Joshua Tree NP

“It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.” Jeannette Walls

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Sentries of the desert

First declared a national monument in 1936, Joshua Tree was re-designated to national park status in 1994. It covers 794,000 acres of wilderness that is comprised of two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado. Vastly different ecosystems exist between the two due to elevation. The Colorado side is the low side and here you will find more scrub bush, cholla cactus, and ocotillo in a basin like setting. The Mojave which sits at an altitude of 3000 feet is a wetter desert and more “lush” by desert standards. It features another striking aspect of this park in its massive granite rocks that spread across the landscape in masses that can look otherworldly. No matter what side of the park you are on however, its desert and inhospitable. The staff at the Visitor’s Center remind everyone asking for a map to make sure they have a full tank of gas and plenty of water. They even sell bumper stickers that read “Don’t Die Today…Hike Safely”. Just a wee bit intimidating…

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Park Road into Joshua Tree

The Joshua tree is the largest of the yuccas and grows only in the Mojave Desert of California. In fact in the part of the park that encompasses the Colorado Desert, which is at a lower altitude, you won’t find them at all. The tree grows more than 20 feet tall and can live more than 500 years though the oldest on record was estimated to be about 1000 years old. They are a remarkable testament to survival in an environment that only offers up harsh conditions. They actually got their name by Mormon settlers who passed through this area in the mid 1800’s. Seeing the twisted branches and uplifted arms of the trees reminded the settlers of the biblical story of Joshua praying to God with his arms lifted high. It’s easy to see the resemblance and more eloquent than my exclamation that they looked like “a bunch of stick figures with lots of arms”.

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Joshua Tree
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Joshua Trees with a backdrop of granite rocks

In order to beat the heat, we arrived shortly before 9:00 am with a cooler full of drinks and were thrilled with temperatures in the low 80’s! This allowed us to ride with the windows open for most of our morning exploration and to walk about without dying. There were not many visitors to hamper our stops but then most of the park’s 3 million annual guests don’t come in the summer!

One surprising element of this park was the aforementioned rocks. I mean you expect to see Joshua trees given the name, but I didn’t know about the rocks. Geologists must have a field day here not to mention rock climbers. Art and I even managed to scramble atop one of the behemoths for a long range view!


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Skull Rock
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Perched perfectly
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Between a rock and a hard place

I am pleased that we took the chance of visiting here in August – it was a fascinating experience and one I highly recommend whether you are a desert lover or not. Hope you enjoy the pics…




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