A day trip to Joshua National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is the first US National Park we ever visited and for that reason, it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
We started our 29 day USA road trip at Joshua National Park, and after that, we visited a total of 8 National Parks, 1 State Park, and a Recreational Park.
At Joshua Tree National Park, located an hour from Palm Springs, California, were treated to an unspoiled view of isolated landscapes covered in sand, giant rock formations and arguably some of the most unique agriculture in the world.
We visited in the height of summer and the blazing desert heart is a tourist-deterrent in itself with temperatures hitting 110F/42C on a regular day.
Joshua National Park has a bone-dry terrain right in the heart of the Californian desert and the landscape has become a home to the distinctive Joshua trees. They’re dotted around the area for miles. Spending one day in an isolated desert landscape covered in a thick blanket of Californian sand, shaded from the heat by giant eerie rock formations gave us the ‘National Park bug’ that we simply couldn’t shift.
A thirsty landscape makes up the entirety of the park, offering unique paths of exploration, discovery, and education.
Joshua Tree National Park Facts
The Mojave and the Colorado combine in Joshua Nationa Park, offering a wide and distinct variety of vegetation and wildlife.
Some animals set up home in the land which is sculpted by strong high desert winds and sparse episodes of rain. Expect to see wildlife such as snakes, bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, coyotes, lynx, and black-tailed jackrabbits.
Alien geological features make Joshua Tree National Park beautifully unique, visitors can expect rare scenes of nature at its finest. The Joshua trees are formally known as ‘Yucca brevifolia’.
Joshua Trees are made up of needle-like pines and present themselves in many shapes and sizes. It is said that the Native Americans used the trees for many purposes including sandal making and healthy eating when roasting the seeds.
The average lifespan of a Joshua tree is around 150 years and they depend on timely bouts of rain to survive as long as they do. The ground beneath the trees is extremely dry, it made us question how anything can survive here.
Joshua Tree National Park covers an area of 3,200 square kilometers (1,235 square miles). Humans have occupied the JoshuaNational Park area for around 5,000 years. The Pinto Culture were one of the first documented, followed by American Indians including the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla.
The name “Joshua tree” was apparently given by a group of 19th century Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert. The shape of the trees reminded them of a Biblical story where Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Rock Star Gram Parsons died in 1973 close to Joshua National Park, he had previously requested his ashes be scattered at Cap Rock. More than 40 years later, Parsons’ fans still visit Cap Rock to pay tribute to their idol.
In 1987, U2 released the album, ‘The Joshua Tree’, named after a tree with which the band was photographed with near Darwin, California. It is a common misconception that the pictures were taken at Joshua Tree National Park, when in fact the shots were taken over 320 kilometers (200 miles) away.
Over 2.5 million people visited Joshua Tree National Park in 2016.
Loction of Joshua Tree National Park
We visited Joshua Tree National Park from Palm Springs after hiring our first ever rental car in a foreign country from Palm Springs airport.
Palm Springs is an ideal location to visit Joshua National Forest, we got to the North of the West Entrance, in just under an hour.
Blaring the River Country radio station, we passed North Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Morongo Valley and onto the Twentynine Palms Highway.
Our American road trip that we had dreamed of for years had begun. The scorching heat of July glared onto the melting road ahead.
Joshua National Park is accessible from nearby cities, Las Vegas (3.5 hours), Los Angeles (2.5 hours) and San Diego (3 hours).
Suggested Day Trip at Joshua National Park
The Joshua Tree Visitor Center stocks shelves full of bottled water, be sure to stock up before you enter the park, especially in summer. We were advised to spread the bottles around the car in case we were locked out and couldn’t access the trunk. The Park Ranger also gave us a warning about thirsty bees at Keys View, a viewpoint we were intending to visit.
Pick up a Joshua Tree National Park Map and ask the rangers about the current conditions, road closures, a suggested itinerary and general advice on the park.
Joshua National Park has a wonderfully convenient through road with plenty of chances to stop and admire the park attractions.
The Joshua Trees
Pull over at any opportunity to get up close to the signature trees that are only found in certain parts of the world.
Snap your obligatory Joshua Tree photograph and admire the unique appearance of the Yucca brevifolia.
In 1999, the Joshua National park experienced the largest fire in its history. The suspected cause was a passing thunderstorm which is thought to have sparked four fires in the area.
High winds fanned the flames and the fires raged beyond control incinerating over 14,000 acres of the park. Roads and trials were shut down and some campgrounds were evacuated. The Memorial Fire sign at Joshua National Park reminds visitors of what once stood before them. The remains of the fire and the damage to the agriculture is still visible on a charred field with barely any vegetation.
