Hint: They aren’t actually trees. They’re a species of yucca.
Joshua Tree National Park straddles the boundary between the Colorado and Mojave deserts. The east half is Colorado desert & much like southern Arizona. The west half, where the famous Joshua trees reside, is Mojave desert. You can see the transition as you drive north-south through the park.
The iconic photos of Joshua Tree National Park generally show one or more joshua’s silhouetted against a sunset or star field. We didn’t catch a sunset while in the west part of the park and there weren’t many visible stars, so daylight photos will have to do.
I was most impressed by the vast forests of joshua’s in the broad valleys between the various mountains. A joshua every 50 feet or so, as far as the next ridgeline. Certainly a unique landscape.
We saw what I presume to be joshua tree blossoms. Either that or really big artichokes grow on joshua trees in the desert. Could be either. Do your own research.
Most tourists seem to gravitate towards the rock formations scattered throughout the park – at least that’s where most of the tourist cars were piled up. The formations are impressive. Lots of rock climbers hang out at the formations.
This is a well known ‘dark sky’ area. It’s far enough from big cities that there’s less light pollution, making it suitable for stargazing. We had scattered clouds and a bright moon, so no stargazing. Clouds beat moon beats stars.
I wasn’t too disappointed though. Stargazing in below zero weather near the wilderness area along the Minnesota/Ontario border was impressive enough.
We did catch one half decent sunset while camped in Cottonwood Campground.
The weather was good. It never rains in California. It snows like crazy though. We missed the big snow storms – a couple days before we got here the park got hit with enough snow that some people couldn’t get to their campsites. For us, temps were around freezing at night and in the 50’s during the day. Good hiking weather, but too cold and windy to sit outside at night and enjoy the stars that we wouldn’t have been able to see anyway.
It’s high season, so the campgrounds were mostly full. I reserved a few days ahead and found usable sites. With the exception of Cottonwood on the south edge of the park, they’re also fairly primitive. Small sites, no water, pit toilets. Bring something to level your camper or get used to sleeping downhill. Or in our case, both.
Many people disperse camp on BLM land in the desert outside the south entrance to the park. If you have a larger RV or trailer, this might be the best option.
This was our first time camping in California. We toured our way through the state about fifteen years ago, hitting the big National Parks, and had spent a day in Death Valley on another trip, but never camped in California or visited Joshua Tree.
Our plan was to spend a weekend at Kodachrome State Park. That area got hit with a bunch of snow, and nights are expected to be well below freezing for at least a week yet, so we’ll have to kick that one down the road a bit.
Maybe next time
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