Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located in the southeastern portion of the state of California in the United States. The park contains 790,636 acres, of which 429,690 acres comprises a designated wilderness, and was named for the Joshua trees that are native to the area. The park features rock formations that are thought to have been formed nearly one million years ago by cooling lava. These include rectangular and spherical rocks. Joshua Tree National Park occurs along the borders of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, with the Little San Bernardino Mountains extending along the southwestern portion of the park.

Joshua Tree National Park holds two habitats that occur at different elevations, which give the areas slightly varied conditions. One of these habitats contains a portion of the Mojave Desert, which occurs at a higher elevation. The open areas of this habitat are home to the Joshua trees, while rocky areas of the park are home to other tree species including California juniper, piñon pine, and Tucker’s oak. These areas once received more rainfall, but it is thought that human encroachment, which helped cause the Dust Bowl, may have negatively impacted the ecosystem in the desert. The eastern area of the park contains a portion of the Colorado Desert, which occurs at a lower elevation of 3,000 feet. This area holds many species including creosote brush, desert saltbush, yucca, and cacti. A smaller habitat in the park, known as Coachella Valley, is located in the southeastern area of the park and holds desert dunes, sandy soil, and grasslands. The park contains five oases that hold the California Fan Palm and produce water throughout the year, despite arid conditions.

Joshua Tree National Park is home to a variety of animals including ground squirrels, lizards, bighorn sheep, birds, coyotes, golden eagles, roadrunners, and kangaroo rats. Most of the animals within the park, especially small reptiles and mammals, have adapted to living without a stable source of water.  Many reptile and mammal species enter hibernation during the winter season, at which time migratory bird species move into the park.

Joshua Tree National Park offers many activities including bird watching, stargazing, camping, hiking, rock climbing, and viewing the park by driving. The majority of the roads within the park are unpaved, and most of these roads require a vehicle that can handle the rough terrain. Many visitors take the Geology Tour Road, which begins in the center of the park and leads to sixteen geological formations throughout the park. Many roads occur in isolated areas of the park, so visitors must be cautious when touring these areas. There are nine campgrounds within the park, with three that provide amenities including flushing toilets and running water.

Hiking trails occur throughout the Joshua Tree National Park, of which many can be accessed from camping sites. Some of these trails, like Hidden Valley, are designed to give visitors a great view of the surrounding area and wildlife. Longer trails, like Lost Horse Mine and Warren Peak, do not offer the same scenic value, and many have been closed due to vandalism. Rock climbing is a popular activity within the park. Most of the climbing areas are easily accessed by a short trail, and the rocks themselves do not typically reach over 230 feet, although some longer climbs with a higher difficulty level are available.

Image Caption: Joshua Tree National Park. Credit: Doug Dolde/Wikipedia