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What to See and Do in California's Joshua Tree National Park

Updated on September 16, 2017
Peggy W profile image

Visiting national, state, and local parks rates high on my wish list when it comes to vacations. Every park is distinct and memorable!

Source

Joshua Tree National Park is truly a unique blend of the high Mojave Desert and the low Colorado Desert. Located in Southern California, it is about 140 miles east of Los Angeles.

It bears a biblical reference which will soon become clear when reading this article.

My traveling buddy and I were coming from the opposite direction just having enjoyed the Saguaro National Park just outside Tucson, Arizona.

We took the southern entrance into the park which parted company with Interstate 10 by heading north on the road marked 195. This was just east of Indio and Palm Springs.

This park consists of 1,022,703 acres of land ( 414,050 hectares ) and much of it is kept in the wild.

Joshua Trees

The distinctive Joshua Trees grow in the western half of the park in the higher elevations of the Mojave Desert.

To me they look like overgrown yuccas.

Franklin D. Roosevelt set aside this unique land as a national monument in 1936. It was finally designated a national park in 1994.

It is open year round.

Wildflowers and shrubs we saw blooming in Joshua Tree National Park

Click thumbnail to view full-size
CALICO CACTUSBLADDERPODDESERT SENNASILVER (GOLDEN) CHOLLADESERT MALLOWBLAZING STAR
CALICO CACTUS
CALICO CACTUS | Source
BLADDERPOD
BLADDERPOD | Source
DESERT SENNA
DESERT SENNA | Source
SILVER (GOLDEN) CHOLLA
SILVER (GOLDEN) CHOLLA | Source
DESERT MALLOW
DESERT MALLOW | Source
BLAZING STAR
BLAZING STAR | Source

As you can see from the photos above many flowering plants can be appreciated in the Spring of the year.

My friend and I happened to be visiting this area in late April.

Humans have inhabited this land at least 5,000 years.

Mormon settlers legend has it that these trees were named for the prophet Joshua and the tree's limbs reminded them of arms outstretched in supplication. Thus the biblical reference.

This is as good a name as any for these other worldly looking trees.

Photos taken in Joshua Tree National Park

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Road through grove of Joshua TreesCholla cactus gardenBe careful not to brush up against these cactus spines!This lacy tree is nicknamed "smoke tree."  Viewed from a distance it looks like smoke!The low growing purple flowers are called PURPLE MAT.  Chia is to the right.Joshua Trees are the largest of yuccas.Beautiful bloom
Road through grove of Joshua Trees
Road through grove of Joshua Trees | Source
Cholla cactus garden
Cholla cactus garden | Source
Be careful not to brush up against these cactus spines!
Be careful not to brush up against these cactus spines! | Source
This lacy tree is nicknamed "smoke tree."  Viewed from a distance it looks like smoke!
This lacy tree is nicknamed "smoke tree." Viewed from a distance it looks like smoke! | Source
The low growing purple flowers are called PURPLE MAT.  Chia is to the right.
The low growing purple flowers are called PURPLE MAT. Chia is to the right. | Source
Joshua Trees are the largest of yuccas.
Joshua Trees are the largest of yuccas. | Source
Beautiful bloom
Beautiful bloom | Source

What to See & Do in Joshua Tree National Park

People enjoy this park for all kinds of reasons.

Among them are some of the following:

  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Photography
  • Bird watching
  • and, Rock climbing.

Jumbo Rocks in the Hidden Valley area of Joshua Tree National Park

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Skull Rock...appropriately named!Jumbo Rocks...perfect for climbing!These rocks are composed of quartz monzonite.Giving some perspective as to the Jumbo Rocks size...that is me standing there.
Skull Rock...appropriately named!
Skull Rock...appropriately named! | Source
Jumbo Rocks...perfect for climbing!
Jumbo Rocks...perfect for climbing! | Source
These rocks are composed of quartz monzonite.
These rocks are composed of quartz monzonite. | Source
Giving some perspective as to the Jumbo Rocks size...that is me standing there.
Giving some perspective as to the Jumbo Rocks size...that is me standing there. | Source

The Jumbo Rocks in the Hidden Valley part of the Joshua Tree National Park is a haven for rock climbers! Many enthusiasts that like to climb in Yosemite come here during the winter months because of snow in Yosemite.

There are trails in this area.

Rock climbing suits beginners to those advanced in this sport. This is quite a playground!

