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Joshua Tree National Park
IUCN Category II (National Park)
Location Riverside County & San Bernardino County, California, USA
Nearest city Twentynine Palms, San Bernardino
Coordinates 33°47′18.22″N 115°53′53.60″W / 33.7883944°N 115.898222°W / 33.7883944; -115.898222Coordinates: 33°47′18.22″N 115°53′53.60″W / 33.7883944°N 115.898222°W / 33.7883944; -115.898222
Area 789,745 acres (319,598 ha)
Established October 31, 1994
Visitors 1,256,421 (in 2006)
Governing body National Park Service
Joshua Tree National Park, seen on a 2003 Landsat image

Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California. Declared a U.S. National Park in 1994 when the US Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act (Public Law 103-433), it had previously been a U.S. National Monument since 1936. It is named for the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) forests native to the park. It covers a land area of 789,745 acres (319,598 ha). A large part of the park is designated to wilderness area; some 429,690 acres (173,890 ha). Straddling the San Bernardino County/Riverside County border, the park includes parts of two deserts, each an ecosystem whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert; and the lower Colorado Desert. The Little San Bernardino Mountains run through the southwest edge of the park.[1]


Geography and Botany


Mojave Desert

The higher, drier, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of Yucca brevifolia, the Joshua Tree, which the park is named for. It occurs in patterns from dense forests to distantly spaced specimens. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California's deserts. The dominant geologic features of this landscape are hills of bare rock, usually broken up into loose boulders. These hills are popular amongst rock climbing and scrambling enthusiasts. The flatland between these hills is sparsely forested with Joshua trees. Together with the boulder piles and Skull Rock, the trees make the landscape otherworldly.

Colorado Desert

The park is named after the Joshua tree

Below 3,000 feet (910 m), the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features habitats of Creosote bush scrub; Ocotillo, desert Saltbush and mixed scrub including Yucca and Cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii). There are areas of such Cactus density they appear as natural gardens. The lower Coachella Valley is on the southeastern side of the Park with sandy soil grasslands and desert dunes.

The only palm native to California, Washingtonia filifera or the California Fan Palm, occurs naturally in five oases in the park and are the rare areas where water occurs naturally year round and all forms of wildlife abound.[1]


Giant Marbles
Climbing the Old Woman Rock
Climbers in Hidden Valley Campground in March 2008

The rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park were formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface. Groundwater is responsible for the weathering that created the spheres from rectangular blocks.[2]



Nine established campgrounds exist in the park, only two of which (Black Rock Canyon and Cottonwood) provide water and flush toilets. A fee is charged per night for each camping spot.[3] Backcountry camping, for those who wish to backpack, is permitted with a few regulations.[4]


There are several hiking trails within the park, many of which can be accessed from a campground. Shorter trails, such as the one mile hike through Hidden Valley, offer a chance to view the beauty of the park without straying too far into the desert. A section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail meanders for 35 miles through the western side of the park.[5] The lookout point at Keys View, towards the south of the park, offers views of the Coachella Valley and Salton Sea.

Nature walks inside the park include:

  • Hidden Valley
  • Indian Cove
  • Cholla Cactus Garden

Longer trails include:

  • Lost Horse Mine
  • Lost Palms Oasis
  • Fortynine Palms Oasis


The park is extremely popular with rock climbers (who often refer to it as "JT" if they are locals). It was originally a winter practice area while Yosemite Valley and other parts of the Sierra Nevada were snowbound, but later became an area of interest in its own right. There are thousands of named climbing routes, at all levels of difficulty. The routes are typically short, the rocks being rarely more than 230 ft (70 m) in height, but access is usually a short, easy walk through the desert, and it's possible to do a number of interesting climbs in a single day. The rocks are all composed of quartz monzonite, a very rough type of granite made even more so as there is no snow or ice to polish it as in places like Yosemite.


The Geology Motor Tour is located in the south of the park and provides a self-guided tour for those visitors with a four-wheel drive vehicle. There are sixteen stops on the tour showcasing the region's geology.[6]


There are over 250 species of bird in the park including resident desert birds such as the Greater Roadrunner and Cactus Wren as well as Mockingbirds, Le Conte's Thrasher, Verdin and Gambel's Quail. There are also many transient species that may spend only one or two seasons in the park. Noted birding spots in the park include: fan palm oases, Barker Dam and Smith water Canyon. Queen Valley and Lost Horse Valley also provide good birding but with a different range of species because of the lack of water. These are often good places to see Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Oak Titmouse.


A good place to view wildlife is at Barker Dam, a short hike from a parking area near Hidden Valley. Desert Bighorn Sheep sometimes stop by the dam for a drink. Tours of the Barker Dam area are available.


Of the park's total land area of 789,745 acres (319,598 ha), 429,690 acres (173,890 ha) are designated wilderness and managed by the National Park Service (NPS) in accordance with the Wilderness Act. The NPS requires registration for overnight camping at specific locations called registration boards. Other requirements include the use of a camp stove as open campfires are prohibited and employing Leave No Trace camping techiques (also known as "pack it in, pack it out").[7] Although bicycles are not allowed in wilderness areas, horses are, but a permit must be obtained in advance for travel in the backcountry.

