Back to California: Skull Rock, Ryan Mountain & the Cholla Cactus Garden at Joshua Tree National Park

Since being back in California, a single day has not passed by that I haven’t gone out exploring. Sometimes, the exploration is within the desert downtown areas and sometimes it’s out in the wild. For my birthday, I hiked the 49 Palms Canyon Oasis Trail. I spent Thursday at the Joshua Tree Music Festival. Then, on Friday, I finally decided to visit Joshua Tree National Park.

Before my trip, I had originally decided against hiking on my own. What if I got bitten by a rattlesnake? What if there was some other emergency and I had no phone signal? Once I arrived, I decided it was impossible for me to be here and not go hiking. I also felt a lot safer going by myself than with people I only met after visiting.

The Joshua Tree Landscape

So, I headed into Joshua Tree National Park solo. I got to the park within an hour or so of sunrise and had a wonderful time soaking up the desert.

One of the perks of travelling solo is that I get to pick my own music and can crow as loudly as I like. The song in this video is Send the Pain Below by Chevelle.

The desert mountainscape was beautiful, but I was wondering where all the Joshua Trees were. A few miles later, they popped up. I

Photobombing the Skull Rock

To be perfectly honest, the Skull Rock was not on my to-see list. I try to avoid the more stereotypical trails when I hike. Even so, in the midst of singing backup, I saw the Skull Rock sign and pulled over.


I thought I would need to hike to see this Skull Rock and wanted to check for a sign and see how far it was. I was wrong. Skully was right there staring at me.

In front of the Skull Rock were boulders you can climb onto to get a good view, which is precisely what I did.


Skully wasn’t the only thing worth seeing up there, either. Seeing that ranger truck was really reassuring.

Hiking Up Ryan Mountain

As I got closer to Ryan Mountain, the terrain grew rockier. I realise the videos do the desert terrain more justice than mere photos, so you’ll have to live through my singing for a while longer.

That was just a half-mile from the entrance to Ryan Mountain, so I arrived moments later.


The sun was high and bright, but it was in the 50s, and hiking 1,050 feet up the mountain didn’t help much either. The climb up begins with steps made from rock and then begins to curve around the mountain through a pass, and then continues upwards. It totals 3 miles (1.5 miles each way).


These are some shots of the view partway up.


The view at the very top wasn’t as beautiful, in my opinion, but is still worth seeing. There’s also the feeling of accomplishment from making it all the way up.

Believe it or not, I passed two other women hiking solo on the trail. There were also two guys hiking by themselves.

Seeing the Cholla Cactus Garden


Ideally, I would have loved to see this at sunrise. Some people recommend seeing it at sunset, but I’ve gotten lost in the desert often enough to know this is a bad idea for me, especially being out there alone. Unfortunately, I didn’t leave the hotel early enough to make it before sunrise.

There is also no phone signal. Google directed me to Ryan Mountain because it preloaded the route. Once I hiked down from the mountain and jumped back into the car, I was on my own.

I found the Cholla Cacti Gardens through memory of where it had been on the map and a dose of good luck. I made one wrong turn, but thankfully, I realised within half a mile and turned around.


Many people say the drive isn’t worth it. I disagree. This is the eeriest “garden” I have ever seen in my life and I wish I really had seen it at sunrise. But, with so much to do here, I doubt I’ll be driving back there just for that.


Here are some of the photos of the garden.

There are several signs in the area warning you not to touch the cacti. Please heed this warning. There was a woman gripping her hand and crying when I first arrived. Do not touch the cacti.

The spikes detach very easily and have hooks, making it very difficult and painful to remove them.

A Note on Solo Adventure Travel

I get asked a lot about where I find the nerve to travel alone and why I do. Truth is: I’m an only child and love no one’s company more than my own. I feel no envy for the families, friends and couples who travel together. I have done romantic getaways, family vacations and group trips. While I do enjoy them, there’s an unrivalled peace that comes from travelling solo.

For the women thinking of leaving the kids, your husband or the cats at home, I encourage you to do so. I’ll be writing about this more because it’s getting really annoying being constantly asked why I didn’t bring this person or that person along.

I can’t imagine how many women this deters from travelling because their partner or best friend can’t go with them and there’s the automatic assumption that she should bring someone with her or be asked to justify her position. Or worse, not go at all.

I hope my travel posts encourage women to leave home and see more of their world or someone else’s — alone. Men could have ten kids and a wife and never need to justify travelling solo (I know several of them and we discuss this all the time!). So, why should you?

Life is short. Enjoy it while you can!

16 thoughts on “Back to California: Skull Rock, Ryan Mountain & the Cholla Cactus Garden at Joshua Tree National Park

  1. A lot of people seem to think warning signs are really pointers for great experiences. I see that a lot with “don’t go past this sign.” Keep having fun.

    1. Haha, I suppose that’s true for some. I went out there planning on keeping an eye for snakes, but the fact that the police still has no idea why/how that man disappeared made the threat worse. The worst enemy is the one you can’t recognise!

  2. Thank you for sharing your adventures and a part of your life!.. 🙂

    “Life gives us brief moments with another, but sometimes in those brief moments we get memories that last a lifetime, So live that your memories will be part of your happiness.” (Author Unknown).

    1. Thank you! I really hope it inspires more people to leave their comfort zone and try new things. 🙂

    1. Thanks Peter! I spent a lot of time in my early 20s battling that fear of striking out alone as a solo traveler. I’m glad I finally did!

    1. Another feather indeed!

      I have no idea why she didn’t listen. Maybe it wasn’t intentional though. There was a photographer nearby and she got dangerously close to one. I don’t think she even noticed.

  3. I totally agree that women should go on solo trips and not be questioned or have to explain!
    It’s lovely to be alone and not having to put up (either side) with things you don’t enjoy or want to do.
    Thanks for sharing and motivating other women 🙂

  4. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Joshua tree but I used to go there quite a bit and my younger days to hike, camp and rock climb.

    I’ve also hiked up Ryan mountain and on the way down almost got bit by a rattlesnake that was sunning himself on a rock right next to the trail and it knee level. Luckily he warned me he was there and I must have jumped back 10 ft lol.

    I hope you spent some time out in Joshua tree at night to see the milky way and all the rest of the stars.

    1. Oh wow! I’m not sure what my reaction would have been like to that snake. The locals told me yesterday that rattlesnakes are the gentlemen of the snake kingdom because they rattle.

      I said, “Yeah, MOST of them do. What do I do if they don’t??”

      They very casually said, “Well, it’s not like you’ll die. You’ll get airlifted from the trail and given the antidote. It only hurts. It’s not usually lethal.”

      Who invented Californians?? Haha!! They said that so calm, like getting bitten by a snake was the most normal thing in all the world! 😆🤣

      I was out in Wonder Valley last night at a bonfire and was really disappointed that I didn’t get to see it. They said it’s because we have a full/bright moon. Hopefully it gets dark enough before I leave. That was on my to-do list for here for sure.

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