Arch Rock Nature Trail

For some reason, I see things in the rocks at Joshua Tree National Park. Maybe that's a result of falling off a quartz monzonite boulder at Jumbo Rocks and landing on my head when I was a boy, I don't know. What I do know is, the rocks along the Arch Rock Nature Trail seem to be full of creatures trying to hide in solid rock. But I see them. Even when I’m not taking medication. Come on, I’ll show you what I found last time I was there…..

I pulled into White Tank Campground and turned left on the dirt road that leads to most of the campsites. There are a couple day use parking sites along the road, I generally use the one closest to beginning of the trail. It’s easy to spot as there is a split rail wood fence at the start. The trail itself is a short, .5-mile long loop that passes the famous Arch Rock as it weaves its way through huge, White Tank Quartz Monzonite rock piles. It’s easy to follow (go counter-clockwise) and has interpretive signs along the way that focus on the area’s geology and history. And there are plenty of opportunities for some easy rock scrambling. But what I like best about this trail, is finding creatures I haven’t seen before.

I hit the gruelling, .5-mile-long trail with only my camera and one bottle of water. As I started, I couldn't help but notice that that rock in the upper left hand corner looked an awful like Woodstock from the Peanuts comic strip....

Most of the rocks in this area are called White Tank Granite. It is an igneous rock which formed when hot magma or liquid rock was pushed up from deep within the earth and forced into the overlying rock in a process known as intrusion. It then cooled and hardened and later became exposed as the rock we see today.

I hadn't taken more than a few steps along the trail when the first of what would be many species of marine life breached the rocky waves and smiled at me.

I didn't have any trouble staying on the trail, for the most part it is well-marked with rocks lining the path, or cairns at a spot where the trail turns. Does anyone else think that big boulder looks like half a dinner roll? Maybe I was just getting hungry from the steep, uphill walk.....

Before I knew it, I was at the turn that would take me off the path to get a close up view of Arch Rock. From this vantage point, Arch Rock looks more like a baby elephant laying on its side.

While geological processes have created this arch over time, those same processes will someday cause it to crumble away. Wind, water, erosion, heat and cold all take their toll.

I'm always pretty impressed when I see Arch Rock from this side, it's the most impressive arch in J Tree that I'm aware of. This is definitely its best side.

A little way past Arch Rock is what I refer to as OK Rock. 

Around the corner from OK Rock, I ran into this little canyon that screamed "Indiana Jones."

I got out of that canyon before the giant boulder could crush me flat, and made my way back to the trail. I was a little wary about entering that field of giant mushrooms ahead, but I had to chance it, afterall, I was working on a trail report.

This enormous monster rock appears ready to pounce on innocent hikers, to devour them in its blood-stained maw. I gave it wide berth.

"Beware the smiling shark," is something an old hiking friend once told me and trust me, that's good advice. I continued quickly past this formation, breathing a sigh of relief when....

I entered this small wide spot along the trail, "relative safety," I thought to myself as I watched that blue whale off in the distance. 

As I continued along the trail, I saw this rock.

The Walrus has been sculpted by a process known as cavernous weathering and under-cutting. These processes result when moisture is trapped on a rock surface or in the soil long enough to begin to dissolve away and decompose certain minerals in the rock. running water and wind then act as agents to wash the sand away. Surfaces weathered in this way are often found on the shady side of rocks where moisture doesn't evaporate as quickly.

"Maybe this part of J Tree was once under the ocean," I thought to myself, because I know that's a walrus. 

Nearing the end of the trail, this fellow reminded me of the movie, Monsters, Inc.

And it seemed fitting that the last denizen of the deep would surface and wink its enormous eye at me, as if to say, "you've been out in the sun too long without a hat. We're nothing more than 150 million-year-old chunks of White Tank Granite. No need to worry."

Ok, maybe I was a little over-the-edge out here, but the mind can wander and hallucinations invade when you're hiking in the desert. Next time, I'll take two bottles of water and wear a hat because I'm sure I'll be back on this trail again sometime soon. It's a great hike to take visitors on that have never been to J Tree, the rocks really are amazing. And with a couple hundred extra yards, you can even include a visit to White Tank, but that's a topic for another post.