Hellloooo Travel Tuesday!! This week is off to a decent start and it’s my favorite virtual travel day of the week – hard to complain (smile). Continuing on with our national park tour, this week is all about the Joshua Tree National Park – perhaps one of the most diverse and slightly creepy parks I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in (smile).
Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California between Phoenix and Los Angeles. It was designated as a national park in 1994 after having been a national monument since 1936. The park encompasses approximately 800,000 acres (an area slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island) and portions of two deserts – the Mojave and Colorado. The Colorado desert is a western extension of the Sonoran desert and covers the southeastern portions of the park. The southern boundary of the Mojave desert stretches across the northern portion of the national park and is the natural habitat of the park’s namesake – the Joshua tree. The Little San Bernardino Mountains run through the southwest edge of the park. All three areas are home to unique ecosystems, which provides visitors with a huge variety of things to see and do.
Humans have occupied the area for at least 5,000 years, with the earliest known group being the Pinto Culture. In the 1800s, the pioneers began grazing cattle, mining for gold, and setting up homesteads in the area. As a result, within the park there are approximately 501 archaeological sites, 88 historic structures, 19 cultural landscapes, and over 120,000 items in the park’s museum collections.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time at this park as I would’ve liked (although I do have plans to return!). I also had no idea what to expect when we drove through the park on a whim. With all the incredible scenery, we ended up spending the entire day in the park instead of the quick hour or so we had originally planned (ah the spontaneity of road trips!).
There are sections with Joshua trees, sections with other cacti, grasslands, and landscapes filled with boulders that appear to have been flung at random through the fields. There are several fault lines running through the park, which have created these rock formations through the years. The changing landscape – and especially the boulder areas – give the park a very remote and almost creepy vibe (despite being located so near civilization!). Joshua Tree National Park is a huge spot for star gazers and I’ve seen some truly amazing photography from night photographers.
The Joshua trees themselves are also a bit odd. They’re almost like shaggy palm trees, and appear at random throughout the park (although the strongest concentration of them are in the Mojave section of the park). I was a little surprised at how spread out the Joshua trees compared to the saguaro cacti in the Saguaro National Park.
Know Before You Go:
Getting there: There are 3 park entrance stations. Two are on the north side of the park along Highway 62, and one is on the south side at Cottonwood Springs, accessible just off Interstate 10.
When to go: Temps are most comfortable in the spring and fall. Winter brings cooler days and freezing nights, while summer are very warm with temps over 100 degrees F during the day.
What to wear: Sunscreen is important year round – you’re in the desert after all! Remember to pack layers so that you can add or subtract as needed.
What to bring: Stock up on supplies including gas and snacks. There are some fairly remote locations within the park’s parameters.
What to watch for: Critters and vegetation. While your hiding from the sun in the boulders, remember to check for any local wildlife before stepping in blindly. You never know what kind of creature may have had the same idea (smile). And much like the Saguaro National Park, the plants have a tendency to bite back (or house critters that do). Be very careful about what you touch – purposefully and/or accidentally. There’s nothing worse than spending part of your trip picking out cacti thorns!