After about five visits to the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, I finally made it to the Joshua Tree National Park. I head to Joshua Tree every year, for Bhakti Fest. But, since I want to soak up all the live music and workshops at the yoga festival, I rarely venture off site, except for a lone trip to Rite-Aid or Wal-Mart.
This time, I scheduled an extra four days to explore the high desert. While there were many highlights, I felt like kicking myself for never entering the Joshua Tree National Park before.
For $25, you get a pass that gives you pretty much unlimited access for a carload of people, for a week. For those on a time crunch, it’s easy to enter through one of the visitor centers and either take a drive for as long as you choose, or make a few short stops at trail heads or exhibit points near the entrance. Or, take in a short patio talk led by a forest ranger. The more adventurous, with more time, can backpack, hike, mountain climb, camp, or bike ride.
While the visitor centers are only open during traditional work daytime hours, the park never closes. You can take in glorious sunrises, full moon hikes with a ranger, or cultural history chats under the stars at one of the campground amphitheaters.
I split my time at the park into two days. In hindsight, I should have added a third, to go deeper into the trails. However, I made it a point to go to parts in the Mojave, where the Joshua trees grow amid a backdrop of incredible igneous rock formations. These huge rocks look like they were carved or sculpted, and carefully laid out like a jigsaw puzzle. Called monzogranite, these boulders formed 245 million years ago when hot molten lava was suppressed underground. Since it sits on the San Andreas fault, there was plenty of activity here. Huge ball shaped masses formed within rock which eroded over the millions of years.
According to Dar Spearing, Ph.D., “Horizontal stresses from the collision of tectonic plates created sets of parallel, vertical fractures within the buried rock. Later, mountain building pushed the rocks upward to form sets of X-shaped cracks standing at angles in the granite.”
The second day I went to the Pinto Basin and the Colorado Desert which is a subsection of the Sonoran Desert. Each region within the park has its unique look, in part as a result of the altitude and the limited rainwater runoff.
For example, cacti are in their glory in the area between the Mojave and the Colorado, in the Pinto Basin which is basically a transition zone. This is a well drained slope with loose gravel that is beneficial to cacti. The Colorado desert is lower elevation, and while hotter, more fertile for flowering plants. The mountain formations here are your more traditional.
Joshua Tree National Park was established as a national monument in 1936. Today, about 100 park rangers work within the 800,000 acres. Check the web site calendar to take advantage of any of the programs available, ranging from quick, free, patio talks, to full moon 90-minute hikes.
Know before you go.
- Weather can be extreme. Generally, the days are very hot and sunny. Yet, in 2014, eight inches of snow piled on the ground.
- There are very few flush toilets, or running water. Dry toilets can be found every now and then in the park.
- Garbage and recycling bins are placed near some of the more frequented areas. No littering, or feeding of wildlife, is allowed.
- There are plenty of snakes and bees here, so watch where and how you move about.
- Bring two liters of water per person, per day, and salty snacks to avoid dehydration.
- Smart phones won’t get a signal here.
- Seniors can buy a lifetime pass for just $10, valid at any of the national parks. But that rate increases soon.
- Palm Springs is the closest airport, but Ontario, Santa Ana, or even LAX are comfortable drives.