Split Rock Trail

Color photo of Joshua trees in front of a large mound of split boulders at sunset. Photo: NPS / Robb Hannawacker
Split Rock Loop Trail

NPS / Robb Hannawacker

 

Trail Information

This trail begins in rocky terrain, crosses washes, ascends through boulder fields, and then winds through oak and pine woodland before concluding with washes and Joshua tree woodland. The trail is a two-mile (3.2-km) loop and total elevation gain is approximately 150 feet (46 m).
 
Map of the Split Rock area. The trail makes a loop, with a spur that goes to the road. Starting from where the spur meets the loop, at approximately 3 o'clock on a clock face, the trail moves counter-clockwise through sections 1-4, each 1/4 of the total.

Trail Map

 
Color photo of dark purple flowers on a green branch.

Section 1

California Indigo Bush

Psorothamnus arborescens var. simplicifolius
April–May

This shrub puts on a lovely display of blossoms that can vary from cobalt to violet. If it isn’t in bloom, you can still look for the bean-like fruit that is characteristic of the Fabaceae family. The Cahuilla used indigo bush medicinally and as a light yellowish-brown dye for decorating their baskets.
 
Pink-hued flower with darker pink stripes down the center of each petal, with a yellow head.

Cushion Foxtail Cactus

Coryphantha alversonii
April–June

Cushion foxtail cactus, a stem succulent, is known for its brilliant pink bloom and spines tipped with reddish black. Though you can find it throughout Joshua Tree National Park, it has a limited distribution elsewhere. It grows only in a small region in the transition zone between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts in California, making it endemic to the state and of conservation concern.
 
Color photo of five-petaled yellow flowers. Ends of petals are forked.

False Woolly Daisy

Syntrichopappus fremontii
March–June

This diminutive plant has only five distinct ray flowers, each of which appears as one “petal.” It grows on sandy or gravelly soils above 2,000 feet (600 m) throughout the southwestern deserts, but is fairly uncommon in the park. It was named for John C. Frémont after he documented it in 1854 during one of his expeditions across North America.
 
Color photo of purple flowers and yellow glands on a shrub.

Darrell Shade

Section 2

Turpentine Broom

Thamnosma montana
February–March

Thamnosma means “odorous shrub” in Greek. Rub the stems or fruits of this gland-dotted shrub and you might recognize the spicy aroma: it is a close relative to the citrus fruits. The yellowish-green stems are leafless most of the year and bear a fruit that looks like a tiny two-lobed lemon.
 
Small white flowers on a long straw-colored stem.

Wright's Buckwheat

Eriogonum wrightii
June–August

The sweet nectar of Wright’s buckwheat provides nourishment for a great diversity of native bee pollinators, as well as butterflies such as the beautiful Mormon metalmark. This common but unassuming shrub reminds us that by protecting our native vegetation we also protect a multitude of other species.
 
Color photo of a brilliant red paintbrush-like flower.

Desert Paintbrush

Castilleja chromosa
May–September

Desert paintbrush can be seen throughout the Mojave Desert. It is a root hemiparasite: although it can photosynthesize, it will insert haustoria (modified roots) into other plant roots to obtain nutrients. The bright red “floral” display is in fact not flowers, but red bracts surrounding the small, nectar-rich flower. These herbaceous perennial plants were a popular treat for Cahuilla children.
 
Color photo of a dark, short-leaved fern.

Section 3

Birds-foot Fern

Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata

Like other ferns, birds-foot fern reproduces via spores rather than seeds; it does not have flowers. In order to reproduce, the spores must be transported in water, which is why most ferns are found in very moist habitats. Desert ferns are often found in rock crevices or at the bases of boulders (keep an eye out on the left side of the trail), where they remain dormant until water becomes available.
 
Bright orange flower with deep purple center.

Desert Mariposa Lily

Calochortus kennedyi
April–June

In years when the rainfall is right, the desert mariposa lily displays brilliant orange flowers with rich, silky petals. In dry years, these geophytes (perennial plants with underground storage organs) wait underground as bulbs. For a nutritious treat, the Cahuilla people gathered these small bulbs from rocky soils and ate them raw, steamed, or roasted.
 
