Magnificent Desert: California’s Joshua Tree National Park

7448 National Park Blvd., Twentynine Palms, California Here is the very essence of the desert: clear skies; crisp, clean, sparkling

Joshua Tree National Park, California
Snowy cholla cacti in the park are much shorter than the Joshua trees, with the tallest tree being 40 feet high.

7448 National Park Blvd., Twentynine Palms, California

Here is the very essence of the desert: clear skies; crisp, clean, sparkling air; and some half-million acres of fascinating landforms, plants, and animals. The area is in fact the conjunction of two deserts—the Colorado to the east and the higher, cooler, and moister Mojave in the western part of the park, where the Joshua trees grow.

These strange trees—with their shaggy bark resembling a pelt of rough fur and their contorted branches resembling outstretched arms—could hardly be imagined, but once seen, they can never be forgotten. Great jumbled mounds of gigantic rounded boulders appear randomly among the trees, adding to the surreal character of the landscape.

At the park’s northeast entrance is the Oasis Visitor Center, where there is indeed an oasis—The Oasis Mara. From the center a road heads south through the Colorado Desert, where cholla cactus and scarlet-flowering ocotillo thrust their thorny limbs above patches of creosote bushes, the prevailing form of plant life here. Near the south entrance a 71/2-mile trail to Cottonwood Spring (a man-made oasis that bird-watchers will find rewarding) leads to Lost Palms, the largest of the park’s five oases. There are nine campgrounds, mainly in the central section of the park, and a variety of hiking trails. Water is scarce, so bring your own.

–Open year-round.

www.nps.gov/jotr

(760) 367-5500

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest