Bobcats, Coyotes, Ravens, Oh My! Wildlife Encounters in Joshua Tree National Park

The most stark transition from the southeast to the southwest has been the shift from humid forests to barren desert landscapes. The change from tall pines and moist soil to cacti and parched sand has been the most visually obvious transformation – but my favorite difference is in the wildlife that inhabits my new surroundings.

The creatures of the desert are true warriors in this harsh environment. Battling daily for basic needs like water, food, and shelter from the relentless sun, I often found myself amazed that they can survive in the merciless conditions of Joshua Tree National Park. Catching a glimpse of desert wildlife is often a daunting task itself – I spent the entire three weeks we were in Joshua Tree, Phoenix, and Joshua Tree on keen lookout for a desert tortoise, and saw nothing but their burrows.

A Scrub Jay in Joshua National Park in California.In Joshua Tree National Park, some creatures have learned to take advantage of picnicking humans – like this Scrub Jay who surprised us by landing inches away from Niko and I while we were snacking on sunflower seeds atop a boulder at Baker Dam. He was totally undaunted by us, and hopped all over our area begging for some seeds.

While it was pretty neat to have such a close encounter with a Scrub Jay, it made Niko and I pause to think about the impact humans have on the wild terrain of Joshua Tree National Park. This creature has clearly learned that humans are an easy source of food – how long before he abandoned eforts of getting food on his own?

Like any honorable outdoors folk, we didn’t give him any of our bounty – because wildlife should always be kept wild!

Aside from our feathered friend, there were many wildlife sightings throughout the climbing and camping areas we frequented during our trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Rabbits could often be seen scurrying through the brush, and coyotes patrolled the Hidden Valley campground on a nightly basis.

Our most impressive animal encounter at Joshua Tree occurred while we were on our way out of the park. Wrecked from climbing and the harsh desert elements, we had decided to retreat back into town when we suddenly noticed a bit of commotion on the road ahead of us. Always prepared, I unholstered my camera in anticipation of whatever was causing the mini traffic jam. We rolled a few yards ahead, and our path was suddenly blocked by a flurry of fur.

Once my eyes adjusted, I realized that two coyotes were chasing a bobcat through the desert. The coyotes boldly sauntered across the road in front of us as the big bobcat clawed its way up a Joshua Tree to seek refuge from its agressors. Conveniently, the entire scene played out right in front of the van, lending to these two excellent shots:

A coyote chases a bobcat in Joshua Tree National Park.
A bobcat seeks refuge in a joshua tree as a raven swoops overhead at Joshua Tree National Park in California.

It wasn’t quite the tortiose sighting I had been so eager for, but this chaotic encounter with a big cat certainly satisfied my craving for a unique wildlife encounter in Joshua Tree National Park. Whoever said the deserts are a desolate place without life has clearly never spent a week at this incredible national park.

Slushy hillside hiking and coyote sightings at Four Mile Creek in Boulder, CO

Weekday escapes to Boulder have become a new tradition as I frequently flee the city limits of Denver to embark on adventures with my mountain-dwelling gal pal, Jane. Our favorite haunt is Flagstaff Mountain, which offers abundant moderate climbs and steep, scenic hiking – but today we opted to scope out a new venue for our afternoon explorations. We scoured the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks website in search of a new destination, and debated the merits of several different options before settling on the Four Mile Creek/South Foothills trail head off Broadway and Lee Hill.

This area is great for hill runners, leisurely dog-walkers, casual hikers, and even features a paved lower path ideal for handicapped outdoor adventurers – plus, these hills sit directly in the sun, making them a warm winter hiking spot. The beginning of the trail was wide and packed with gravel, though the wintry conditions had us trudging through thick puddles of frozen mud and slick patches of ice. Jane and I appreciated the extra natural challenges, and eagerly stomped on melting sheets of ice as we pressed towards our first loop on the Old Kiln Trail, which led us to a historical limestone kiln dating back to early settlement days.

After easily completing the short mile-long trail, we hiked back to the original fork that separated towards the Old Kiln path, and this time followed a trail that led us to a very frozen Wonderland Lake. Eager to head up into the hills, we veered away from our lake-bound course and headed up a steep, narrow trail that wound up towards the hilltop. Always late to commence our outdoor discoveries, it was nearly sunset as we clamored up the foothills. As usual, Jane captured some impressive shots on her phone – check ’em out.

On the way back from our hike, Jane and I were entertaining ourselves with the sights of hundreds of fat, barking prairie dogs that dwell along the foothills when we spotted a creature I’ve been dying to see since I started my adventures in Colorado: a sly coyote. We watched as the hungry predator chased plump prairie pups into their tunnels – I was admittedly a little worried that one of my chubby little buddies would become this carnivore’s lunch. Fortunately for me, the prairie dogs managed to stave off the coyote’s tactics, and eventually sent him retreating up the hill as they loudly expressed their disapproval of his presence.

I may have missed this week’s edition of Travel Talk on Twitter, but the great day of hiking and wildlife encounters made it absolutely worth it. I can’t wait to head back to this spot with more time on my hands so I can summit the hill and hopefully meet a few more coyotes.