Panoramic 360° view of Joshua Tree Park
Panorama of the view south from the popular Keys View in the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA. Visible landmarks are the Salton Sea (230 ft/70 m below sea level) at rear left, along towards the center the Santa Rosa Mountains behind Indio and the San Jacinto Mountains behind Palm Springs. In the valley floor, the San Andreas Fault is clearly visible. At the rear right is the 11,500 ft (3,500 m) San Gorgonio Mountain.



Teddy-bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) at the Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park
  • Birds, Joshua Tree National Park Association
  • California Desert Protection Act-1994, PDF document

See also

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

North America : United States of America : California : Desert : Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park [1] is a United States National Park that is located in the Southern California Desert. The park encompasses nearly 800,000 acres of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, conserving two separate desert ecosystems at different altitudes. The name of the park is derived from the distinctive Joshua Tree, a tall-growing variety of the yucca genus that grows prevalently within its boundaries.



The area enclosed by the park was declared a National Monument in 1936, a Biosphere Reserve in 1984 and finally a National Park in 1994.

The name Joshua Tree was reportedly given by a band of Mormons who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century, the tree's unique shape reminding them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky.

The profile of the Joshua Tree National Park (then a National Monument) was raised significantly in 1987 with the release of the best-selling U2 album The Joshua Tree, the cover of which featured evocative black-and-white photography of the Park's landscape and distinctive trees.


Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. 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. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Five fan palm oases also dot the park, indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally and wildlife abounds.

Flora and fauna

While it may at first appear lifeless, the desert supports a myriad of creatures that become active during the evening and early morning. Coyotes are commonly seen near the park roads making their rounds. Jackrabbits and the shy kangaroo rats emerge from their dens in the evenings to forage. Bobcats are less frequently seen, but a lucky traveler might catch one silhouetted against the moonlight. Birds in the park include burrowing owls, vultures, golden eagles, and roadrunners. Lizards, tarantulas, and rattlesnakes may be found among the rocks.

Joshua Tree Monsoon
Joshua Tree Monsoon

Days are typically clear with less than 25 percent humidity. Temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average high/low of 85 and 50°F (29 and 10°C) respectively. Winter brings cooler days, around 60°F (15°C), and freezing nights. It occasionally snows at higher elevations. Summers are hot, over 100°F (38°C) during the day and not cooling much below 75°F (24°C) until the early hours of the morning.

Get in

By air

Palm Springs International Airport (IATA: PSP) [2] is the closest airport to the park.

By train

Palm Springs is also the nearest city with an Amtrak station; it is served by the Sunset Limited [3] Los Angeles - New Orleans route.

By car

Joshua Tree National Park lies 140 miles east of Los Angeles. It can be approached from the west via Interstate 10 and Hwy 62 (Twentynine Palms Highway). The north entrances to the park are located at Joshua Tree Village and the city of Twentynine Palms. The south entrance at Cottonwood Spring, which lies 25 miles east of Indio, can be approached from the east or west, also via Interstate 10.


Entry fee options are as follows: The Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass, $30 for 12 months; vehicle entry, $15.00 for 7 days; walk-in entry, $5.00 for 7 days. Alternatively, the new (as of January 1st, 2007) National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass can be purchased for $80 and allows free entry to all National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Forest Service sites where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged for one year.

Get around

By car

The main roads through the park are paved and easily accessible to passenger vehicles. Several dirt roads through the park may also be passable by automobiles, although conditions often require high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles; check at the ranger stations for current road conditions.

By foot

There are numerous trails throughout the park. Be sure to carry and drink lots of water while hiking.

By bike

Many of the park trails and roads are excellent for mountain biking; check at a ranger station for options.

Barker Dam
Barker Dam
  • Hidden Valley. Located in the northern portion of the park, a short trail leads through boulders to an old cattler rustler's hideout.
  • Barker Dam. Built in the early 1900's to hold water for cattle and mining use, today the area is a rain-fed reservoir attracting local wildlife.
  • Keys View. This overlook, with an elevation of 5,185 feet above sea level, is an extremely popular spot for watching the sunset. On rare clear days the view extends over the Salton Sea to Mexico.
  • Geology Tour Road. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended (but not always necessary, check with rangers) for this eighteen mile dirt road. Along this route are numerous interesting geologic formations and trails.
  • Cholla Cactus Garden. A short walk leads through a thick stand of cholla cactus, noted for its especially prickly exterior.
  • Cottonwood Springs. Located near the south entrance of the park, Cottonwood Springs is a desert oasis that offers a respite from the arid lands around it. Willows and birds are found in abundance near this natural spring.
Kitty in a Vise
Kitty in a Vise


Trails within the park include:

