Joshua Tree National Park is a United States National Park that is located in the Southern California Desert. The park encompasses nearly 800,000 acres of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, conserving two separate desert ecosystems at different altitudes. The name of the park is derived from the distinctive Joshua Tree, a tall-growing variety of the yucca genus that grows prevalently within its boundaries.
The area enclosed by the park was declared a National Monument in 1936, a Biosphere Reserve in 1984 and finally a National Park in 1994.
The name Joshua Tree was reportedly given by a band of Mormons who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century, the tree's unique shape reminding them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky.
The profile of the Joshua Tree National Park (then a National Monument) was raised significantly in 1987 with the release of the best-selling U2 album The Joshua Tree."
Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features natural gardens of creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla cactus. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the Joshua tree. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Five fan palm oases also dot the park, indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally and wildlife abounds.
Flora and fauna
While it may at first appear lifeless, the desert supports myriad of creatures that become active during the evening and early morning. Coyotes are commonly seen near the park roads making their rounds. Jackrabbits and the shy kangaroo rats emerge from their dens in the evenings to forage. Bobcats are less frequently seen, but a lucky traveler might catch one silhouetted against the moonlight. Birds in the park include burrowing owls, vultures, golden eagles, and roadrunners. Lizards, tarantulas, and rattlesnakes may be found among the rocks.
Days are typically clear with less than 25 percent humidity. Temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average high/low of 85 and 50°F (29 and 10°C) respectively. Winter brings cooler days, around 60°F (15°C), and freezing nights. It occasionally snows at higher elevations. Summers are hot, over 100°F (38°C) during the day and not cooling much below 75°F (24°C) until the early hours of the morning.
Palm Springs is also the nearest city with an Amtrak station; it is served by the Sunset Limited Los Angeles - New Orleans route.
Joshua Tree National Park lies 140 miles east of Los Angeles. It can be approached from the west via Interstate 10 and Hwy 62 (Twentynine Palms Highway). The north entrances to the park are located at Joshua Tree Village and the city of Twentynine Palms. The south entrance at Cottonwood Spring, which lies 25 miles east of Indio, can be approached from the east or west, also via Interstate 10.
Entry fees increased on June 1, 2015, and are scheduled to increase again in 2017. Fees for entry are:
- $20 for a 7-day single vehicle pass
- $10 for a 7-day motorcycle pass
- $10 for a 7-day pass for an individual on foot or on a bicycle
- $30 for the Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass (good for 12 months)
There are several passes that allow free entry for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot or on bike. These passes are valid at all national parks including Joshua Tree National Park:
- The $80 interagency pass (valid for twelve months from date of issue) provides free entry at national parks and national wildlife refuges. This pass also covers standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. Military personnel can obtain a free annual pass in person at a federal recreation site by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID.
- U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over can obtain a senior pass (valid for the life of the holder) in person at a federal recreation site for $10, or through the mail for $20; applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and age. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
- U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities can obtain an access pass (valid for the life of the holder) in person at a federal recreation site at no charge, or through the mail for $10; applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and permanent disability. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
In 2015 the National Park Service will offer nine days on which entry is free for all national parks: January 19 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), February 14-16 (Presidents Day weekend), April 18-19 (National Park Week's opening weekend), August 25 (National Park Service's 99th birthday), September 26 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day).
The main roads through the park are paved and easily accessible to passenger vehicles. Several dirt roads through the park may also be passable by normal sedans, although conditions often require high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles; check at the ranger stations for current road conditions.
There are numerous trails throughout the park. Be sure to carry and drink lots of water while hiking.
Many of the park trails and roads are excellent for mountain biking; check at a ranger station for options.
- Hidden Valley. Located in the northern portion of the park, a short trail leads through boulders to an old cattle rustler's hideout.
- Barker Dam. Built in the early 1900s to hold water for cattle and mining use, today the area is a rain-fed reservoir attracting local wildlife.
- Keys View. This overlook, with an elevation of 5,185 feet above sea level, is an extremely popular spot for watching the sunset. On rare clear days the view extends over the Salton Sea to Mexico.
- Geology Tour Road. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended (but not always necessary, check with rangers) for this eighteen mile dirt road. Along this route are numerous interesting geologic formations and trails.
- Cholla Cactus Garden. A short walk leads through a thick stand of cholla cactus, noted for its especially prickly exterior.
- Cottonwood Springs. Located near the south entrance of the park, Cottonwood Springs is a desert oasis that offers a respite from the arid lands around it. Willows and birds are found in abundance near this natural spring.
- Jumbo Rocks. One of the most popular and sought-out destinations in the park. Known for its spectacular giant rock formations. Hidden canyons abound. Hiking encouraged, especially the easy-to-moderate trail to Skull Rock. Campsites available. Includes an amphitheater where Park Rangers lead science and history tours.
A great place to go! Trails within the park include:
- Boy Scout Trail. (16 miles / 25.8 km). A scenic trail through the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks that is moderately strenuous.
- 49 Palms Oasis Trail. (3 miles / 4.8 km). A hike to an oasis surrounded by stands of fan palms and pools of water. Moderately strenuous.
- Lost Horse Mine/Mtn. Trail. (4 miles / 6.4 km). Site of ten-stamp mill. The summit elevation is 5,278 feet (1,609m). Moderately strenuous.
- Lost Palms Oasis Trail. (8 miles / 11.2 km) A canyon with numerous palm stands, with a possible sidetrip to Victory Palms and Munsen Canyon that involves scrambling. Moderately strenuous.
- Mastodon Peak Trail. (3 miles / 4.8 km). A trail offering excellent views of the Eagle Mountains and Salton Sea, with a summit elevation of 3,371 feet (1,027m). Strenuous.
- Ryan Mountain Trail. (3 miles / 4.8 km). Excellent views of Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant valleys with a summit elevation of 5,461 feet (1,664m). Strenuous.
The odd shapes of the Joshua Tree, as well as the dramatic geology and desert scenery, make the park a great place for photographers. As with many areas, photography is best in the early morning and late evening hours.
The park is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the world with more than 4,500 established routes offering a wide range of difficulty. Note that there are differing regulations depending on whether a climb is being done within the designated wilderness area or not; check with a ranger for current regulations.
- Cliffhanger Guides, 61716 29 Palms Hwy Joshua Tree (2.5 hours from either LA or San Diego), ☎ . Custom guided rock climbing for adults and children. Gourmet food provided. Locally owned and operated.
- Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School, HCR 3034, ☎ . 8AM-8PM. Year round rock climbing instruction, open enrollment basic to advanced classes offered weekly and customized private guiding in Joshua Tree National Park, California. All levels of climbing instruction, all ages. Groups, family outings and scouting merit badge programs. Three hours from Los Angeles and San Diego and one hour from Palm Springs, California. $85.
Due to its dark night time skies and the relative clarity of its air, Joshua Tree National Park is a popular spot for amateur astronomy, stargazing, and astrophotography.
A number of classes are conducted in the park through the Joshua Tree National Park Association's Desert Institute. They include topics such as painting, photography, wildlife, wildflowers, and geology.
Springtime wildflowers come in numerous varieties and can produce extraordinarily colorful displays, especially following wet winters. The flowers can include vast fields of flowering shrubs or tiny flowering plants right at your feet.
Services within the park are limited, but food, gas, and supplies can all be purchased just outside of the park in the City of Twentynine Palms. Park visitor centers all offer book stores selling postcards, posters, and books of local interest.
There are no restaurants or stores in the park, but numerous options are available along Highway 62, north of the park, or in towns such as Twentynine Palms, located to the east and west of the park along Interstate 10. Joshua Tree Village has a variety of cafés and restaurants. There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options in the Village. Every Saturday, year round, the Village holds a farmers market.
Water is available from all visitor centers and a few of the campgrounds, and the Oasis Visitor Center also sells beverages. Towns, such as Twentynine Palms, located outside of the park borders offer additional options for refreshment.
There are many camp grounds within the park, but they will often fill well before sunset, especially on weekends. Sadly, as of 2005 there are no longer any free sites, although costs are reasonable at $5–10 per night. All camp grounds are open year-round. Some sites may be reserved in advance through the National Park Service Reservation System.
- Belle Campground. A primitive campground located near the North Entrance Station. 18 sites, no water available. $15 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
- Black Rock Campground. Located in the northwest corner of the park, this campground is not accessible from the main park roads. 100 sites, water and flush toilets available. $20 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
- Cottonwood Campground. Located next to the park's south entrance. 62 sites, water and flush toilets. There are also three group sites available for $35-$50 per night. $20 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
- Hidden Valley Campground. Hidden Valley is the first campground after the West Entrance Station. 45 sites. There is no water available and motorhomes and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not permitted. $15 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
- Indian Cove Campground. This campground is not accessible from the main park roads and may be reached only via Highway 62 and Indian Cove Road, between the North and West Entrance Stations. 101 sites. Water is available from the ranger station, and thirteen group sites are also available for $35-$50 per night. $20 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
- Jumbo Rocks Campground. The largest campground in the park, located near the junction of the park roads in the northern part of the park. Sites are surrounded by scenic granite formations. 124 sites, no water available. $15 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
- Ryan Campground. Easily accessible from West Entrance Station, a primitive campground with 31 sites, no water available. $15 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
- Sheep Pass Group Campground. Groups only, located along the West Entrance Road. Six sites, no water available. $35-$50 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
- White Tank Campground. Located along the main park road, close to the North Entrance Station. 15 sites. There is no water available and motorhomes and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not permitted. $15 per night (as of June 1, 2015).
Permits are required for all backcountry camping and can be obtained at the visitor centers. Backcountry campsites must be located at least one mile from the road and 500 feet from any trail. Camping in washes is not recommended due to possible flash flood danger. All water must be carried in as natural water sources are limited and reserved for the local wildlife population. Open fires are also forbidden, and all cooking should be done over portable camp stoves.
By far, the greatest danger in this park is the weather. Due to the high desert environment, it will be blazing hot during the day and temperatures may drop to freezing during the night. Do not hike without adequate water. One gallon per person per day is the minimum recommended amount. Wear sunscreen, dress in layers, and take all other precautions when dealing with a desert environment. Be aware that even a tiny amount of rain can cause flash flooding; avoid canyons and drainage areas during severe weather.
Other dangers within the park include rattlesnakes, abandoned mines, and the numerous prickly and thorny desert plants. In general, snakes can be avoided by being careful when in rocky areas. Mines can be found throughout the park, and while most have been sealed over, open mines can still be found. Do not enter mines - most of these areas are over 100 years old and are extremely dangerous.
- Twentynine Palms. Located on the park's north border, this town provides a source of lodging, food and supplies for park visitors.
- Palm Springs. A desert oasis located south of the park, Palm Springs offers resorts, golfing, dining, and other escapes for travellers.
- Mojave National Preserve, in the Mojave Desert north of Joshua Tree.