Location: Southeast Portion of California
Size: 794,000 acres
Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle; Free with America The Beautiful Pass
Annual Visitors: 2.8 million
Type of Land: Desert
Accessibility: Many views right from the road or a short hike from the road, Rock climbers haven, Bouldering for beginners
Favorite Attractions: Skull Rock, Keys View, Cholla Cactus Garden, Random bouldering everywhere
Getting there: Fly in local to the small Palm Springs Airport or to LAX, Orange County, or San Diego all only about 2 hours from location
I think most would say that Joshua Tree takes the cake for the quirkiest of our national parks. It goes by many names JT, Jtree, The High Desert, the list goes on and only gets more obscure from here. This park is seriously huge! There is always something new to explore in this area for those who can’t stay aware from it’s intriguing landscape and those curious new explorers looking for the unknown out there.
The city of Joshua Tree is a sight in itself, acting as an art hub for creatives of all types. Many artists have taken inspiration from this vast desert land for their albums- notably The Eagles, U2, and Queens of the Stone Age. In the area you can visit the Art Queens of Joshua Tree, to support the local art community. One of my fave attractions here was the Crochet Museum, below I will share some photos of it! Also worth a drive in the area is Pioneertown, just a quick buzz over 20 minutes outside of the park you will find a quaint town modeled after the pioneer days. Bonus this area is much more dog friendly for a hike than the national park itself.
Joshua Tree is a place with a long history, I couldn’t even begin to know all of the history. This place is infamous for being odd and offbeat, and it’s history is definitely that. I suggest doing your own deep dive into this areas interesting folklore and history for a ride that may sound right out of a movie.
I guess that’s why they call it the Wild West.
Check out Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation episode about the area that takes you on a drive through some of this areas most infamous local hangs including Pioneertown and Joshua Tree itself.
So what is a Joshua Tree?
Well that is an interesting question, a “Joshua Tree” is a name given to these desert plants by Mormon settlers, previously known as “humwichawa” by the locals. These funny plants that are unique to this area of the map (though not only found in the park itself) are formally known as Yucca brevifolia and are members of the agave family.
These yuccas grow slowly, like a lobster. An average lifespan of a Joshua tree is 150 years, wow! It is even thought that some of these trees might be much older. They are slow growers (only grow about 1 in a year) and harder to track how old they truly are. The tallest can get to be about 40 feet tall and can seem to grow out of nothing.
Though you might know this area for its hot summer days and wild trees that grow like a punk rockers hair. There is so much more to this landscape. If you come here in the winter you may be surprised to find a dusting of snow over the desert floor. If you go deep enough into this park you may find yourself at an incredible view over the entire Coachella Valley. Even more surprising is the fact that the majority of Joshua Tree is undeveloped- in fact the majority of the protected park is not easily accessible. When you arrive it is likely you will look around and think how could any animal survive out here? Yet, there are many animals that do in fact live here, though when you drive through I doubt you’ll will find any in the developed area. So what are some of the animals that are out there? Coyotes, rattlesnakes, tortoise, bighorn sheep, bobcat, and the list goes on. Pretty incredible considering the rough terrain.
5 Quick Facts to know
- Joshua Tree is the second largest of 9 national parks that can be found in California. Joshua Tree is roughly the size of Rhode Island. *The biggest national park in California is Death Valley, which is the 5th largest national park overall beat only by a few in Alaska. Pretty impressive!
- This national park is one of the most recent to be established. Only becoming a national park in 1994. Which is a huge deal, because national parks have the most regulations and protection of all public land. There are rumors of much turmoil before this park officially came to being this level of protected by the government.
- Joshua Tree is made up of 2 separate and distinct deserts, the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. Note that the Joshua Trees will almost exclusively be found in the Mojave Desert, which is one large distinction.
- Though Joshua Tree is a desert, its climate still changes much more drastically than you may imagine. It even snows here most years and sometimes even gets too hot for Joshua Trees. With global warming and average temperatures rising scientists are noticing that Joshua Trees seem to be dying off at a more rapid pace than in the future.
- Joshua Trees can be great storytellers. Painting a beautiful picture of resilience and perseverance through desert hardships. As there tree branches show what the weather has been like in the past and some of their most interesting branches come from the harshest of weather.
They are still doing so much research on this funky landscape, there is so much to learn about this mysterious land that has captivated musicians, artists, and travelers alike for years. I know it is some place that I will always remember and continue to explore for all of my days.
Stay curious and Keep Exploring,