Joshua Tree National Park is located in corner of southeastern part of California. The park covers an area of 1,235.4 square miles (3,199 sq km). Approximately half of the park is recognized as a wilderness area.
The park is comprised of two separate desert ecosystems, which are primarily influenced by elevation. The Colorado Desert represents the lower altitude while the Mojave Desert is the higher.
The vegetation varies as well featuring creosote bush, shrubland, juniper and pinyon pine, and the montane forest. However, the protected area is renowned for the Joshua Trees which is where the name of the park is drawn. The Joshua Tree is native to and only found in the Mojave Desert region. The higher elevations and subsequently cooler temperatures serve as the unique ecosystem which sustains the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia).
The park landscape also features stunning rock formations that usually present as bare rocks and random boulders. There are five different mountain ranges which include: Cottonwood, Eagle, Hexie, Little San Bernardino, Pinto, and Traverse.
The Colorado Desert portion of the park features an ecosystem below 3,000 feet (910 m) which gives way to many of the other vegetation species. Cholla cactus and yucca are some of the most prominent and intriguing species. The Coachella Valley found on the southeast side of the Colorado Desert is even lower and features a mixture of grasslands and desert dunes.
There are over 250 species of birds living or migrating through the park. This makes it a birdwatcher’s haven. Of course, one of the desert highlights is the roadrunner; just remember “The coyotes after you.” Golden eagles are another bird species highlight.
Some of the other potential wildlife to see in Joshua Tree National Park include bighorn sheep, coyote, lynx, mule deer, kangaroo rat, desert tortoise, and a variety of snakes.
Much of the park has to be experienced through the numerous hiking trails, however, there is a scenic drive that cuts across the park allowing visiting to witness most of what the park has to offer. There is a similar feeling to the saguaros of Saguaro National Park in Arizona.
The park delivers two unique desert ecosystems and there is quite a difference in the presentation and experience of both areas. The contrast is one of the highlights of the park along with the stunning boulder and Joshua Tree landscapes.
There are 5 desert palm oases located in the national park. The Oasis of Mara is one of the most popular, and it is easily accessed through the short Twentynine Palms trail.
This is a scenic drive that traverses across the park. It provides insights into the majority of the scenic aspects of the park. One of the unique features of the Park Boulevard is the contrast in desert ecosystems you will witness as you drive up out of the Colorado Desert ecosystem crossing into the Mojave Desert ecosystem.
The drive through the park on Park Boulevard is one of the best ways to capture the serenity and uniqueness of the park. You cannot help but be mesmerized by the endless sea of Joshua Trees that blanket the landscape. It is one of the places where you ask, "Are they watching me?"
Joshua Tree National Park Trails:
There are numerous trails to hike within the park. This is desert, so be prepared for warmer temperatures and drink lots of water.
Hidden Valley Trail
This is a 1-mile (1.6 km) loop trail that meanders between massive boulders and often invites tangent rock-climbing adventures.
Barker Dam Natural Trail
This is an easy 1.3-mile (2.09 km) loop trail that meanders past boulders and culminates with a view of the dam and water.
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail
This is a 3-mile (4.82 km) trail each way. The trail crosses over a ridge and down into a rocky canyon with a palm oasis.
Lost Palms Oasis Trail
This is a longer 7.2-mile (11.6 km) loop trail that features stunning palm trees and cool pools of water. You might even be fortunate enough to see bighorn sheep along the way.
Ryan Mountain Trail
This is a more challenging trail that ascends 1,050 (320 m) to the top of Ryan Mountain with an elevation of 5,456 feet (1,663 m). The trail is only 1.5 miles (2.4 km) which means much of it has a steeper ascent. Once atop the summit, you will have stellar panoramic views of Lost Horse Valley, Pinto Basin, and Queen Valley.
Joshua Tree Highlights
- Park Boulevard
- Joshua Trees
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