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California's Joshua Tree National Park

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California's Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees in winter.

© Rennett Stowe via Flickr
Contact Info:

Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
Phone: 760-367-5500
Email

Overview:

This desert park has more to offer than you think. At first glance, it’s a vast desert with blooming Joshua Trees. But upon closer inspection, it’s full of plants and animals, geological features, and weather that can change to extreme quickly. It’s a place to really take in the night sky and one that’s full of a rich, cultural history. As if that wasn’t enough, visitors can also hike, camp, bike, rock climb, enjoy nature walks, watch for birds, enjoy tours, and much more.

History:

While Joshua Tree didn’t reach national park status until 1994, humans have occupied the area for at least 5,000 years. The first group known to live in the area was the Pinto Culture, followed by the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla.

The area was also used by cattlemen, miners and homesteaders. Each group left a mark and now the park protects 501 archeological sites, 88 historic structures, 19 cultural landscapes, and showcases 123,253 items in its museum.

Joshua Tree became a national monument in 1936 and a national park in 1994.

When to Visit:

The park is always open and visitors are welcome anytime of year. Keep in mind that the park gets more crowded during the fall when temperatures are moderate and is at its highest during the spring wildflower season. If you are aiming to avoid crowds, summer is the best season, but remember that temperatures are hot no matter what time of day (around 100°F during the day).

Getting There:

The park has three entrance stations and is accessible by three major cities which you may choose to fly into: LA (140 miles east), San Diego (175 miles northeast), and Las Vegas (215 miles southwest). The closest airport is in Palm Springs.

The west entrance is located five miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village. The north entrance is in Twentynine Palms, located three miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Utah Trail. The south entrance is at Cottonwood Spring, which can be approached from the east or west, as well as by Interstate 10.

Fees/Permits:

There is an entrance fee to visit the park. If you are entering the park by vehicle, the fee is $15 which is valid for seven days. For those entering on foot, bicycle, motorcycle, or horse, the fee is $5, and is also good for seven days.

If you are a regular at Joshua Tree, check out the park’s annual pass. For only $30, you can visit the park as many times as you want for a full year.

There are also fees which apply to camping, and vary depending where you go.

Major Attractions:

There’s lots to do in the park including camping, hiking, bird watching, biking, star gazing, horseback riding, and tours. Here are some of the highlights:

Keys Ranch Guided Waking Tour: This National Historic Register Site was home to William F. Keys and his family who spent 60 years in this remote location. Tours are offered at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily from October through May.

Backpacking: With about 585,000 acres of wilderness, this park is a backpackers dream. Be sure to park and register at a backcountry registration board—there are 13 within the park.

Oasis of Mara: One of give spring-fed oases within the park where Indians once found water and shade.

Cholla Cactus Garden: A beautiful spot to take in picturesque views of the park and enjoy a self-guided nature walk.

Ocotillo Patch: Check out hundreds of Sonoran Desert plants. If you visit in March and April, you will get the chance to see their tips adorned with blooming flowers, and maybe even a hummingbird or two.

Hidden Valley: A scenic garden popular for picnics and camping.

*Things to Keep In Mind:

  • The temperature can change up/down by 40 degrees within 24 hours so be sure to bring a variety of clothes you can layer.
  • It does indeed rain in the desert, though it’s rare. The rain can cause flash floods to be alert.
  • Dehydration happens quickly in such hot temperatures to be sure to carry one gallon of water per person if you’re camping. Those biking or hiking should carry 2 gallons. When the water is half gone, turn back.
  • If you plan on making a campfire, you must bring your own wood.
Pets:

Pets are allowed in the park and must remain on a leash at all times. They cannot be more than 100 feet from a road, picnic area, or campground, and are not allowed on trails. Pets are never allowed to be left alone, especially not in a vehicle.

Accommodations:

There are nine campsites to choose from, each varying in price. Belle, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Ryans, and White Tank are all $10 and are limited to six people. Black Rock, Cottonwood, and Indian Cove charge a fee of $15. If you are camping with a group, check out Cottonwood, Indian Cove, and Sheep Pass offer group sites which accommodate 10-60 people and costs range from $25-40.

If camping in the desert isn’t appealing, there are hotels and inns that are affordable and in the area. There is a Best Western and Motel 6 in Twentynine Palms, as well as a Quality Inn and Royal Plaza Inn in Indio.

Areas of Interest Outside the Park:

Mojave National Preserve: Located only 90 miles from the park, visitors can take in the sites of sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and acres of wildflowers. Located between the busy cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Mojave provides a place to get away and camp, hike, backpack, hunt, and go horseback riding. Call 760-252-6100 for more information.

Grand Canyon National Park: While you’re out west, it’s hard not to visit the Grand Canyon. Located about 389 miles away, this park is perhaps the most iconic and popular park. Visitors can take in the sites or choose to hike, camp, take a mule ride, and much more.

Other nearby parks include Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (466 miles), Zion National Park (376 miles), and Death Valley National Park (335 miles).

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