A Snowy Day in Joshua Tree

This was our second visit to Joshua Tree National Park, the previous one was for a half-day 12 years ago.

This park has a sacredness to it, and I felt it the first time, which is why we were back again.

But this second visit was really special, not only because I have matured over the years and was willing to move slower and listen more carefully to the rocks, trees, and plants around me, but because on our third and final day we were blanketed for six hours in fresh-fallen snow.

Snow doesn’t come often to southern California. We’ve had crazy weather the past two months in California.

The park is in a sprawling desert with six mountain ranges. It was first declared a space worth preserving in 1936 and then more recently, in 1994, when an act of U.S. Congress brought more space and more protection.

It is so big that it encompasses two deserts: the Colorado and the Mojave.

Like much of California, Joshua Tree NP lies near tectonic plates that have been uplifting and moving mountains for millions of years.

More info: Joshua Tree National Park Wikipedia

The eastern side of the park, with elevations below 3,000′, is in the Colorado Desert. Low elevation plants grow here; and less snow was falling here.

And the other part, the Mohave Desert part, is higher in elevation (above 3,000′) and has a vast community of Joshua trees. Here the snow came down in big, wet flakes and never stopped for the entire day.

It kept falling, so silently, and covering the Joshua trees. Yucca brevifolia are not technically trees, they are succulents in the agave (Agavaceae) family.

The winds were strong, sometimes the snow was horizontal, but the “trees” never swayed, as if they were made for all this weather adversity. And they are. They have thrived through centuries of drought, and yet they also prefer occasional cold temperatures.

The snow was sticking and could be shaped. There were not many people out in this frigid weather, but I saw a little girl, about two or three years old–she was the only person I saw with a snowball. She had it gripped in her little hand and was gnawing on it with abandon.

We saw indistinct tracks in the snow from wildlife and a few hardy birds.

Athena, with her numerous cameras and lenses, was oblivious to the freezing temperatures and cutting wind, out there snapping away, recording the beauty.

Gradually, over the course of the day as the snow continued to fall, the desert transformed. The hard, brown, dry ground vanished; replaced by a carpet of fluffy whiteness.

The cacti all across the desert floor, normally foreboding with their millions of spikey spines, were rounding out with each hour of snow, turning into soft white blobs.

Most magical of all were the Joshua trees. Right before my eyes these other-worldly trees with one trunk and a dozen or so branches were turning into people-like figures, bodies with arms.

As the snow kept falling, shrouding their pointy leaves and rugged trunks, they became flexible dancers, reaching their arms out, meeting the fresh snow with grace and rhythm.

The rocky outcroppings, usually towering and unapproachable, softened too. The gaps and cracks in the rocks filled in with snow, reshaping and accenting their loveliest features.

Eventually the mountains and boulders disappeared in a white-out. The sky blackened and the storm intensified.

And just as we were exiting the park, the never-closed gates had to be closed, due to shifting snow and dangerous road conditions.

I suspect those Joshua trees kept on dancing–celebrating the endless open space, the cleansing wind and refreshing snow.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

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96 thoughts on “A Snowy Day in Joshua Tree

  1. Joshua Tree is special, Jet. Peggy and I have camped among the huge rocks and explored the trails leading out into the desert. Last time we were there was in the spring and it was more about flowers than snow, but I would love to be there in a snowstorm. Fun. Well caught in words and photos. โ€“Curt

  2. Jet, Fantastic! You are lucky to have experienced snow at JT! It mustโ€™ve been magical to see. Athenaโ€™s photos are beautiful and I enjoyed your description. This crazy CA weather sure has its positive points. Thanks for bringing me back to a favorite park. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It was a joy to have you stop by and visit Joshua Tree with us today, Jane. And great fun sharing this magnificent place in the snow. Yes, we hold onto the highlights of this crazy weather, eh? Cheers to you and thanks.

  3. Dear Jet
    everything looks more beautiful in snow. We love snow as we are used to real snow for months in northern Scandinavia. We didn’t expect that you are so lucky to get snow in Southern California. When it’s freezing cold the air is clear and when it’s really cold you have all this optical illusion like 4 suns or just little rainbows in the air.
    Thanks and have a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Fab Four, I enjoyed your comment, thank you. It had been decades since I had been in snow, as snow is not normally a fun thing for me and something I concentrate on staying away from. But this experience was really fun, and I appreciate why you enjoy it in your northern climes. Thanks so much.

      • Dear Jet,
        we need snow and ice in winter for our well being. As children we were always so much hoping for snow. That was the time of fun skiing, skating, going on sledges, building igloos and snowmen. We were all the time outdoors during the winter months.
        For us the world looks even more beautiful covered with snow. And later we loved (and still love) driving on snow, really fun ๐Ÿ™‚
        Once we had to live in the south of Europe in Greece. We couldn’t stand this sunshine all the time. We fled to Greenland afterwards to have a pleasant climate.
        Happy weekend
        The Fab Four of Cley
        ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yes, we did luck out, Eliza, and what fun it is to share it here with you. I know you are one who enjoys the snow and ice and its beauty on your property, so I’m glad you enjoyed it here. Smiles and thanks.

  4. Incredible scenes, Jet! A breathtakingly beautiful and sacred (agreed) place transformed by the snow – remarkable words and images here. The notion of the dancing trees continuing their snow celebration after the park closed was delightful. So happy for you that you got to see all this in an even more special way – wonderful!

    • I really savored your comment, pc, thank you, and appreciate your time and words. It was a true joy to share this magnificent place and the snow event with you, as I know how much you enjoy snow and the outdoors. Happy weekend to you and Mrs. pc.

    • Thank you, Donna. We were really delighted to be there and knew how unique it was, and as the day unfolded it and the snow continued, it just got better and better. When we heard snow was coming, we expected a light dusting, so to have it falling all day long was a real treat.

  5. Your beautiful words and Athena’s stunning photographs did justice to the amazing experience of Joshua Tree NP in the snow! What a treasured memory to have. Thank you for sharing!

    • I am happy I could share this Joshua Tree adventure with you, Nan, and really appreciate your kind words. And even though I had already shared some of the photos with you, you took an interest in the post too…much appreciated.

    • Thank you, Deborah. We had read that they leave the gates open at night for people to enjoy the night skies, and had looked forward to that, as you, a wonderful galaxy photographer, can imagine. But with all the storms, the skies were not clear. And yet the gift of the snow came instead…so fun.

  6. We here in the northest take snowy weather for granted although for some of us there was a dearth of it this year. Not so in Eliza’s town but here in the valley we did not get much. Your storm in Joshua possibly outstripped all of ours put together. ๐Ÿ™‚
    It is wonderful to picture, both in Athena’s images and your prose, what it was like there. And nice also to hear that only one person bothered with a snowball and as a treat rather than means to a playful battle. Thanks for sharing the experience, Jet!

    • I’m glad the Joshua Tree post came alive through this post, Jan, so you wouldn’t have to go through yet another extreme weather day…we’ve had our share here in Calif., eh? And again, congratulations on healing, that’s huge. Thanks for your visit, always a joy.

  7. I’ve never seen snow in the desert. On the one hand, I wonder if the many plants and little animals survived this weather, and on the other, I think maybe the extra water might be a blessing once it soaks into the ground. Do you know if the freezing temperatures did much damage?

  8. Oh, Jet, I’m envious at the beauty although when I went through on Monday of this week, I was able to enjoy so many beautiful wildflowers. You can’t have both and I imagine this snow helped bring my wildflowers into bloom. I saw your post this morning and thought what a coincidence it was that we both had JT posts but such different ones. Glorious photos!! I’d love to spend more time in JT. This time I was there about 3 hours.

  9. Dear Jet and Athena – what an experience you shared! I love you you described Joshua Tree as being sacred, and worthy of this passage you wrote “…willing to move slower and listen more carefully to the rocks, trees, and plants around me…” The photos of the human-like trees in snow are exceptional. This was probably a once in a lifetime day there – unless climate change once again has those deserts in the crosshairs? Absolutely marvelous post. Thank you for showing the park in a new light.

    • Thanks so much, Babsje, for your lovely comment. I delight in bringing you the magic and sacredness of Joshua Tree. And knowing that you are going through a tough time and reading my post with eyes that struggle to see right now, makes it extra special. My warmest thanks and gratitude to you.

  10. Your descriptions were nearly poetic. It was wonderful to read. The photos are amazing. Most of my Joshua experience is in NV and AZ, but Iโ€™ve been through that part of CA. Itโ€™s a strange mixture of wildlife. Familiar things like mule deer, mountain lions, and bobcats, but itโ€™s also the home of bighorn sheep, tortoises, tarantulas, and lizards that escape on their hind legs, like the collared lizard. It also has immigrants like wild burros, that I enjoy seeing. Neat place to spend some time just letting it influence your thoughts and listening to distant quail.

    • I really enjoyed your experiences in Joshua Tree and the deserts, Craig. I remember that you grew up in NV and have many desert experiences. And I really appreciated your kind words on the writing and photos; you know well the experience of writing and letting the surroundings influence one’s thoughts. I love.love.love your reference to the lizard that can escape on its hind legs. Too cold for lizards on this trip to Joshua Tree, but I have seen frilled lizards do that in Australia and it is so fast and almost unbelievable. We love this planet, you and I.

    • I really enjoyed your comment, Mike, especially since you were a stalwart man of the Alps for so long. It is rare for snow in Joshua Tree, yes, and rare for us to be in it too, and it was really delightful. Glad I could share it with you.

  11. A very lyrical ode to an iconic park. Iโ€™ve visited Zion in winter and it is very special. Waterfalls tumbling from normally dry 1000-ft cliffs. My one detour to Joshua Tree was unfortunately on a weekend. I think half of LA was in the park or in Palm Springs. Couldnโ€™t even find a room, much less a camp site! Mojave NP is always blissfully devoid of crowds. Of all our deserts, the Mojave is my favorite.

  12. Incredible experience, and how fortunate that you were able to be at Joshua during that rare snow event! That sacred, spectral quality of the desert life, that dancing vibrancy, comes through the words & photographs & allows us to read enjoyably about the wonders of the desert park. Thank you, Jet.

  13. What a fascinating experience, Jet. My daughter usually vacations with a friend in this area over the winter, and I never wouldโ€™ve imagined that snow falls there! Athenaโ€™s photographs are marvelous, and I love your descriptions of the treesโ€™ transformations.

    • Thanks very much, BJ. It is easy to see why your daughter would vacation here regularly, and yes, it was truly unexpected to be in the snow in Joshua Tree in early March. We went there hoping to see wildflowers. But you know well how unpredictable nature can be, and how we learn, as outdoor enthusiasts, to enjoy whatever it is that greets us. And boy did we. Fun to share it with you, thanks for your visit.

  14. I’ve been lucky enough to experience snow a few times here on the Texas Gulf Coast, and there’s nothing more magical than seeing our palms and yuccas covered with snow. I’ve never seen this amount of snow on the coast, but in 2004 we got enough for snowmen and snowball fights: several inches, on Christmas Eve. People who’ve been around for a while still talk about our Christmas miracle, and it seems to me that your experience in Joshua Tree must have been much the same. It’s just beautiful, as well as being a good source of moisture. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience with us!

    • Yes, the snow in Joshua Tree was much like what you describe about the “Christmas Miracle” on the TX Gulf Coast. I liked reading your description and how people still talk about it. Great fun to share the joy of Joshua Tree with you, Linda, thanks very much.

  15. Pingback: A Snowy Day in Joshua Tree โ€” Jet Eliot | Bobbi's Blog

  16. Amazing photos and truly capturing the complete transformation from harsh desert to soft, white (but cold). How unique! Even though we’re very used to snow covered scenes, Joshua Tree under a fresh blanket of snow is so awesome.

    • Thanks very much, Sue or Dave, I’m so happy to “see” you and appreciate your visit. I’m glad you enjoyed the Snowy Day in Joshua Tree. I hope you are both well and enjoying life.

  17. Never been there myself – heard great things about that place from my niece and now you really have me itching to go. What a wonderful set of images – not often you get a whiteout in the desert! Congrats to Alexander for capturing the moment(s).

    • Thanks, Brian. We were thrilled, to be sure, to get this unusual day with snow and whiteout in the desert. I know whatever the season is, you will thoroughly enjoy Joshua Tree NP. So many places…so little time. Always a treat to have you stop by, thank you.

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