Like characters out of a Dr. Seuss book, the weird and wonderful Joshua trees that give this national park its name speckle the Mojave desert landscape outside of Palm Springs. These trees are members of the agave family and grow extremely slowly—between 0.5 and 3 inches per year. A period of cold weather is required before the trees can flower and then, only one small insect called the Yucca moth, can pollinate them. Because of this, climate change poses a big threat to the trees’ survival. You can see Joshua trees in most parts of the park, but the 6.6-mile Panorama Loop Trail is a great place to hike amongst them.
Joshua trees aren’t the only bizarre plant living in the park. Head to Cholla Cactus Garden to see thousands of cholla cacti. These strange-looking plants have spines that curl when moisture touches them, making them extremely hard to remove from your skin. If you have a Camelbak or water bottle that can squirt, get the spines wet from a distance and watch them curl. Stay on the path and wear closed-toed shoes.
This desert national park is a rock climber’s paradise. Keep your eyes peeled in areas like Hidden Valley for folks scaling the big rocks. There are thousands of established climbing routes here, and outfitters in the gateway town of Joshua Tree can help you get roped up and teach you the skills you’ll need.
Even if you’re not a climber, there’s a wonderland of things to see and do here, from hiking to hidden native California fan palm oases and cactus gardens to touring historical pioneer sites.
The main access to the park is northeast of Palm Springs, which is over 400 miles south of Yosemite Valley. A more beautiful, yet little-traveled way to get to Joshua Tree is to first drive down to Death Valley, then through the Mojave National Preserve, which boasts the largest Joshua tree forest in the world, and briefly cross old Route 66, aka America’s “Mother Road.”
Night Skies in Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park’s famous night skies make it a mecca for photographers. The remote location, far from the lights of cities, gives the opportunity for stars and constellations to pop out of the darkness. Favorite photo spots include the Cholla Cactus Garden, Arch Rock, Penguin Rock and Scorpius Arch. Here a few examples of the skies shot in the park.