It takes a moment or two, and a couple of deep breaths, to acclimate to the beauty of the desert in Joshua Tree National Park. Then the peace of the place begins to seep in my bones and I can quiet my mind and appreciate what an interesting place this is. And I can hang out here for multiple days for the low entrance fee of $15 (per vehicle)–one of the bargains of our National Park system.
The Cahuilla people lived here for centuries, then after World War I, veterans with lung damage from mustard gas sought relief in the desert climate. By the 1930s, the human pressure on this special place was increasing and activist Minerva Hoyt persuaded Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare it a national park in 1936. Today we can enjoy these special 794,000 acres where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge under the careful management of the US Park Service.
It is ideal to visit in winter as the temperatures are much milder than the 110 degrees+ of summer. The days may be shorter but the night sky is glorious. You can backpack, rock climb, horseback ride, walk, hike, and camp. The park is open 365 days a year, except when the government is shut down.
The famous Joshua Tree (thanks U2), is a member of the agave family with the latin name Yucca brevifolia. It is most associated with the Mojave Desert but it can be found in the Sonoran Desert and in the San Bernardino Mountains. The Cahuilla used their tough leaves for baskets or sandals and ate the flower buds or seeds. The plants are protected so if you want to plant a Joshua Tree when you get home, ask the visitor’s center about sourcing seeds.
There are a lot of wild critters that enjoy the Park. On our drive from the West entrance to Quail Springs, Hemingway Buttes and back, we saw a red-tailed hawk and common ravens. Spend longer in the park and you may see roadrunners, Bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.
The rocks are more fascinating than the wildlife. These piles of granite have been left behind after centuries of erosion. One of our party kept saying, “Who piled up all these rocks this way?” Um, God. Or time. Officially the rocks were pushed up from below by volcanic activity eons ago. “As the granite cooled and crystallized underground, cracks (joints) formed horizontally and vertically. The granite continued to uplift, where it came into contact with groundwater. Chemical weathering caused by groundwater worked on the angular granite blocks, widening cracks and rounding edges. Eventually the surface soil eroded, leaving heaps of monzogranite scattered across the land like careless piles of toy blocks.” (National Park Service brochure)
I have visited this park many times and I never tire of it. It is a must see and do If you are visiting the Palm Springs area.