The many short hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, such as Skull Rock, Split Rock and Hidden Valley, are a marvelous way to experience the park’s mystical rock heaps, but experiencing the solitude and vast spaces of the park’s wilderness generally requires backcountry hiking and camping. One way for those less fit (or anyone needing a rest day) to get away from the more-visited parts of the park is to take the 17-mile four-wheel drive geology tour road for a bit of adventure.
The tour road starts just west of the Jumbo Rocks Campground, where the free tour brochure is available. The first 5 miles of the road is well-graded and suitable for passenger cars. Great views of the Queen Valley, Ryan Mountain and the twin peaks of Malapai Hill to the west contrast with the jumbled granite boulder mounds to the east. The historic Squaw Tank is reached about 5 miles in, and this marks the stopping point for vehicles that aren’t high-clearance (or any vehicles after or during a significant rainfall).
Shortly after the Squaw Tank pullout, the road forks to a clockwise one-way loop and heads east and south across Pleasant Valley to the 1.7 billion-year-old Pinto gneiss of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. This loop offers spectacular views across the ancient dry lake bed, old mine remnants and the roughest road segments of the tour. Along the way, the park brochure offers much information about the geological forces that created the landscape and many examples of how fault activity, volcanic activity and erosion have created this unique terrain.