Where do you find the most condensed and diverse display of wildflowers of any hike in Joshua Tree National Park? Plus pine trees and a powerful sense of solitude? Why, in Pine City—which isn’t a city at all. It’s a 4-mile out-and-back trek.
From the trailhead, you’ll immediately notice the prominent peaks of Negro Hill and Queen Mountain (second highest in the park at 5,687 feet) to the west and northwest respectively. Something is different here: a relative absence of Joshua trees. It could be a factor of elevation, as this trail starts just below 4,500 feet and stays that high or a bit higher all the way. There’s no shortage of flora, though—a multitude of teddy bear cholla, creosote, and juniper early on.
Then wildflowers become more apparent, including the hot pink blooms of beavertail and claret-cup cacti, purple Mojave asters, and red desert Indian paintbrush, to name just a few! And what about the pines? Well, at 1.3 miles, you’ll reach the monzonite boulder wall that signifies the border of Pine City. Hop off the trail here and explore the natural rock labyrinth, home to the plethora of piñon pines that give the “city” its name. Scramble on the rocks and wander the granite maze. Back on the main trail, continue 0.7 mile, where a sign indicates the end of the maintained trail.
Here you’re surrounded by commanding canyon views and a dramatic vista of the town of Twentynine Palms in the distance. You’ll also enjoy some more blooms—strange pink panamint live-forevers and dainty yellow blossoms among the sharp spines of barrel cacti—before you about-face back to the trailhead.
BONUS: Steps away from the Pine City trailhead is the 1-mile out-and-back walk to an overlook of the remnants of Desert Queen Mine, source of ore processed at Wall Street Mill. Ambitious hikers can venture down into the canyon to get a closer look at the facilities that were once operated by that sage of the desert, Bill Keys.
STAY: Ryan Campground, with 31 sites, is a first-come, first-served campground that is convenient to all of the hikes in the heart of the park. It’s got an amazing view of Lost Horse Valley area at sunset, easy access to the ruins of nearby Ryan Ranch, and is much quieter than Hidden Valley or Jumbo Rock. For more information visit the park’s camping information page.
From the West Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, follow Park Blvd. 16 miles and turn left on Desert Queen Mine Rd. (a smooth dirt road). Continue 1.3 miles to the Pine City trailhead. No dogs on trails in the national park. Entrance fee is $25 per vehicle for 7 days—but free this weekend, April 22–23, 2017.