  • Boy Scout Trail (16 miles / 25.8 km). A scenic trail through the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks that is moderately strenuous.
  • 49 Palms Oasis Trail (3 miles / 4.8 km). A hike to an oasis surrounded by stands of fan palms and pools of water. Moderately strenuous.
  • Lost Horse Mine/Mtn. Trail (4 miles / 6.4 km). Site of ten-stamp mill. The summit elevation is 5,278 feet (1,609m). Moderately strenuous.
  • Lost Palms Oasis Trail (8 miles / 11.2 km) A canyon with numerous palm stands, with a possible sidetrip to Victory Palms and Munsen Canyon that involves scrambling. Moderately strenuous.
  • Mastodon Peak Trail (3 miles / 4.8 km). A trail offering excellent views of the Eagle Mountains and Salton Sea, with a summit elevation of 3,371 feet (1,027m). Strenuous.
  • Ryan Mountain Trail (3 miles / 4.8 km). Excellent views of Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant valleys with a summit elevation of 5,461 feet (1,664m). Strenuous.


The odd shapes of the Joshua Tree, as well as the dramatic geology and desert scenery, make the park a great place for photographers. As with many areas, photography is best in the early morning and late evening hours.

Rock climbing

The park is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the world with more than 4,500 established routes offering a wide range of difficulty. Note that there are differing regulations depending on whether a climb is being done within the designated wilderness area or not; check with a ranger for current regulations.


Services within the park are limited, but food, gas, and supplies can all be purchased just outside of the park in the City of Twentynine Palms. Park visitor centers all offer bookstores selling postcards, posters, and books of local interest.


There are no restaurants or stores in the park, but numerous options are available along Highway 62, north of the park, or in towns such as Twentynine Palms, located to the east and west of the park along Interstate 10.


Water is available from all visitor centers and most campgrounds, and the Oasis Visitor Center also sells beverages. Towns, such as Twentynine Palms, located outside of the park borders offer additional options for refreshment.



There are no hotels within the park, but numerous hotels cluster along Highway 62 in the towns of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree .


There are many campgrounds within the park, but they will often fill well before sunset, especially on weekends. Sadly, as of 2005 there are no longer any free sites, although costs are reasonable at $5 - $10 per night. All campgrounds are open year-round. Note that some sites may be reserved in advance through the National Park Service Reservation System.

  • Belle Campground. A primitive campground located near the North Entrance Station. 18 sites, $10 per night, no water available.
  • Black Rock Campground. Located in the northwest corner of the park, this campground is not accessible from the main park roads. 100 sites, $15 per night, water and flush toilets available.
  • Cottonwood Campground. Located next to the park's south entrance. 62 sites, $15 per night, water and flush toilets. There are also three group sites available for $25 per night.
  • Hidden Valley Campground. Hidden Valley is the first campground after the West Entrance Station. 45 sites, $10 per night. There is no water available and motorhomes and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not permitted.
  • Indian Cove Campground. This campground is not accessible from the main park roads and may be reached only via Highway 62 and Indian Cove Road, between the North and West Entrance Stations. 101 sites, $15 per night. Water is available from the ranger station, and thirteen group sites are also available for $20/$35 per night.
  • Jumbo Rocks Campground. The largest campground in the park, located near the junction of the park roads in the northern part of the park. Sites are surrounded by scenic granite formations. 124 sites, $10 per night, no water available.
  • Ryan Campground. Easily accessible from West Entrance Station, a primitive campground with 31 sites, $10 per night, no water available.
  • Sheep Pass Group Campground. Groups only, located along the West Entrance Road. Six sites, $20/$35 per night, no water available.
  • White Tank Campground. Located along the main park road, close to the North Entrance Station. 15 sites, $10 per night. There is no water available and motorhomes and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not permitted.


Permits are required for all backcountry camping and can be obtained at the visitor centers. Backcountry campsites must be located at least one mile from the road and 500 feet from any trail. Camping in washes is not recommended due to possible flash flood danger. All water must be carried in as natural water sources are limited and reserved for the local wildlife population. Open fires are also forbidden, and all cooking should be done over portable camp stoves.

Stay safe

By far, the greatest danger in this park is the weather. Due to the high desert environment, it will be blazing hot during the day and temperatures may drop to freezing during the night. Do not hike without adequate water. One gallon per person per day is the minimum recommended amount. Wear sunscreen, dress in layers, and take all other precautions when dealing with a desert environment. Be aware that even a tiny amount of rain can cause flash flooding; avoid canyons and drainage areas during severe weather.

Other dangers within the park include rattlesnakes, abandoned mines, and the numerous prickly and thorny desert plants. In general, snakes can be avoided by being careful when in rocky areas. Mines can be found throughout the park, and while most have been sealed over, open mines can still be found. Do not enter mines - most of these areas are over 100 years old and are extremely dangerous.

  • Twentynine Palms. Located on the park's north border, this town provides a source of lodging, food and supplies for park visitors.
  • Palm Springs. A desert oasis located south of the park, Palm Springs offers resorts, golfing, dining, and other escapes for travelers.
This is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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