White-petaled flower with yellow stamen and a swollen yellow stem head.

Mojave Sandwort

Eremogone macradenia var. macradenia
April–June

Look for these tufted perennial plants with their erect stems, swollen stem nodes and needle-like leaves up on rocky slopes. Like many of the flowers in the pink, or carnation, family (Caryophyllaceae), the delicate petals of the Mojave sandwort look like they have been trimmed with pinking shears.
 
Microscopic view 6x of the dense hairs on the underside of a Muller oak leaf.
Microscopic view (6x) of dense hairs on the underside of a Muller oak leaf.

Muller Oak

Quercus cornelius-mulleri
February–April

The Muller oak is named after botanist Dr. Cornelius Muller. Its acorns mature in one year, a characteristic that defines it as a white oak. The Muller oak’s leaves are strongly bicolored due to a dense mat of white, stellate (star-shaped) hairs on the underside of the leaf (top photo). This is the most common oak we have in the park.
 
Microscopic view 6x of the dense hairs on the underside of a Tucker oak leaf.
Microscopic view (6x) of the dense hairs on the underside of a Tucker oak leaf.

Tucker Oak

Quercus john-tuckeri
February–April

The Tucker oak is also present along this trail. The leaves on the Tucker oak, named after oak expert Dr. John Tucker, do not appear bicolored because they lack the dense white hairs on the lower leaf surface.
 
Close-up photo of small whiteish berries surrounded by green leaves.

Oak Mistletoe

Phoradendron leucarpum ssp. tomentosum
December–March

Mistletoes are hemiparasitic plants: although they draw nutrients from their host plant, they can also photosynthesize. The large, flat leaf blades distinguish oak mistletoe from desert mistletoe, which has scale-like leaves. Oak mistletoe taps into oak trees. In this case, you will find it on the Tucker oak (Quercus john-tuckeri).
 
Bright red berries on an orange-red stem.

Desert Mistletoe

Phoradendron californicum
January–March

Mistletoes are hemiparasitic plants: although they draw nutrients from their host plant, they can also photosynthesize. The desert mistletoe utilizes arborescent shrubs and trees of the legume family (Fabaceae). The reddish stems of desert mistletoe (seen here growing on cat’s claw acacia) produce the main food source for the phainopepla, a large black or gray bird with a feathered crest. The desert mistletoe’s sticky berries can pass unharmed through the digestive tracts of the phainopepla. When the bird excretes the mistletoe’s indigestible seeds the small mound of sticky red pulp clings to the branches. If the seeds germinate on a suitable host plant, the mistletoe will attach itself with specialized “roots.” It’s a win-win: the mistletoe provides food for the phainopepla, and the bird helps disperse the plant’s seeds.
 
