At almost 800,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park is a huge park in Southern California teeming with a variety of fauna and flora, climatic extremes, and otherwordly geological features. It features howling gales, sudden torrents, and an intricately linked ecosystem.
Joshua Tree, which became a national monument in 1936, is home to the quintessential “high” and “low” deserts and offers a vivid contrast to illustrate the differences to those who mistakenly believe all deserts are the same. The eastern half of the park is dominated by the low Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert), which sits below 3000 feet. This arid land is dotted by the creosote bush and the cholla cactus.
The western half of the park is dominated by the higher, wetter, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert, and it is here that the tree for which the park is named can be found in abundance. That Joshua tree has been both praised for being breathtaking and chastised for being repulsive. These hardy trees survive on the five fan palm oases that dot this half of the park.
Park Animals You Might See
If you happen to be in Joshua Tree during the day, you’ll see a mulitude of birds, lizards, and squirrels. You’ll also want to be careful of the numerous burrow openings as you hike through.
At night, though, is when most of the animals come after resting through the heat of most days: snakes, kangarro rats, coyotes, jack rabbits, and bighorn sheep are but a few of the nocturnal creatures roaming their desert domain. Regardless, if you happen to be in the park around dawn or dusk, you’ll likely to a flurry of activity as animals are either just stirring or just going down to rest.
Spring Birding Season
Spring is the time of year season for birding. Although there are plenty of year-round residents, the vast majority of the park’s birds are transients and summer nesters that come to alight in the park during the spring. Resident bird species include greater roadrunners, mockingbirds, wrens, doves, thrashers, and quails, among others.
Migrants include sparrows, juncos, sparrows, robins, and thrushes, staying from winter through mid-spring will remain in the park into March. Summer nesters include other thrashers, flycatchers, kingbirds, orioles, and bluebirds
Kids who visit may earn their Junior Ranger badge when they complete a number of special activities. Activities include attending ranger programs, picking up park trash, and completing various investigative projects or experimentation in life sciences, Earth sciences, physical sciences, and more.
Faults and Earthquakes
Hundreds of fault lines, including the infamous San Andreas Fault, crisscross Joshua Tree National Park, and visitors can trace a long history of the effects of earthquakes throughout the terrain. The San Andreas can be seen in the southern area of the park, while two others – Blue Cut Fault and Pinto Mountain Fault – can be seen in the center and northern reaches of the park, respectively. The oases found in the park are the results of natural springs caused by the movements in the fault lines throughout history.
Joshua Tree National Park is about a half-hour drive from Palm Springs and is open year-round; the best way to learn even a fraction of what there is to learn about the park is to visit, not read about it. If you can go once during each of the four seasons, it will be like you’ve visited four different parks, as the park changes its personality to match that of the changing seasons.
For information on lodging (including camprgounds and motels), stores, dining, and more, please visit http://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm.