|Pinto Basin and Little San Bernardino Mountains from Ryan Mountain|
Access: Paved road, $20 entrance fee for Joshua Tree National Park
Ryan Mountain sits near the heart of California's Joshua Tree National Park, offering hikers a bird's eye view not only of the park's distinctive Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems but also, seemingly, of all the vast expanses of desert of Southern California. An added bonus is that this airy viewpoint is not difficult to reach: most hikers in reasonably okay shape who bring plenty of water will be able to reach this summit. It is an unmissable hike for any visitor to the park.
Joshua Tree National Park encompasses mountains, mines, and two distinctive desert ecosystems. The Colorado Desert, or the low desert, forms the eastern half of the park and contains none of the park's namesake yucca; instead, the drier and hotter landscape is dominated by cholla cactus, ocotillo, and creosote. The Mojave Desert, or high desert, is home to the Joshua Tree, a yucca named for its outstretched arms which reminded early Mormon settlers of the Biblical Joshua praying. Ryan Mountain lies within the Mojave Desert, but is situated close enough to the boundary between the two to offer sweeping views of both areas. The mountain is easily recognizable from most of the park: it towers over the flat Mojave Desert, towering over the forests of Joshua Trees found along the Park Boulevard.
|Ryan Mountain amidst the Joshua Trees, seen from Keys View Road|
I hiked this trail on a crisp, clear November day on a day visit to Joshua Tree. The trailhead is accessible either by driving in via the Park Boulevard from Twentynine Palms or Joshua Tree, or by driving in from the Pinto Basin Road from the park's southern entrance. Accessing either approach from the Los Angeles metropolitan area requires following I-10 east into Coachella Valley. Most visitors come by the Park Boulevard from Joshua Tree, which is the fastest route; I came from the Pinto Basin Road, which is far less traveled but undeservedly so. The Pinto Basin is quite a remarkable landscape and it's certainly worth the extra time to drive in from the south to explore the rest of the park. When I reached the junction between the Pinto Basin Road and the Park Boulevard, I turned left on the Park Boulevard in the direction of Joshua Tree rather than Twentynine Palms, and followed the road until I reached the trailhead for Ryan Mountain, which from this direction was on the left side of the road.
Heading south from the parking area, the trail immediately began climbing up the slopes of Ryan Mountain, passing some large rocks near the trailhead. The trail soon began to climb along the west face of the mountain, ascending up the side of the slope with views of the flat desert to the west of Ryan Mountain and of the Wonderland of Rocks, the fascinating jumble of monzogranite in the northwest of the park. The hike was quite popular, with heavy traffic going both ways, so I was glad that the trail was fairly wide as it traversed Ryan Mountain's slopes.
|Wonderland of Rocks and the forest of Joshua Trees|
|Mojave desert from Ryan Mountain|
|Queen Mountain and the ravine approach to Ryan Mountain|
|Approaching the summit|
|San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Peaks from Ryan Mountain|
|Cholla Cactus Garden in the Pinto Basin|