If you're ever in Southern California and get the chance, visit Joshua Tree National Park. It's a really cool place. We went there in January 2003, so Neil wasn't even a year old yet. I remember taking a hike on the Hidden Valley Trail. At the time, Nathan was really into The Land Before Time animated dinosaur movies. He rode in a baby backpack on Rick's back for this hike and I remember him stopping everyone we passed telling them how we were searching for the Great Valley, just like the dinosaurs did in the movies. Joshua Tree is a fun park to visit, especially in the winter when it's cooler. The big attraction are the Joshua trees, of course.
Joshua trees are members of the giant lily family. They look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book with their spiky, twisted branches going off in all directions. Native American Indians used the trees to make sandals, baskets and also as a source of food. It's believed that the Mormons named the trees after Joshua in the Bible. Ranchers homesteaded the area and used the branches of Joshua trees for fencing and corrals. Miners used the trees as a source of fuel for the steam engines they used to process ore. The tallest tree in the park is about 40 feet high and estimated to be around 300 years old. Joshua trees provide homes and shelter for all sorts of birds, mammals, insects, and lizards. It's a fun place to visit, and just like Death Valley NP, it's like being on a different planet at times. There are a lot of large rock formations there, and when it gets too cold for rock climbers in Yosemite, they come to Joshua Tree to climb.
On a completely different note -- I was featured in a blog interview yesterday over at Susan's Thoughts and Ramblings. It's a short interview, but I was honored that Susan contacted me to do it. Please check it out and leave a comment if you can. She has some other fun Quickie Interviews on her blog as well as lots of helpful tips for writers. Thank you Susan!