California’s Joshua Tree National Park is technically a part of the Mojave Desert, but it straddles the Colorado Desert. Where the Mojave is considered a high elevation desert, the Colorado Desert is a low elevation desert. So Joshua Tree is the unique meeting place of the two extremes. It was protected as a national monument in 1936, largely to stop cactus poachers from taking everything, and elevated to a national park in 1994 as part of the Desert Protection Bill. It’s namesake, the Joshua Tree, or Yucca brevifolia, earned its nickname for resembling arms raised in supplication, and became famous when U2 gave the name to their biggest album. U2 put Joshua Tree on my radar, and I’ve felt compelled to visit ever since.
Joshua Tree is famous for more than just the yuccas dotting the arid landscape. There are massive boulders and rock formations to explore. Three of the most famous of these are Arch Rock, Skull Rock and the once evasive Heart Rock. Fame comes with a price, and each had swarms of tourists descending on them for photographs. I descended on them too, of course, and managed a few pictures without people crawling into view with patience and creative staging. Each picture you see below was the result of waiting out the people taking their version of the same picture. But this is what you get in a place like this. Better to share than to have it owned by a private individual who bars access. National Parks are a treasure for all citizens to enjoy.
My visit to Joshua Tree National Park was a detour from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. This drive took me through the stark landscape of the Mojave Desert. This is a place where a full tank of gasoline and plenty of water are essential elements of your self-preservation. It’s so very different from the two cities on either end of the journey. You can see no signs of life for miles around you driving through the desert, and the desert is indifferent to your desire to stay alive in it. Come prepared.
There are several places to camp in Joshua Tree, and some additional motels nearby. There’s even a Starbucks in Twentynine Palms, not ten minutes from one of the entrances to the park. Civilization isn’t far at all from some parts of Joshua Tree, but you’ll feel like you’re on another planet anyway.