Barely 3 months after our first trip to Joshua Tree, we had organized and jumped on to a group camping trip with Andrew, Arvin, Brian, and a bunch of friends. For some, it was their first trip, and for others, they were hooked like us. We camped out at Indian Cove campground with reservations due to the larger group size and the desire to have sites together, but spent the first night by ourselves since the others weren't coming out until Friday. When we awoke the next morning, we went on a quick 3 mile round trip hike to 49 Palms Oasis, on the north edge of the park. This was an easy hike into a canyon with many palms (supposedly ~49....), and had views down into the town of Twentynine Palms, a sprawling desert suburbia developed due to the associated military base. 

After this, we headed off to do our offroad adventure in my 2 month old FJ Cruiser while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. The first trail we tried was the Gold Coast Road, east of Twentynine Palms, and heading into the Old Dale mining district. Unfortunately, once I got halfway up a steep shelf road, I decided that I did not have enough experience to safely navigate this terrain and needed to work my way up to that skill level slowly or risk tumbling into the rocks below. We slowly backed down and turned around, proceeding toward some other shorter offroad travels like the Geology Tour Road and, a very tame loop through the center of the park, showcasing various rock formations. We returned to Indian Cove campground to find the rest of the group there, and had a great time around the campfire into the late hours of the night.
Saturday morning the newcomers to the park went off to some of the more popular hikes and were nice enough to drop us off at the southern trailhead for the Boy Scout Trail. We ended up turning it into a 12.3 mile hike back to the Indian Cove campground by detouring to Willow Hole, a rock climber's paradise within the Wonderland of Rocks just south of Indian Cove campground. It was long, tiring, and yet relaxing due to the serenity of the terrain. When we met up with everyone later that afternoon, it was not the same late evening campfire party as the night before due to our exhaustion from a day of hiking. 
Sunday we packed up camp and headed west along Hwy 62 through the town of Joshua tree and turned south on La Contenta Road. From here, we proceeded along the rough dirt Vermiculate Mine Road which connects to Lower Covington Flat Road, and then over to Upper Covington Flat Road. This put us at a trailhead along the California Riding and Hiking Trail which passes through a valley back into the central area of the park. Instead of continuing back to the center of the park, our objective was the summit of Quail Mountain, the highpoint of Joshua Tree NP at 5813 feet. Interestingly, I had read about a couple small planes that had crashed into the mountain a few years ago, and only recalled this information while summiting the mountain, as we located some remainder of the wreckage that had been pulled into a pile near the top. Overall, much of the 10 mile round trip trail is cross country, and because I found it difficult to find adequate information when researching this, I have added as much info here as possible:

First, this is the best link of information on the trip.

The road signs within the National Park boundary are entirely visible and descriptive, and you just take a right from La Contenta road / Covington flats road onto Covington Crossover road that heads west, before hitting another T-junction which leads north to Eureka peak and south on Upper Covington Flat Road to the Upper Covington Backcountry board/ TH. 

Note that although it is a dirt road, there are only a few places that you will need to watch carefully when travelling in anything other than a low sports car. Any other passenger car could get in as long as it went slow through the sections with washed-out centers. Also note that these sections are worst at the very beginning of the drive, in the first 2.8 miles of La Contenta road. 

This route saves 1.2 mi RT and has a few extra hundred feet of elevation gain. 

As for the hiking part of "Route 3", we did it as they instructed, and just turned off of the California Riding and Hiking Trail when we got to the second gully (I was watching mileage with the GPS, and tracked my progress so that I could compare the path with the NatGeo Topo map I had. However, you'll know when you get to the first gully. At first we were questioning how loose their definition of gully v. wash was, but it became pretty evident when we walked 20 feet down into a deep gully with trees and evidence of water.

Then we just turned up the ridge, and kept falling it in the general easternly direction going higher and higher. When you reach the last set of twin peaks on the ridge before the summit peak, which corresponds to bump 5787' on the directions, you will notice that you are forced to either walk to the south significantly to stay on a ridge that loses a decent amount of altitude, or continue on a beeline path that loses even more altitude. What we did the first time was cross down into the valley before the twin bumps, and minimize our actual distance, but on the way back we went the long way to the south and followed the ridge, which I think was a much better option.

There is a faint trail for portions of the hike along the ridge (and lots of evidence of Bighorns around it), but it doesn't really matter since it is mostly just sand/dirt/rock with very little brush. Actually there was also a large amount of snow on the NE side of the last peak before the summit, but it could be avoided. 
 


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