Color Species Habit Season
White
Ambrosia dumosa (burrobush) shrub cool
Brickellia atractyloides (pungent brickellia) shrub cool
Caulanthus cooperi (Cooper's caulanthus) annual cool
Chaenactis stevioides (Esteve's pincushion) annual cool
Cryptantha barbigera (bearded forget-me-not) annual cool
Cryptantha nevadensis (Nevada forget-me-not) annual cool
Eriogonum davidsonii (Davidson's buckwheat) annual all
Eriogonum fasciculatum (California buckwheat) shrub all
Euphorbia albomarginata (rattlesnake weed) annual all
Galium stellatum (starry bedstraw) subshrub cool
Gilia stellata (star gilia), white, pink to purple annual cool
Lepidium lasiocarpum (white pepperweed) annual cool
Lycium andersonii (Anderson's boxthorn) shrub cool
Lycium cooperi (Cooper's boxthorn) shrub cool
Nolina parryi (Parry nolina) shrub cool
Pectocarya recurvata (arched-nut comb-bur) annual cool
Pectocarya setosa (round-nut comb-bur) annual cool
Plantago patagonica (woolly plantain) annual cool
Porophyllum gracile (odora) subshrub cool
Prunus fasciculata (desert almond) shrub cool
Yucca brevifolia (Joshua tree) tree cool
Yucca schidigera (Mojave yucca) shrub cool
Yellow
Acamptopappus sphaerocephalus (goldenhead) subshrub cool
Acmispon rigidus (desert rock pea) subshrub cool
Ambrosia salsola (cheesebush) subshrub cool
Amsinckia tessellata (desert fiddleneck) annual cool
Artemisia ludoviciana (silver wormwood) perennial hot
Bahiopsis parishii (Parish's goldeneye) shrub cool
Brickellia californica (California brickellia) shrub hot
Calycoseris parryi (yellow tackstem) annual cool
Chorizanthe brevicornu (brittle spineflower) annual cool
Coleogyne ramosissima (blackbrush) shrub cool
Cylindropuntia echinocarpa (silver cholla) cactus cool
Dudleya saxosa (desert live-forever) perennial cool
Emmenanthe penduliflora (whispering bells) annual cool
Encelia actonii (Acton's brittlebush) shrub all
Ericameria cooperi (Cooper's goldenbush) shrub cool
Ericameria linearifolia (linear-leaved goldenbush) shrub cool
Ericameria teretifolia (terete-leaved rabbitbrush) shrub hot
Eriogonum inflatum (desert trumpet) perennial all
Eriogonum nidularium (whiskbroom buckwheat) annual all
Eriogonum pusillum (yellow turbans) annual all
Eriophyllum wallacei (Wallace's woolly daisy) annual cool
Eschscholzia androuxii (Joshua Tree poppy) annual cool
Gutierrezia microcephala (matchweed) subshrub hot
Ivesia saxosa (rock cinquefoil) perennial all
Larrea tridentata (creosote bush) shrub cool
Lomatium mohavense (Mojave desert parsley) perennial cool
Mentzelia albicaulis (white-stem blazing star) annual cool
Opuntia chlorotica (pancake cactus) cactus cool
Rhus aromatica (skunk bush) shrub cool
Senegalia greggii (cat's claw acacia) shrub hot
Senna armata (desert senna) shrub all
Tetradymia stenolepis (Mojave cottonthorn) shrub hot
Orange
Adenophyllum porophylloides (San Felipe dyssodia) subshrub all
Sphaeralcea ambigua (apricot mallow) perennial cool
Pink to purple
Allium parishii (Parish's onion) bulb cool
Cylindropuntia ramosissima (pencil cholla) cactus hot
Echinocereus engelmannii (hedgehog cactus) cactus cool
Krameria erecta (littleleaf ratany) shrub cool
Mirabilis laevis (wishbone bush), pink to purple, white perennial cool
Opuntia basilaris (beavertail cactus) cactus cool
Stephanomeria exigua (small wirelettuce) annual all
Stephanomeria pauciflora (brownplume wirelettuce) subshrub cool
Violet to blue
Boechera xylopoda (bigfoot hybrid rockcress) perennial cool
Delphinium parishii (Parish's larkspur) perennial cool
Eriastrum eremicum (desert woollystar) annual cool
Lupinus sparsiflorus (Coulter's lupine) annual cool
Phacelia campanularia (Canterbury bells) annual cool
Phacelia distans (lace-leaf phacelia) annual cool
Salvia columbariae (chia) annual cool
Scutellaria mexicana (paper-bag bush) shrub cool
Xylorhiza tortifolia (Mojave aster) shrub cool
Green/brown
Aristida purpurea (purple threeawn) perennial grass hot
Dasyochloa pulchella (fluffgrass) perennial grass cool
Hilaria rigida (big galleta grass) perennial grass all
Phoradendron leucarpum ssp. tomentosum (oak mistletoe) perennial hot
Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) shrub cool
Stipa speciosa (desert needlegrass) perennial grass all
Tridens muticus (slim tridens) perennial grass all
Ephedra nevadensis (Nevada jointfir) shrub cool
Juniperus californica (California juniper) shrub, tree
Pinus monophylla (singleleaf pinyon pine) tree

Last updated: July 18, 2017

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Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597

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