Our first stop of the day was to the Oasis Visitor Center. The Park Rangers gave us plenty of information on things to do for the day, and places to go. It was early, we had food and water, and we were ready to tackle the park ahead of us. The three mile drive from the visitor center to the park gate doesn't seem like an incline, but if you look behind you in the car you realize that you're slowly gaining altitude as the town shrinks in the mirror behind you.\
Our first adventure inside the park was at Split Rock, this 2.5 mile hike though the desert was an experience. We were greeted by giant boulders and long shadows from the morning sun. The air was still cool this morning, especially so on the shaded side of the rock formations. Nevertheless, we made our way along the easy to follow trail. There were a few climbers off in the distance either hanging out atop the rocks, or slowly making their way up the rocks. Perhaps in a future visit I'll give that a try, right now I'm not much of a rock climber.\
After finishing up Split Rock, we drove down Park Blvd. towards Keys View. Our intention was to see what that location was like for sunset. We had a beautiful, unobstructed view of the Santa Rosa Mountains rising thousands of feet above. We could just make out the Salton Sea, the haze made it blend in to the desert floor. The San Andreas Fault was equally as visible between the mountains and us. The short hill was an easy paved hike up and we decided this would offer us the best views for sunset, which was still 4 or 5 hours away.\
Since we only had two days here, we decided to drive down to the Southern section of the park, Cottonwood. In the middle of the day, with the sun at it's most intense, that drive seemed like it was quite long, and quite a drag, we made it though. While at the Cottonwood Visitor Center, we listened to a Ranger talk, and got some information about the lower Colorado Desert area of this part of the park. There were some hikes to do, but we were not feeling up to them, the sun was too intense, instead, we turned around back towards the main part of the park.\
We did stop at the Ocotillo Patch and the Cholla Cactus Garden on our return North. Recent rains made most of the Ocotillos flourished with their small green leaves, much different from my experience of them in Saguaro. The Cholla Cactus Garden was phenomenal. All of these Cholla cacti growing densely together in a small patch. The short 0.3 mile hike through the garden was well worth it, there was no shade from the sun unfortunately.\
By the time we got back up to the main part of the park, we still had about an hour to kill before sunset. We stopped at Skull Rock and explored the area then because there was more parking than earlier in the day. The Skull Rock area was one of the suggestions for sunset that the Park Ranger mentioned to us, unfortunately I didn't see any great views. The low sun caused much of the inner rock formations to be deep in shadow, and there wasn't as much a trail through most of the area as it was a series of "paths" through which you could climb some rocks to get up higher and further. None of it was technical at all, though it was rough on your hands and difficult to handle with a camera strapped to you.\
When we did make it to Keys View, we had about 40 minutes of time before the sun was going to set for the day. We were surprised to find that the valley below us was full of low hanging clouds and fog. In my opinion, this enhanced our view of the area, it made it seem like we were atop a high mountain.\
Later in the evening we came back into the park to get some photos under the legendary dark skies of the park. Sadly, there was a quarter Moon in the sky drowning out the Milky Way. That did allow me to get some very nice photos of the Joshua Trees illuminated with the moon, and a flashlight though.
Being the only morning we were in the area, we woke up early to watch the sunrise. Skull Rock was one of the locations that the Park Ranger told us about yesterday, it offered clear views of the Eastern sky with some of the unique rock formations giving contrast. We hiked to the North side of the road to see the Skull Rock area in our photos. There were plenty of large boulders to climb atop for elevated views of the landscape. I set up there in the cool morning air and waited. Suprisingly, we only saw a half dozen others out in the beautiful morning. I'm not sure if it was a quiet time of the year, or if everyone was exhausted from all the climbing they did the previous day. Nonetheless, we had the area to ourselves and enjoyed a quiet sunrise.\
After going back into town to get our stuff and pack up for our eventual trip home, we came back into the park via the North entrance and proceeded to drive West across the park, stopping when we deemed necessary for photos and views. The single lane dirt road towards Desert Queen Mine was inviting, so we took it. It was still morning, and most of the tourists were asleep still, we had the road to ourselves and made it to the end easily. There was plenty of signage to let us know of the area and we hiked the 1 mile round tip to Desert Queen Mine. That was a pretty simple hike along the high desert. Utterly alone, even the birds were quiet this morning. The remnants of the mine weren't as bad as Kennicott, though you could still see an old shaft, and some drums and steel supplies. Even though we could have taken another dirt road to Barker Dam, we opted to exit Desert Queen Mine via the same road as we came in on. We wanted to do some of the other hikes along Park Blvd. Driving in the other direction you see things different things, including the Santa Rosa Mountains to the West with many Joshua Trees in the foreground.\
The Hall of Horrors is a short loop trail that takes you past multiple rock climbing opportunities. Not being a climber, I didn't try any of them out, but that didn't stop me from watching and enjoying those that were climbing in the morning. There were many trees, and rocks in this area, combined with the lower sun, we were able to make the most of this area. Like most of the hiking we'd done so far this trip, we were alone for the majority of it, passing a few climbers as they made their way to and from their latest challenge.\
Our last foray in the park was to Barker Dam. This was the most crowded trail we were on, partly because it was around lunch time, and partly because it was simply a popular, easy trail. Most of the hiking was over level ground, however there were plenty of rocks that you could take detours though and around. The man-made lake at the end was pretty lack luster. It was protected from the worst winds by high rocks, though the overcast sky above made everything dull, the reflections, while not as perfect as they could be, were boring due to the white, cloudy sky. Along the end of the trail were a set of petroglyphs on the underside of a giant boulder. Similar to Petrified Forest, no one is quite sure what they mean.\
Overall, Joshua Tree National Park was everything I had expected it to be. Two days is the perfect amount of time to spend exploring the desert regions of this park, if you're a climber, than you can spend two days just climbing all the different rocks and getting better at everything. Whatever you do, make sure you get out at night to see the stars under the quiet desert landscape.