Ramble On

Monday, September 11, 2017

Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park - part 1

 Back in the winter of 2006 I was in Southern California on business.  My team had elected to stay over the weekend rather than flying back and forth to the east coast, so I took the rental car and made my first trip to Joshua Tree National Park during that trip.  I hadn’t planned my time well for that one; but the park is so fascinating I added it to the itinerary for the 2017 vacation.

A quick reference to the park’s website will provide an excellent overview, but I also picked up a copy of “Best Easy Day Hikes” in Joshua Tree (linked below).  I’ve used these guides in quite a few parks, including Acadia, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Shenandoah.  I reckon I have seven or eight of them – and at one point I had completed every day hike listed in the Shenandoah book!

With even this modest preparation, I already knew much more about the park then I did that first time I visited.  Joshua Tree is a desert place – but the park itself actually straddles the border of two North American deserts – the Mojave in the Northeast, and the Sonoran in the Southwest.  On that previous trip, I entered through the Mojave, but this time, I drove over from Palm Desert, through the Sonoran side.

The landscape character is clearly divided in two, with the Sonora an arid, rocky place, and the Mojave characterized by unique rocky formations and the Joshua Tree itself.  On the east coast, we are conditioned to think of deserts as a sandy place with very few plants, lifeless as far as the eye can see.  That is the experience you have in Death Valley, but here in Joshua Tree, specialized vegetation abounds – even though I was there in the summer, and the plants do everything they can to conserve water for themselves, there was green to be found in both deserts, and in one spot, the plants were even in bloom! 

Before getting much further into the Joshua Tree experience, I want to spend a moment or two talking about the eponymous trees.  It’s actually a type of yucca, and its range is not limited to this park – it is found in Nevada and Arizona as well, and south into Mexico.  Young trees are single stemmed and grow to around three or four feet tall.  Once a tree matures, flowers, and has seeds that germinate, it is likely to branch.  They can live to be older than 150 years and reach heights of 40 feet in the park, but as the trees get older they begin to fade back to a single stem before they die.

Interpretive guides say that the trees host all sorts of wildlife, including orioles, small mammals, insects, and reptiles.  Here I was out in the mid-day heat, and those animals, all smarter than me, were hidden in the shade!    


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