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Hearts or Skulls this Valentine’s Day? Find Both at Joshua Tree

Depending on your relationship status this Valentine's Day you may be seeing either hearts or skulls, or even some combination of both.

That can certainly happen in Joshua Tree National Park where you can find both a Skull Rock and a Heart Rock, and both are very appropriately named.

Joshua Tree is located 120 miles due east of Los Angeles. It's known for its distinctive cactus that have been said to look like something Dr. Seuss created. Oh, and yes, some band called U2 named an album Joshua Tree.

What people not familiar with the park might not know is there are many rock formations scattered throughout. There are areas that look like they could have come straight from Fred Flinstone’s Bedrock.

Two of the most easily accessible are Skull Rock and Heart Rock.

Skull Rock

Photo of Skull Rock in Joshua Tree.
No doubt, Skull Rock lives up to its name. **

Skull Rock is located directly beside the roadway circling around the park. It's less than a hundred yards from where you park your car so if you can walk, you can get to it.

Darling Daughter was along with me for part of this trip. Ever the skeptic of the two of us, she wasn’t so excited about seeing “skull” rock. Something about wasting time to see a rock that won’t even look like a skull.

However, upon further review, even she was quite pleased that it very much, indeed, does look like a skull. No imagination required.

As described by the National Park Service (NPS):

“It began long ago when rain drops accumulated in tiny depressions and started to erode the granite. As more rock eroded, more water accumulated, leading to more erosion until, as time passed, two hollowed-out eye sockets formed and the rock began to resemble a skull.”

Photo of woman on hiking trail between and beneath massive rock walls.
Darling Daughter working her way between some of the boulders located in the area behind Skull Rock. **

If you’re looking to get in a hike there, the NPS site also describes a nearby 1.7 mile trail. What it doesn’t talk about is how much fun you can have climbing around and exploring the rock formations immediately behind Skull Rock. You can easily spend a half hour climbing over, around and even squeezing through the boulders.

Heart and Arch Rock

The first thing you should know about Heart Rock is don’t look for it on the NPS Joshua Tree map. That’s because it’s not there, there isn’t an official trail to the rock.

To get there start on the Arch Rock Nature Trail. The trail is wide and flat, well defined and only 1.4 miles out and back. The name says it all, it leads to a rock that has been eroded by the sands of time to form an arch.

In addition to the arch, other formations are also in the same area. One of the great things about the area around the arch is the number of informational signs, more than I usually find when hiking in the parks, describing what you are seeing and how they came to be.

To get to Heart Rock you have to go off-trail, so to speak. There is a bit of a trail, formed by the hundreds of hikers who have preceded you to the site, but not a formal one created by the NPS.

Photo of large boulder that looks like a heart with more boulders in the background.
Like Skull Rock, there's no doubt where Heart Rock gets its name. **

When you first arrive at the Arch Rock area you’ll see a sign telling you that you can go either right or left to get to the Arch. I was initially confused by this, feeling a bit like I was taking directions from the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Not only was the sign telling me I could go both ways, but the sign itself was faced in the opposite direction so I was looking at the back of it when I first arrived.

I chose to head off right and soon realized the trail is a short loop so you’ll get to the Arch regardless of which way you choose, hence the reason for the sign pointing in both directions. I still have no idea why the sign is facing the other way.

To get to Heart Rock, take a hard left when you first arrive at that sign and follow your nose. Just look a bit for footprints and you’ll find the way. Because it doesn’t appear on an official map I don’t know exactly how far it is from Arch Rock but I would guess around a third of a mile.

Photo of Arch Rock, a very large boulder that has had the middle eroded away, creating an arch appearance.
Arch Rock **

The trail does disappear a bit in spots but just keep moving forward. One nice thing is previous hikers have stacked cairns along the way, some have even fashioned rocks in the shape of hearts, so you will have markers helping you know you’re still on the path.

Heart Rock does very much look like a heart. It’s a highly shot Instagram location and would be a great spot to go if you do have that special someone in your life, whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not.


**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address,, or a link back to this page.


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