Joshua Tree is an oft forgotten jewel overshadowed by the likes of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Death Valley. But, for those looking for great hikes, rock climbing, rappelling, and the unique Joshua tree, this park has much to offer. Stunning rock formations rise abundantly from the desert park ripe for a scramble, climb or rapel. Hikers will be rewarded with great desert views and foliage, particularly in the February through May timeframe, as well as Joshua trees in various life stages.
Joshua Tree National Park's 794,000 acres preserve portions of two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado deserts of Southern California. 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 and Mojave yucca. The transition between the two deserts sports a high diversity of plants because it is compressed by the park's abrupt elevation changes. The Little San Bernardino Mountains, above 4,000 feet in the park's western most area, host a third ecosystem: California juniper and pinyon pine. The western part of the park also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California's deserts and is a mecca for rock climbers from around the world. In addition, five fan palm oases dot the park, indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally and wildlife abounds.
The plant diversity of these three ecosystems is matched by their animal diversity, including healthy herds of bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, small mammals, 18 species of lizards and 25 species of snakes. In addition, Joshua Tree lies astride the Pacific flyway, thus hosting over 200 species of birds throughout the year. Humans have occupied the area encompassed by Joshua Tree for at least 5,000 years, leaving a rich cultural history. As a result, the park protects 501 archeological sites, 88 historic structures, and 19 cultural landscapes, and its museum collection houses 123,253 items. Considering that archeological surveys have been conducted for less than 5% of the park, we have only learned a fraction of what the park offers us.
If You Go
Explorers should be sure to bring plenty of water as the park receives lots of sun and, consequently, the temperature rises significantly throughout the day. A full tank of gas is also wise as the park is quite expansive.
While this region won important protections in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, these desert parks are increasingly endangered by the sprawling growth of southern California and Nevada, environmentally-threatening policies, and lack of funding for the parks' protection and management.
NPCA's California Desert Field Office seeks to inform the public about issues concerning California's desert parks, including Joshua Tree National Park, involve the public in solution to these issues, and encourage enjoyment and protection of park lands.
As an example of NPCA's work, for years Joshua Tree National Park has been threatened by the proposed Eagle Mountain Landfill in Riverside County. Operation of what would be the world's largest garbage dump—surrounded on three sides by Joshua Tree National Park's wilderness—would threaten the health of the desert ecosystem that Joshua Tree protects. NPCA has been working for more than a decade to protect the park from this proposed landfill.
On November 10, 2009 the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous court decision overturning the land exchange necessary for the development of what would be the world's largest garbage dump on the boundary of Joshua Tree National Park. The court ruling is a landmark victory for Joshua Tree National Park's bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and the 1.3 million people who come here every year to enjoy this beloved national park.
To learn more about decision, read the full court ruling
Read more about the proposed landfill project
Air pollution is among the most serious threats to national parks. The National Park Service has established the NPS air quality webcam network to show “live” digital images of more than a dozen parks. Click here to see current air conditions at Joshua Tree National Park.