Joshua Tree National ParkSurreal and Beautiful

It’s totally different from any other National Park we’ve visited – no snowy mountains, blue lakes, rushing rivers or the other types of scenery we generally associate with our National Parks. From the wild looking trees to the stacked rocks, Joshua Tree first appears as a rather forbidding world with relentless sun, little water and hot summer temperatures. However, it’s home to hundreds of species of plants and wildlife which all learned to survive in this hardy environment.

Joshua Tree was originally named as a National Monument in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an effort to conserve those plants and animals from human interference. In 1994, the area was expanded to 792,510 acres and it became Joshua Tree National Park, with 80% of the land managed as wilderness areas.

The Park actually consists of two diverse geographical areas—the Mojave Desert in the western half of the Park and the Colorado Desert to the east. The Mojave Desert section is populated with pinyon pines, junipers, scrub oaks, Mojave yucca plants and prickly pair cacti. But what dominates the area are the Joshua trees –not really trees but actually a species of yucca. They can grow to more than 40 feet tall and during spring offer clusters of cream-colored flowers. The crazy branches grow out after the flowering season.

Amazing jumbles of what looks like stacked rocks are everywhere containing unlikely shapes – perfect for rock climbers. These rocks are really not stacked as they appear – they began underground resulting from volcanic activities when magma rose from below and intruded the existing rocks. As it cooled and crystalized underground, cracks formed on the granite and eventually rose above the Earth’s surface. Today, we see what looks like piles of boulders throughout the park, but they are actually called monzogranite.

We also visited the eastern part of the Park—the Colorado Desert, part of the lower Colorado River Valley. No Joshua trees here—but lots of varieties of cactus, including ocotillo, palo verde, and patches of cholla. It’s a living desert, with wildflowers popping up in the spring. It’s truly amazing how these plants and animals have adapted to life in these conditions.

There are eight campgrounds in the Park, but none are really suited for large RVs. There are no electric or water hookups, but most offer either pit or flush toilets. Cottonwood Campground, which is located near the east entrance to the Park can accommodate motorhomes and trailers with up to a combined length of 35 feet at some of their sites, and it is best to make reservations in advance during the fall, winter and spring seasons. A few of the 18 sites at Belle Campground can accommodate RVs of up to 35 feet. Despite the lack of RV facilities, staying in the Park and being able to experience the sunset, sunrise and night skies is an amazing experience. More campground information here.

We chose to stay at an RV park in nearby Indio and drive to the Park for day trips. Pack a picnic lunch, pull over at one of the picnic areas and just soak up the magnificent scenery. It’s an unusual but awesome experience.

Helpful trip planning apps

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