Keys view is one of the most popular attractions of the park. The viewpoint is perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, giving visitors the opportunity to experience panoramic views of the Coachella Valley.
The best time to visit Keys View is in the morning for a sweeping panorama that allows unspoiled views of two of Southern California’s tallest summits: Mount San Jacinto (elevation 10,834 feet/3,302 meters) and Mount Gorgonio (elevation 11,502 feet/3,506 meters).
Palm Springs can be seen from Keys View as well as the backdrop of the Coachella Valley. See the shimmery Salton Sea to the South East. Pick out the leafy green of Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve in the nearer distance.
Keep an eye out for thirsty bees and wasps in the area, particularly in summer. They are attracted to the moist air conditioning units of vehicles so keep an eye out when you exit and enter your vehicle.
If you arrive at Keys View on a super clear day, you may even get to see Mountain Signal in Mexico, which is over 90 miles away.
The infamous San Andreas fault line can be seen from Keys View which runs through California for almost 800 miles.
Wonderland of Rocks
The Willow Hole Trail at Joshua National Park leads deep into the Wonderland of Rocks trail, which is a labyrinth of wonderfully eerie rock formations.
Tectonic plate movements and desert weather erosion is mostly to blame for the inexplicable landscape on the trail as well as volcanic material surfacing from the depths of the earth.
Appreciating these rock formations up close is definitely on our list of top things to do in Joshua Tree National Park.
Cap Rock is one of the attractions of the park that is easily accessible.
The rock features boulder piles surrounded by Joshua Trees and other plants of the Mojave Desert.
A bread crumb trail of pebbles marks a path way to get up close to the Cap Rock feature.
You may find fans of Gram Parsons, the late rock star, paying their respects here.
Enjoy views of the unique Cap Rock from all around, it is one of the most photogenic features of the park. Enjoy the small, easy hikes that offer a close up view and climbing opportunities (always use caution and follow park regulations).
Cap Rock is a popular spot for rock climbers, who use professional gear and experience to climb to the top.
During the anniversary of Gram Parson’s death, fans gather to mourn his death and celebrate the interesting story of Gram’s friends ‘stealing’ his ashes from LAX airport to scatter them at his favorite feature of the park. It is alledged that his family wanted his remains back in his home town of New Oreleans so his friends took action.
Located a little ‘off road’, be prepared to drive over gravelly terrain if you want to see Joshua National Park’s famous ‘Split Rock’.
Split Rock is easily accessible and is located right by the road on the way in.
The Split Rock is a giant boulder which appears to be split into two. It is surrounded by other jumbo boulers that make up a great hiking trail.
Enjoy the Split Rock area at different times of the year, the area is famous for blooming flowers and cactus.
Visitors can enjoy a picnic area as well as a restroom at the site of the Split Rock.
Check out a detailed review of the Split Rock Hiking trail.
For more information about the flower blooms and times to see them, check the National Park website here.
The Split Rock is one of the quietest features of Joshua Tree National Park, enjoy peace and quiet in one of the most unique areas in the world.
Located along the main east-west park road, Skull Rock is one of the most popular attractions at Joshua National park. Skull Rock was formed following a long-term accumulation of raindrops in tiny depressions that started to erode the granite rock.
As more rock eroded, more water accumulated, leading to more erosion that has eventually formed two hollowed-out eyes formed and the rock finally resembled a skull.
The Skull Rock is hiden slightly away from the road requiring a small easy hike toget to it.
Visitors can climb the Skull Rock freely, be sure to approach with caution.
For those wishing to explore the Skull Rock area further, a 1.7-mile nature trail begins nearby at the entrance to the Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Enjoy the unique feature which is famous across the state of California, are there any other naturally formed skull rocks in the world?
Sheep Pass Campground
We spent around 4 hours at Joshua National Park and though we didn’t spend the night camping, we visited the Sheep Pass Campground to see what it was like. The Sheep Pass Campground has everything you would need for an overnight stay at Joshua National Park including campfire rings, nearby hiking trails, picnic tables, parking, trash collection and vault toilets.
We had our first sighting of wildlife at Joshua Tree National park here, a desert squirrel, sniffing away at a packet of buns that were left out by campers. Remember to always lock away your food, wildlife shouldn’t become dependant on feeding from humans, it may affect their survival in the wild.
Sheep Pass is one of three group campgrounds in the park. Towering rock formations and Joshua trees surround the facility offering a cozy spot to pitch up a tent.
For more information on Joshua Tree National Park, consult the Official Park Website.
The road trip to Joshua Tree National Park is epic, offering incredible views of the surrounding desert and mountain ranges.
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