear throwing tool that was employed by pre-historic cultures for hunting, and presumably defensive purposes too.

In an effort to prevent damage to the rocky slopes that lead up to it, and probably to increase accessibility to it, the state park has constructed a staircase that leads to an observation deck where the petroglyphs can be viewed up close.

Atlatl Rock

Atlatl Rock

The kids at Atlatl Rock

Atlatl Rock Petroglyphs

Atlatl Rock Petroglyphs

Atlatl Rock Petroglyphs

Atlatl Rock Petroglyphs

From Atlatl Rock, we drove around the corner to have a look at Arch Rock.  This would be the first of two landmarks named Arch Rock that we would look upon this day.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

From Arch Rock, we drove on out to one of the most popular landmarks in the park, Elephant Rock.  From the parking area or trailhead for it, it's only about a quarter mile, but before making it up to Elephant Rock itself, the kids immediately took a cavernous rock where there imaginations ran wild.  It's always fun to see what they pretend the such places to be.  Often it becomes a house, or a castle, or a dungeon with secret escapes, windows, backdoors, attics, or basements.

Kids at play

Landscape near Elephant Rock

Soon enough, we finished out the short walk up to Elephant Rock.  Elephant Rock is called such, because, well, it very much resembles an elephant...or, a mammoth.

Elephant Rock

Sunburst through Elephant Rock

Kids posing with the 'Elephant'

Walking under the trunk of Elephant Rock

We played around a little bit more checking out many of the nooks and crannies in the immediate landscape surrounding it.

Inside 'Willow's House'

Another play area

We could have made a day of it, just letting our imaginations go and playing all over the landscape, but we had a room waiting for us in San Diego that evening and another big place to visit along the way.  Knowing there are other red rock playgrounds closer to home made it a little easier to part ways with this fun filled park. 

A few hours of driving through the Mojave Desert eventually landed us at Joshua Tree National Park.  I had originally aimed for the Park Boulevard entrance via the town of Joshua Tree so as to take us to Barker Dam, Hidden Valley, and Skull Rock on our drive through, a few hikes I thought would be interesting.  However, due to being crunched for time, already behind schedule, we took the first entrance via the Utah Trail from Twenty Nine Palms.  Of course, we made a quick stop at the Oasis Visitor Center.

Oasis Visitor Center

At the corner of the block the visitor center sits, there is a junction of two roads: Utah Trail and National Park Drive.  Given the Mighty Five national parks that Utah boasts of, one would think such an intersection would naturally be found in our beloved home state, but nope...This is California!

No, we did not magically arrive back in Utah

Speaking of national parks in Utah, had this actually been a Utah park, we would have just drove on right past the official entrance sign.  But since we were far enough out of state, we became tourists and jumped out for the obligatory group shot with the entrance sign.

Family photo at the park entrance

Since Barker Dam, Hidden Valley, and even Skull Rock were so much further out of the way, we settled for a quick hike out to Joshua Tree's own Arch Rock, our second landmark by the same name that day.  The short hike starts out from the White Tank Campground.

On the way to Arch Rock

Shortly after starting the hike, we found that there to be a number of social trails weaving through each other, a couple that led us a little off course, forcing us to re-orient and re-direct ourselves back to the main trail.

The landscape was truly unique and fascinating.  The sea of smooth white boulders accented by blooming prickly pear cactus plants and of course the park's namesake, some Joshua Trees made it all quite an enchanted area.  Some rock formations seemed to resemble other life forms.

Prickly pear along Arch Rock Trail

Joshua Trees along Arch Rock trail

Rock Monster


Enchanting geology

In due course, we soon arrived at Arch Rock itself where we waited our turn for a photo-bomb free photo.

Waiting for a picture at Arch Rock

The kids under Arch Rock

Arch Rock

It was great to say we got to sample a taste of Joshua Tree National Park and see a bit of what makes is such a popular attraction for wilderness and recreational enthusiasts in Southern California, but it was equally sad not having any more time to spend there.  Had we an extra day, we certainly would have.  It's a park that's definitely worth returning to on a future trip.

More pressed for time, we made our way down and over to San Diego.  We had high hopes of arriving in San Diego with just enough light left spend a half hour to an hour at a beach, but reality was that just wasn't going to be the case.  The sun had set at least a half hour before we arrived in the San Diego metropolitan vicinity and darkness quickly fell thereafter.  We were actually surprised to find that the skies along the coast were all overcast anyways, so that certainly contributed to darkness falling sooner and would have made for a cold and dull view of the beach.  So, we shelved the beach idea for the next day and opted to swing by the LDS/Mormon temple in San Diego so the kids could roam the grounds there.  For a man-made piece of architecture, it is simply beautiful, as so many sacred edifices are.

San Diego LDS Temple

San Diego LDS Temple

San Diego LDS Temple

San Diego LDS Temple

Finally, we drove a few minutes on down the freeway to arrive at our hotel for the night.  Once checked in, the kids were eager to jump in the pool.  Though it had been plenty warm all day, temperatures had cooled off considerably with the onset of night.  I had been told by the staff that the pool was heated, so we went for it.

Heading down for a swim

Jessica and Everett posing in the kiddie pool

Willow, Ellory, Raylee, and Lennox in the main pool

The main pool may have been "heated" but it was still on the cooler side.  The kiddie pool was even colder.  Still, we all enjoyed some playtime before huddling up at the hot tub to warm up before retiring to our room for the rest of the evening.  For a big family like ours, I was grateful that Residence Inn by Marriott exists.  It caters to larger families by providing rooms with 2 separate bedrooms plus a living area with a sofa, and furnished kitchen.  We sure had to pay for it though!  Normally we stick to camping because it's so much more affordable.  But for this one night, we forked over the cash to treat ourselves to a private shower, a good hearty breakfast that awaited us in the morning, and mostly to be real close to the zoo, our main motive for coming out to San Diego.

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