Joshua Tree National Park

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The Basics:

With over 790,000 acres (1,235.37 square miles), Joshua Tree National Park is slightly larger than the State of Rhode Island. A large part of the park (approx. 430,000 acres) is a designated Wilderness Area. A wilderness area is a region where the land is in a natural state; where impacts from human activities are minimal—that is, as a wilderness. The park includes parts of two deserts, each an ecosystem whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert and lower Colorado Desert.

The higher and cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of Yucca brevifolia, the Joshua tree for which the park is named. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. The dominant geologic features of this landscape are hills of bare rock, usually broken up into loose boulders. These hills are popular amongst rock climbing and scrambling enthusiasts. The flatland between these hills is sparsely forested with Joshua trees. Together with the boulder piles, the trees make the landscape otherworldly. Below 3,000 feet (910 m), the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features a variety of hardy cacti amongst sandy grasslands and desert dunes.

Many animals make their homes in Joshua Tree. Birds, lizards, and ground squirrels are most likely to be seen because they are largely active during the day. However, it is at night that desert animals come out to roam. Mostly nocturnal animals include: snakes, bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, coyotes, and black-tailed jackrabbits. To thrive in Joshua Tree, many animals have developed special adaptations for dealing with limited water and high summer temperatures.



  1. Rock Climbing and Bouldering:


    Joshua Tree National Park has thousands of routes and countless boulder problems. As a result, it attracts climbers and bouldering enthusiasts from around the world. The routes are typically short, the rocks being rarely more than 230 ft (70 m) in height, but access is usually a short, easy walk through the desert, and it is possible to do a number of interesting climbs in a single day. The rocks are all composed of quartz monzonite, a very rough type of granite made even more so as there is no snow or ice to polish it as in places like Yosemite, which are snow-bound for months each year.


  3. Hiking:

    There are several hiking trails within the park. Shorter trails, such as the one mile hike through Hidden Valley, offer a chance to view the beauty of the park without straying too far into the desert. A section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail meanders for 35 miles (56 km) through the western side of the park. The 3-mile 49 Palms Oasis hike features several stands of fan palms and pools of water. The hike to Lost Horse Mine/Mtn is 4-miles long, tops out at 5,278 ft and visits the site of Ten-Stamp Mill. A slightly longer hike (7.2 miles), to Lost Palms Oasis, traverses up a hot and dry desert wash before descending into a shady canyon with numerous Palm Stands. Most trailheads feature informational boards detailing the hikes in the area. Take note, the Park Service sometimes closes the areas/trails for maintenance and to remove graffiti.


  5. Mines, Mills & Other Ruins

    The National Register of Historic Places identifies several ruins in Joshua Tree National Park. Barker Dam, also known as the Big Horn Dam, is a water-storage facility constucted by early cattlemen. It is now a gathering place for desert wildlife. Cow Camp, was an outpost associated with cattle rustling in the 1880s and 1890s. The Desert Queen Mine was one of the more successful and long-lived mines of the high desert. Although the now ruinous mine was not spectacularly successful, it remained operation for over 75 years. The Keys Ranch is the prime example of early settlement in the Joshua Tree National Park area. Bill Keys was the area’s leading character, and his ranch is a symbol of the resourcefulness of early settlers, ranchers and miners. The ranch is an extensive complex of small frame buildings built between 1910 and Keys’ death in 1969. The Ryan House and Lost Horse Well were established by the Ryan family, the later developers of the Lost Horse Mine, which became the most profitable mine in the area. The Lost Horse Well at the Ryan Ranch supplied water to the Lost Horse Mine, 3 miles south and 750′ higher, by pipeline. The Wall Street Mill in Joshua Tree National Park was a complete and operable gold ore crushing mill. The mill machinery, the building which houses it, the well which supplied water for the mill’s operation, and a few abandoned vehicles are all that remains.


  7. The Wonderland of Rocks:


    The Wonderland of Rocks section of Joshua Tree National Park is well named; it is a maze of jumbled granite. It covers approximately 12 square miles of Joshua Tree National Park, between the West and Northern Entrances. Millions of yeas of weathering and erosion have sculpted tectonically uplifted bedrock into a network of boulders, columns, spires and domes. Find your way to Willow Hole, Rattlesnake Canyon or traverse this lesser traveled area via the Wonderland Connection. However, be warned, the jumbled landscape requires occasional scrambling, boulder-hopping, and hiking on angled surfaces as well as above average route finding skills. Bring a map!


  9. Scenic Overlooks:

    Ryan Mountian is a 3-mile round trip out-and-back hike to a summit with impressive Panoramic views of Joshua Tree National Park. The shadeless dirt and stone trail ascends 1,075 feet from the trailhead to its peak at 5,457 feet. The summit of Ryan Mountain is a great place to get an overview of the terrain and rock features at the center of Joshua Tree National Park.

    Key’s View is a popular destination, perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, provides panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. Look for the shining surface of the Salton Sea, which is 230 feet below sea level, 10,800-foot San Jacinto Peak behind Palm Springs, and the usually snow-covered peak of 11,500-foot San Gorgonio Mountain. On a really clear day, you might be able to see Signal Mountain in Mexico!


Joshua Tree National Park Resources: