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Joshua Tree National Park - California

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Joshua Tree National Park is at a biological and geological crossroads. The park straddles the natural boundary where the high, cool Mojave Desert and the low, hot Colorado Desert meet. The park preserves an outstanding collection of rich desert plant life including extensive stands of the iconic Joshua tree.

Scenically, the park is marked by maze-like formations of tumbled monzogranite boulders that are popular with rock climbers, making the area a worldwide destination for climbing enthusiasts. Joshua Tree National Park is bounded on the south by the geologically active San Andreas Fault. From the mile-high vista at Keys View, visitors can stand on the edge of the North American Continental Plate and look down at the Pacific Continental Plate in the Coachella Valley below. The intricate boulder formations on the western side of the park give way on the eastern side to the broad expanses of the Pinto Basin.

The desert provides home and habitat to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects -- many supremely adapted to the harsh arid landscape. Much of the year, the desert seems parched and dormant, but with adequate rains, the desert bursts with life and vitality as the landscape is cloaked with endlessly varied desert wildflowers. During these times of relative abundance, park visitors may encounter the threatened desert tortoise when they emerge from their burrows to feast on the short-lived blooms.

Three-quarters of the park's 794,000 acres are designated wilderness, but the remains of past human activity, including petroglyphs, Indian campsites, mines, ranches, and homesteads, are preserved here as well. Today, the peace, solitude, and starry night skies of Joshua Tree provide a welcome respite for harried urban dwellers.

Joshua Tree Trivia

1. Once proposed to be called Desert Plants National Park, Joshua Tree preserves more than 800 species of desert plants, many with unique adaptations for surviving the harsh, arid conditions.
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2. Joshua Tree has been a popular destination for climbers since the 1950s and has approximately 6,000 named climbing routes for climbers of all abilities.

3. Congress has designated approximately 75% of Joshua Tree as wilderness in an effort to preserve opportunities for solitude, quiet and scientific value.

4. Orchids in the desert' These rare flowers and other unusual desert life thrive beside year-round pools of water, created along an earthquake fault within the 49 Palms Oasis.

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5. As summer approaches, the Pinto Basin begins to pulsate with heat waves. Temperatures can exceed 115 degrees F daily (46 C); yet life persists against seemingly impossible odds.

6. Joshua Tree National Park's reputation for outstanding stargazing opportunities was boosted when a Wally Pacholka image of 1997's Comet Hale-Bopp was selected by Time magazine as a Picture of the Century.

7. Joshua trees rely on the female yucca moth for pollination; no other animal visiting the flowers transfers the pollen necessary for seed formation.

8. Desert tortoises, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, do not reach sexual maturity until age 20 and can live 80 to 100 years.

Joshua Tree Attractions

1. Plan a hike to Barker Dam, one of Joshua Tree National Park's historical and natural treasures. Historically significant for cattlemen as a dependable water source, today Barker Dam is an important watering hole for bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and migratory birds.

2. Take the scenic drive up to the Keys View Overlook. The elevation here is 5,185 feet. You can trace the San Andreas Fault as it makes its way through the Coachella Valley; see Southern California's highest peak, Mt. San Gorgonio, and follow the Salton Sea down to Signal Mountain across the Mexican border.

3. Join a ranger-led tour of the Desert Queen Ranch. This National Register site is the former homestead and residence of William "Bill" Keys and his family. The tour includes a ranch house, school, store, workshop; the grounds are full of the cars, trucks, mining equipment and spare parts.

4. See strange and picturesque rock formations of Joshua Tree up close and personal on the rugged, yet easy walk on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail.

5. See how plant and animal life can flourish in the desert as you walk along the Cholla Cactus Gardens Nature Trail. Life abounds here, amid the spiny thickets of the jumping cholla.

6. Enjoy birdsong or glimpse a vibrant humming bird among the shady palms of Cottonwood Spring. The scattered remains of gold mining operations also make this an interesting, scenic spot.

7. A demanding yet memorable hike through canyons and washes leads 4 miles to the beautiful Lost Palms Oasis. With more than 110 California fan palms, it's the park's largest palm oasis. Set in a deep canyon, the palm trees are sustained by an underground spring.

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