The Timeless Beauty of Ancient Joshua Trees Along Nevada's Joshua Tree Highway - And a Lurking Cougar...or Was that All in My Head?

The Timeless Beauty of Ancient Joshua Trees Along Nevada's Joshua Tree Highway - And a Lurking Cougar...or Was that All in My Head?

Having just left the busy Quartzsite area, (my 14 day BLM limit was up at Dome Rock) I headed for a place to soak in the solitude. Due to the busy season of Quartzsite kicking into high gear, I was more than ready to skeddadle on out of there! My camping spot was fairly private at Dome Rock, Quartzsite, but sandwiched between a busy side road and the highway, and the constant hum of vehicles wasn't very conducive to the quietude that I craved. So, off I went in search of a new spot to call home for the next two weeks. Read my blog post on how I accidentally ended up at Quartzsite during the busiest season of the year!

dome rock sunset near quartzsite arizona blogger travel artist meganaroon photo

A beautiful sunset coloring the sky at Dome Rock BLM near Quartzsite, AZ

I will be heading to Las Vegas end of the month to see my daughter, her fiance and his family, so decided to head that way and find a place somewhere between Quartzsite and Vegas to park up. I have a spot just south of Las Vegas that I like for riding my bike, but I wanted to discover a new place I'd never stayed before. So, I headed to check out my favorite van life app, ioverlander. I found the perfect spot!  It just so happened to be on one of my favorite stretches of highway I've ever drove on - The Joshua Tree Highway.  And yes, it is literally a forest of Joshua Trees as far as the eye can see; even more dense than Joshua Tree National Park, with towering 900+ year old trees standing as ancient sentinels along the highway.  If you want to experience the beauty of Joshua Trees without all the people that congregate to Joshua Tree National Park, this is the place!  You can be assured you will rarely see another soul as you traverse through these giant beauties dotting the desert floor as far as the eye can see.

Nevada's Joshua Tree Highway is a mesmerizing stretch of road that winds through the stark and captivating landscape of the Silver State. While Joshua trees are often associated with California, this unique highway in Nevada offers a lesser-known but equally breathtaking experience, especially when it comes to the ancient Joshua trees that line its route.  I drove on this highway last year, once again making the trek to Las Vegas to visit with family, and I was in awe.  I made a mental note to myself that I would have to stop here and get better acquainted one day soon.  And that day is here, and I was thrilled to find that other intrepid adventurers had found a place in the Wee Thump Recreation Area off the highway to boondock for up to 14 days.  The reviews were very positive on the ioverlander app, although, one of them did give me pause...there was mention of cougar tracks.  I was surpirsed at this, as it's in the desert, with the mountain ranges quite far off in the distance.  I would have to be on the lookout for any signs, and do some internet sleuthing to see if cougars were known to inhabit this area.

But, first, I had to pack up the van and get everything ready for driving, always a task, making sure everything is in a safe, secure place as each time the van hits the road it's like my home is experiencing an earthquake, haha!  I brought my Starlink inside, double checked outside making sure nothing was left behind and hopped behind the wheel, excited to discover a new place to boondock.

On the way, I stopped to do some chores - empty garbage, fill up my water jugs, grab a few items at the grocery store, and get gas while it was cheap. Paid $3.30 a gallon and the cheapest I saw once I crossed into CA and NV was $4.50, glad I filled up!

sunset amongst the joshua trees at el dorado wagon trail in the wee thump recreation area (1)
Joshua Trees set against a billowing sky of pink and purple clouds

As I turned onto Joshua Tree Highway I was awed once again by these iconic trees, with their distinctive spiky leaves and twisted branches, that create a surreal and otherworldly atmosphere that transports you to a different era. I have a fascination with trees, and you will see them prominently featured in most of my art, and the Joshua Trees are no exception to my continued love affair.  I drove several miles, taking stock of the fact that this road was barely trafficked at all, and perfect for riding my bike.  The GPS alerted me that my turn off was just ahead and I excitedly pulled onto the dirt road, noting that the parking spot I was headed to was only a half mile down the road, so it would be an easy hike-a-bike/ride in the dirt to reach the paved highway for biking.  

As I approached the spot I noted it was also a trailhead for the El Dorado Wagon Trail, perhaps I would also get in some hiking while I was here - I'm always up for a great hike!   

