The other day we took a ride up to Joshua Tree National Park with a couple of new friends who had never been to the park before. It’s always fun to introduce people to Joshua Tree, both because it’s one of our favorite places, and because people are always so amazed by it.
The park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It was first established as Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936, and was elevated to National Park status on October 31, 1994. It’s definitely a study in contrasts. Elevations in the park range from a low of 536 feet to a high of 5,814 feet and encompass almost 800,000 acres.
It’s hard to pick a favorite area within the park, but if we just had to, it would probably be (at least for me) the Jumbo Rocks area near the 29 Palms Entrance. This area, punctuated by boulders the size of office buildings that are piled up on top of each other, look like nothing so much as a set from the Flintstones (maybe that’s even where the animators got their inspiration for Bedrock).
In any event, geologists believe these giant granite boulders were born more than 100 million years ago, and slowly emerged from the earth as wind and water eroded the soil around them. Seems like a plausible explanation, especially when you look at other areas of the park where the process exists in less finished stages, but it’s hard to imagine the amount of time required to change a landscape so dramatically.
The Joshua Tree forests themselves also tend to amaze people – especially those from the East Coast. Joshua Trees, for anyone who hasn’t seen them, look like giant Yucca plants that have grown up to be tree-size, with multiple branches coming out of a single central stalk. There’s just nothing quite like seeing an entire landscape filled with thousands of Joshua Trees, especially when they are blooming (which has, by the way, just begun).
Wildflower season is still a couple of weeks away this year in Joshua Tree, but you can already see the signs that it’s going to be a great wildflower season. The ground is still damp, and all sorts of green plants have emerged. Desert blooms are always spectacular, and the ones in the Joshua Tree National Park are no exception. For the best wildflower watching, we generally recommend that people enter at the Cottonwood entrance (East of Palm Springs on Interstate 10). Cottonwood starts out in the low desert and climbs up gradually. Each new elevation brings a new group of wildflowers and cacti, along with a new and often vibrant color palate.
Each time we visit Joshua Tree National Park, we try to check out a new turn-off, and there are hundreds of them. We also like to visit favorites like Split Rock, Skull Rock, Hidden Valley and Key’s View (where, if it’s really clear, you can see the Salton Sea, and all the way to Mexico). Makes it tough, because as we add new favorites, each visit takes longer!