Joshua Tree National Park, California
The 0.3-mile interpretive loop trail that leads to Arch Rock is located in the low desert of Joshua Tree National Park—a broad transition zone where the higher, cooler Mojave and lower, hotter Colorado Deserts meet. In this part of the desert, Joshua trees are conspicuously absent, and plants of the low desert like ocotillo, palo verde, and yucca start to appear—you can watch for these specimens along the interpretive trail. For many visitors, the Joshua trees are the essence of their park experience, but for those eager to explore the sand dunes, palm oases, and massive granite rock gardens, Joshua Tree National Park offers a rich diversity of desert environments. In order to explore this diversity firsthand, head for the Arch Rock Trailhead near campsite #9 in the White Tank Campground—set amid a jumble of bold granite rock outcrops. The boulders themselves are a scenic attraction, but your goal lies part way along the trail where weathering has created jointed blocks of granite—eroded from both sides until the indentations met, creating a rock arch 25-feet long and 15-feet high. The arch, resembling the head and trunk of an earless elephant, sits perched atop a ridge that is perfect for rock scrambling—you can climb between the boulders at the base of the arch and make your way to the formation. After exploring the arch, continue hiking along the loop trail, stopping to read the interpretive signs that describe the geology and flora of the surrounding desert.