  • Excerpt from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management)website: The Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness, west of Searchlight, Nevada, is relatively small for a designated wilderness, at just 6,050 acres. But what it may lack in size, it more than makes up for in stunning natural history. The name Wee Thump, or “ancient ones” in the Paiute language, tells the story of these Joshua trees. Growing just half an inch per year on average, the stand is home to some of the oldest and largest Joshua trees on the planet. These ancient ones have grown tall in the silence of the desert, some rising to more than 30 feet over 900 years. 
The trail is considered moderate and looked to be a fairly flat, level hike in some hard packed sand.  At only 3.9 miles out and back it shouldn't take but a couple of hours at a leisurely pace. Some of the reviews on All Trails state that it's a hard trail to follow, so be sure to have your GPS and/or a map handy to get back to the trailhead.

    Before I could focus on hiking and biking, I needed to set up camp and rearrange everything in the van for being stationary.  Afterwards, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and perused the internet for information on whether or not cougars actually inhabited this stretch of wilderness.  I couldn't fine anything documenting cases of cougar sightings - there was mention of bobcats and coyotes, to be expected, but I was still nervous to let Mikee roam free.  I got out of the van and spotted some random patches of snow hiding in the shadows of the Joshua Trees, yet to thaw, in spite of the 60 degree temps.  In one of those patches, there were suspicious looking animal paw prints that could have been a small cougar, but more likely a bobcat.  As I looked around some more I noted lots of fresh scat, some fairly large and my hackles stood on end, now sure that a cougar was hiding in the bushes waiting to catch me off guard and pounce!  Haha, the perils of having a waaaay over active imagination!  But, regardless if there was a cougar in the area or not, I wasn't taking any chances, with either Mikee, or myself.  So, I let her out for just a bit, and closely watched her as she gingerly stepped out of the van, upon which she quickly decided she was happier inside.  This is very unlike her, she loves to go outside and explore new areas.  She always stays close, but likes to chase the bugs and birds, not that she's ever caught one, haha, she's not the best hunter.  The fact that she wasn't too keen on venturing outside at all, made me even more nervous that maybe she sensed a predator lurking about. 

    van life boondocking amonst the joshua trees in the wee thump recreationa rea of nevada

    Parked my van snuggled up amongst the majestic Joshua Trees

    Welp, that did it for me with the solo hiking, I was already thinking the worst, no sense in scaring myself on what should be a fun, enjoyable hike. Normally I don't let these kind of fears stop me from hiking, but when there seems to be evidence that a cougar might be in the area, and there wasn't another soul around, I just didn't feel comfortable chancing it.  Instead I figured I would just ride my bike the following day - well, that didn't go as planned either!  The wind picked up something fierce, rocking the van for the next several days.  And riding my bike on an open road with 20+ mph winds, just wasn't that appealing, or safe for that matter.  Since all my outdoor activities seemed pretty well shot, it was as good a time as any to get to work on my newest National Park painting of White Sands.  

    Working on my white sands national park painting while camped out at wee thump recreationa area Nevada
    Working on my Newest National Park Painting - White Sands

    For the next couple of days, I sketched and painted, and enjoyed the solitude and beauty of the area.  But, after a couple of days mostly being cooped up, I decided my plan to stay for 14 days just wasn't going to work out.  That's the beauty of living in my van, I can just move whenever I want.  And even though this area is incredibly scenic and quiet, and brings peace to the soul, minus the thought of cougars roaming about, I needed to go somewhere I could feel safe and comfortable exploring the outdoors and letting Mikee out. So, off we went to my spot south of Las Vegas perfect for riding my bike and thankfully no cougars around.  We are now camped out in the open desert, safe for both Mikee and I, and FINALLY I can get some cycling time in.  I have yet to ride my bike this year, which is not like me at all, and I'm just jonesing to get out there and ride. (I did get a ride in yesterday, yay!)

    My takeaway ~ This is the life of a solo female van lifer and her cat. Just go with the flow, and simply move if a place isn't working out, no matter how scenic and beautiful.  I love this about my life, it never gets old - the freedom to just be, to experience the wonder of our natural world and have the choice to live everywhere, and nowhere, all at once. 

    If you ever get the chance and are in this part of Nevada, take the drive down Joshua Tree Highway, you won't regret it - it's magical.

    joshua tree pink blue purple sunset travel photo by artist blogger MeganAroon copy

    Ancient Joshua Trees in the Wee Thump Recreation Area of Nevada


    Sign up for my Newsletter all about new art, blog posts and more!

    Back to blog

    Leave a comment