My traveling companion and I enjoyed being in this section of the park on the day of our visit. It is worth visiting even if rock climbing is not high on a person's wish list.

Key's View in Joshua Tree National Park

Elevation here is at 5,185 feet.  Mexico is in the distant background.
Elevation here is at 5,185 feet. Mexico is in the distant background. | Source

Centuries Old Joshua Trees

In this picture below I am standing by a very old Joshua Tree.

They only grow about 1/2 inch a year.

There are some 40 foot trees in this park that are over 900 years old!

Centuries old Joshua Tree photo
Centuries old Joshua Tree photo | Source

Wildlife within the Park

Many animals, birds and insects exist in these desert areas. All the usual ones you might expect to see are located here. Snakes to lizards to hundreds of species of birds along with coyotes and bobcats can be found here among many others.

One interesting case of symbiosis between the yucca moth and the Joshua Tree exists.

  • The yucca moth lays eggs inside the flower ovary of the Joshua Tree. When the resulting larva emerge, they feed upon the seeds.
  • The Joshua Tree relies upon the yucca moth for it's pollination.
  • Thus both life cycles are aided by this meshing of purposes.

Come and visit Joshua Tree National Park in California if you care to see the beautiful and the unusual Joshua trees, unusual and pretty rock formations and beautiful plants as well as wildlife. It is a national park that you will not soon forget!

Have you ever visited Joshua Tree National Park?

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A markerJoshua Tree National Park -
Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277, USA
get directions

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

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    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Indian Chef,

      These Joshua trees definitely do have a different look to them. They really remind me of yucca plants...except much larger in scale. Nice to know that I could introduce you to something that you had not seen previously. Thanks for your comment and the votes.

    • Indian Chef profile image

      Indian Chef 4 years ago from New Delhi India

      Peggy I have never seen these kind of trees in my life and they do look different than what I am used to. I do not know anything about bible so I really do not know about Prophet Joshua. But a very interesting read. Sharing here and voting it up.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello creativespirit63,

      To me the Joshua trees look like big overgrown yucca plants. You have probably read more Dr. Seuss books than I have. Haha! Thanks for your comment.

    • creativespirit63 profile image

      creativespirit63 5 years ago from Omaha, Nebraska

      I love the Joshua Trees. I saw one (not any where near as many as this park) when I visited California for the first time this year. I thought it looked like a tree from a Dr. Seuss book.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Eiddwen,

      Happy to hear that you enjoyed this hub about Joshua Tree National Park in California. Skull Rock and that area of the park is an amazing rock climbing area. Lots of cactus and scenery in addition to the Joshua Trees. Thanks for your visit and comment.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Wow Peggy another gem which is two years old !!Over the next week or so I am going to try my best to catch up with as many as I can of your hubs.

      I love nature's beauty and your photos are amazing.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Jimmy,

      What a great area to do rock climbing! Wish we had the time, but at least we got to see the National Park. You sure live in a great area of the country!

    • Jimmy Fuentes profile image

      Jimmy Fuentes 8 years ago from Rancho Cucamonga

      Hey Peggy, I actually live about 60 miles west of Joshua Tree. We have been there rock climbing a few times. It is beautiful as your pictures so wonderfully illustrate. Just gotta be kinda careful what time of year you choose to go. Can be really toasty during the day and super cold at night. Nice hub.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Rochelle, You are fortunate indeed to have been able to spend so much time in that beautiful area!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Teresa, How tall are they in your area? The literature indicates that Joshua Trees only grow in that particular area of the country. Are you sure they are not just plain yuccas? Yuccas grow in many different parts of the country. Who knows...maybe yours are the exception to the rule?

      Happy that you enjoyed the hub. I am enjoying reliving those vacation spots.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      I love the California desert (mountains, seashore, valley too) It holds a special place in my childhood menories since I had family living there and spent a lot of time in that area. The desert in bloom is a special miracle. I can remember going out for a picnic among the wildflowers and cactus blooms.

      Thanks for the hub and photos.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Another fascinating hub about a majestic place. The photos are great, Peggy -- that view with Mexico in the background is awesome.

      You won't believe this, but there are Joshua Trees growing at the edge of the river here. I'll take some photos -- the blossoms are huge when they come out. I don't know why they're in the marsh here and I've never seen them anywhere else here in the swampy lowcountry.