Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park-PANOThe first time I saw Joshua Tree NP I thought I just crossed through the twilight zone and into another planet. The eerie landscape, rock formations, and the uncanny Joshua trees combine to transport me to a different state of mind.

This 800,000 acres park straddles the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in California. It is home to the most stunning rock piles, mountain ranges, desert views and an unexpected oasis here and there. 

The park was named after the most prevalent tree in the area. Mormons passing through the area called it Joshua Tree because it resembled their prophet, Joshua, praying to God.

Joshua Tree National ParkWithin the NP boundaries, you can enjoy an abundance of hiking and biking trails, bouldering and camping. The park is also a world famous destination for rock climbers.

Tip: You don’t have to be a professional rock climber to enjoy the rocks at Joshua Tree NP. A lot of formations are easy to climb. My family and I often scramble up the rock formation, find the path of least resistance and end up at the top with stunning views of desert and trees.

It took Mother Nature millions of years and many cataclysmic events to finally present us with this natural wonder. It all started with cooling lava flows. Then underground streams started the long process of sculpting the rocks. Mix in several tectonic shifts and several millions of years of wind and rain erosion. The result is unique formations like the Wonderland of Rocks, Arch Rock and Skull Rock.

For more details about the natural history of Joshua Tree NP, visit the official website here or at Wikipedia.

Joshua Tree National ParkThere are many ways to enjoy this colossal park. It all depends on your interests and how much time you have. The best way to enjoy it is to camp for a few nights at one of the campgrounds. The advantage of camping overnight is that you can explore the park at your own pace.

Tip: Temperatures in this high-desert can soar to 100's during the summer month. If you visit during the hot month, make sure you have plenty of water and find a shady spot.

During the day, explore the campground area or take trips to various hiking trails and rock formations. During the night enjoy an unobstructed view of the stars – no city lights to spoil the view.

If roughing it under the stars is not your thing, some camps offer RV sites. There is a total of 9 campgrounds to choose from - only 2 have water and toilets (Black Rock Canyon and Cottonwood).

Joshua Tree National ParkNot planning to camp out? You can take a day trip and explore a few sites. Finally, you can always stay in a motel in one of the nearby towns like Twenty Nine Palms. Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley - or drive from Palm Springs.

Whether you are camping or day tripping, make sure you explore some of the following:

Start at the North Entrance (29 Palms)

From highway 62, take Utah trail into the park. Stop at Oasis visitor center for passes, maps, guided tours and souvenirs. Keep going on Utah trail and show your passes or pay at the gate.

Tip: If you arrive after hours, the attendants may be already gone. If that happens, be ready to pay on your way out. 

Take Park Boulevard through the park. This main road passes several important stops and campgrounds like Live Oak; Skull Rock trail; Jumbo Rock campground; Geology Tour Road; Ryan Campground; Cap Rock trail and Hidden Valley trail.

Live Oak Picnic Area

Joshua Tree National Park"Live Oak" is a dramatic rock formation with a few oak trees at the base. It was named after an old Oak tree that still thrives between the rocks. Most Oaks in the park are too small to be called trees, but this one stands tall and healthy. 

This is a day use area, so no camping is allowed. But you can still enjoy a quick hike or climb the rocks for a better view of the surrounding area. You can also enjoy lunch or a snack at the few picnic tables or on top of a rock. 

Jumbo Rock Campground – Skull Rock

Joshua Tree National ParkA campground nestled around jumbo boulders. You don’t have to camp here to enjoy the views. Just before you reach this campground you will say a sign on the road for "Skull Rock". Park close to the camp entrance or across the street then take the 1.7 miles hike around the area. Look for a rock that looks like a face or skull.

You can park on the street next to the sign or you can go a little further and park at the camp - close to the entrance.  Look for a rock that looks like a face or skull.

Joshua Tree National ParkThe best way to see Skull Rock is to hike a few feet on the right side of the road (away from Skull Rock) and climb on top of the boulders. You can snap the best photos from this vantage point. 

After you enjoy the view from across the street, head toward Skull Rock and scramble to the top of the boulders next to it. If you arrive at the right time you can enjoy a dramatic view of the sun setting behind the rocks. 

Tip: If you are planning to camp here, you must plan ahead. It is very popular and always crowded.

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Geology Motor Tour

Joshua Tree National ParkAn 18-mile motor tour leads through one of Joshua Tree National Park’s most fascinating landscapes.

Tip: The road is very rough on this tour, so 4-wheel drive vehicles are strongly recommended.

There are 16 stops along a dirt road and it takes approximately two hours to make the round-trip. Get a self-guided tour brochure from the visitor center or at the start of the road.

Some of the highlights of the tour are Boulder Outcrops; Malapi Hill; Pleasant Valley and Gold Coin Camp.

If you are feeling adventures, instead of turning back at the end of the Geology tour road, continue on to Berdoo Canyon drive. This is a more rugged road that takes you thru a camp that was used by the California Aqueduct builders. This is a moderate to difficult drive for 4WD.

Hidden Valley Trail

Joshua Tree National ParkFurther along Park Boulevard (heading northwest) you will find this hidden nature trail. It is easy and family friendly. The trail winds between multi-colored rocks. Watch out for a rock that looks like a Trojan’s head. Picnic tables are available.

Arch Rock Nature Trail

This trail is on Pinto Basin road, which connects from Park Boulevard. After you go through the north entrance turn left instead of right and stop at the White Tank campground.

The trail starts from the campground at site # 9. It winds through several rock formations, the most dramatic is a 25-foot rock that looks like an Arch. You can climb around and through the arch.

Nearby, you can visit White Tank. A tank is a reservoir built by early settlers to collect rainwater and runoff.

Cottonwood Springs 

Joshua Tree National ParkIf you keep going south on Pinto Basin Road you will reach the Cottonwood visitor center.

From there you can easily get to a nature trail and a small oasis with California fan Palm trees. Another more difficult trail takes you to Lost Palms Oasis. This hike will take from 4 to 6 hours. The last part of the trail will climb to an overlook above the oasis.

After enjoying the view from the top, climb down a steep descent to take refuge under the palm trees. Also, from Cottonwood Springs, you can visit Mastodon Peak with sweeping views of San Jacinto mountains, Salton Sea and the Sonoran desert.

Stargazing

Joshua Tree National Park - StargazingLiving in cities, it is almost impossible to have a good view of the stars. You would have to go to a place like Joshua Tree NP for an amazing view of the heavens. 

In this high desert, it is very easy to avoid the glare of human civilization. Just walk a few feet away from any road or camp and you are in total darkness. Also, the skies are clear most night of the year due to the low rainfall. 

For first time stargazers, I recommend visiting "The Sky is the Limit Observatory" located just before the north park entrance and Twentynine Palms.

Joshua Tree National ParkEvery Saturday a large group of like minded people gathers to enjoy the heavenly displays. Many volunteers bring their large telescopes and allow people to view the Planets and Star Clusters. 

You don't really need a Telescope to enjoy the show. Your naked eye can see a lot of stars, constellations, the Milky Way and a few shooting stars. You can also use binoculars for a close-up view. 

Joshua Tree North Entrance

74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
(760) 367-5500

 

Cottonwood Visitor Center

Pinto Basin Rd.,
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
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