You can't escape the snow... even in the desert
Winter in Joshua Tree means snow in the desert
I suppose one of the advantages of having roots all across America is that I'm always on the run. My university just began its winter break and with the help of some very cheap plane tickets, I was able to visit my girlfriend out in Southern California. So I bid farewell to the mild winter days of Northern New England and have been enjoying the California sun for a week. We have become "desert people" over the years and even with a long distance relationship, we come out to Joshua Tree, Anza Borrego or Mojave National Preserve at least a couple times a year. Its a rejuvenating place for me and one I deeply miss since moving away from California.

Those who don't know Joshua Tree are always fascinated by seemingly photoshopped images of cactus and yuccas covered in snow. The Mojave Desert can be a harsh and cold place in the winter and it is not a rare sight to see snow at the higher elevations. I don't know what the average height of the desert is, but most of Joshua Tree National park is between 3,000-4,000ft which is certainly high enough to see snow.
Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park
The day started with a drive up to Keys View which is a perfect place to start if you're looking for a relaxing day in the park. Its a short walk from the parking lot to a beautiful lookout which has views of Palm Springs, Salton Sea, Mt San Jacinto and Mt San Gorgonio. Its hard to believe that from this very spot, you can see the Salton Sea at -227ft below sea level, all the way to Mt San Jacinto at 10,834ft. This is a land of extremes and a part of California I will always love. This is an excellent view of the San Andreas Fault; one can appreciate the major forces which have caused such drastic changes in elevation and natural environment. 

From here we went to the Ryan Mountain Trail which is a short but steep trail to a 5,457ft summit with expansive views of the high desert. I love this trail because you can see the mountains and valleys of Joshua Trees for which the park was named. Its also somewhat snowy at the summit! This trail is 3.0 miles and can be done by a novice hiker. I would also recommend this spot for a brilliant sunset!
Valleys of Joshua Trees. Quail mountain in the center with Mt San Gorgonio in the distance
Looking South from Ryan Mountain
The final destination of the day was the nature walk to Barker Dam near Hidden Valley. This was another perfect little hike! From this 1.3 mile loop, we were able to see most of the vegetation that grows in this part of the state and even some petroglyphs. The Barker Dam itself was part of a short-lived effort to graze cattle in the desert but has left a small lake which you don't often see in the desert.
Reservoir behind the Barker Dam
All in all, it was a beautiful winter day in JTree. Although people often think of the desert as scorching hot, it was actually cold and windy! Bundle up if you plan on hiking!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!