Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree sunrise, copyright QT Luong, www.terragalleria.com/parks

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A geologic showcase that is a climber's gymnasium, plus two different desert settings, are on display in Joshua Tree National Park. Straddling the geographic divide that splits the Mojave Desert from an element of the Sonoran Desert, the park located about two hours east of Los Angeles in Southern California is both a day tripper's paradise and an adventurer's escape.

Though it draws its name from the highly distinctive stands of Joshua tree with their contorted limbs capped by green spikes, the national park's name no doubt could have been just as closely associated with its boulder fields.

As distinctive as the trees, if not more so among climbers, the geologic rubble in varying stages of decomposition makes Joshua Tree a frequent destination for those who enjoy bouldering or honing their skills on granite walls and outcrops. Youngsters are drawn to the mazes of some of these boulder fields for games of hide and seek, while campers seeking a weekend reprieve from the city and work find the campgrounds with their rock backdrops perfect.

Joshua Tree also overflows with diverse desert vegetation and wildlife. There are intriguing chollas, the so-called "jumping" cactus quick to impale inquisitive fingers, and odd-looking ocotillos with their long spindly limbs that bear reddish flower spikes in April and occasionally again in the fall.

Spend any time in either the Mojave or Colorado deserts in the park, and exhibit enough patience, and you just might be rewarded by the appearance of a walking fossil, the desert tortoise. These landlubbing cousins to water-going turtles are believed to have walked the earth for 15 million years or more. In Joshua Tree, they live in burrows they dig in the desert floor and survive for upwards of 80 years on vegetation and rainfall they at times capture in depressions they scoop in the earth.

But as spectacular as the days can be in the park, so, too, are the nights. As flames from campfires leap skyward as day ends, the park's night skies take over, revealing the cosmos in spectacular clarity thanks to the relative lack of light pollution.

Traveler's Choice For: Climbing, wildlife, desert vegetation, camping, geology, photography.

Park History: Joshua Tree National Park

Though the park might appear too rough and rugged to sustain life, people have been living in and around the area for at least 5,000 years, according to the National Park Service.

Seasons in Joshua Tree

From hot summers to cool winters, Josha Tree's seasons nudge most visitors to show up in spring and fall.

Lodging At Joshua Tree

There is no lodging, other than campgrounds, inside Joshua Tree National Park. As a result, you'll have to look to the inns and motels in the towns that surround the park.

Camping in Joshua Tree

There are eight front-country campgrounds (nine when you consider the Sheep Pass group campground) in Joshua Tree National Park. That might not seem like many for a park of nearly 800,000 acres, but combined they offer nearly 500 campsites.

Hiking in Joshua Tree

Hiking amid the oddly shaped Joshua trees, past clusters of cacti, and through mazes of rock rewards with both wonders right in front of your eyes as well as gorgeous far-off vistas. But you need to be prepared for wandering in this desertscape.

Wildlife in Joshua Tree

As desolate as the desert might appear, Joshua Tree is quite alive. True, the desert tortoise, which spends an estimate 95 percent of its life underground, might not be readily visible. But birds always seem to be flitting about, as are lizards.

Desert Vegetation of Joshua Tree

To say there is distinctive vegetation in Joshua Tree is an understatement from the get-go. If the resident Joshua trees were the only vegetation of distinction it would suffice, but the park is rich with such curious plants as "jumping" cacti and spindly trees used in some parts of the Southwest as living fences.

Joshua Tree's Geology

Though to the lay person it might not be obvious, the jumbles of rock piled about Joshua Tree got their start deep underground via volcanic machinations. It was the upward pumping of monzogranite -- a particular form of molten rock -- that eventually gave birth to the landscape that now greets us.

Resources For Visiting Joshua Tree

This is where you can find websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books related to the park.

Joshua Tree National Park News

More Fee Proposals From National Parks, Including One For A $20 Day Pass

National parks around the country continue to push out proposals to increase fees in an effort to fund their operations. Among the latest proposals is one for a $20 day pass at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park Campgrounds Reopen For The Season

While more than a few parks are winding down their high seasons and getting ready to ease into the winter months, at Joshua Tree National Park in California the high season is coming and to prepare the park has reopened all of its campgrounds.

Parks Can Provide Great Viewing Platforms For Night Sky Events Like A Super Moon

Parks, especially those in locations with minimal night sky distractions from artificial light, can be great locations for observing—and photographing—celestial events such as Monday's so-called Super Moon. A number of parks offer special night sky programs, but your opportunities to enjoy those out-of-the-world scenes aren't limited to organized events. As the photo accompanying this story confirms, the right locale and timing can provide a chance for a super photo.

Joshua Tree National Park Images