Visiting Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park gets just over 1.25 million visitors per year -- a lot of people, but a small number compared to parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. If you're thinking of taking the kids to check out this southern California attraction over summer vacation, let us stop you right here. Joshua Tree National Park is beautiful, fun, and educational, but it is in the desert. Summer temperatures exceed oppressive, and you'll have a hard time enjoying your vacation in heat like that. The best time to plan your trip to Joshua Tree National Park is between October and April. Temperatures are milder, but it's still warm enough to camp and enjoy outdoor activities.
You'll find a landscape like nowhere else on Earth when you enter the park. Joshua Tree National Park's 800,000 acres encompass two desert ecosystems -- the Colorado Desert in the southern and eastern parts of the park, characterized by tall ocotillo plants and cholla cactus; and the Mojave Desert in the northern part, which is home to the park's namesake Joshua trees. The Little San Bernardino Mountains in the western area of the park make up a third ecosystem.
If you're just daytripping to Joshua Tree National Park, bring a camera and give yourself lots of time for walks through different parts of the park. Don't miss the Cholla Cactus Garden, where you'll find a surreal landscape of chollas. Don't be fooled by their fuzzy, cuddly appearance -- those cacti are mess-you-up sharp. Keep your kids close by and don't let pets run around near these plants.
The Joshua trees in the northern part of the park are typically in bloom from late February to late March, but these unusual trees are stunning whenever you get a chance to see them. The Barker Dam nature walk is an easy 1.3-mile loop that gets you up close with lots of Joshua trees and other desert plant life.
In addition to the plant diversity, Joshua Tree National Park is home to lots of exciting animals, like desert bighorn and six species of rattlesnake -- keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready.
Camping is permitted at nine locations inside Joshua Tree National Park from October through May. You can make reservations up to six months in advance at Indian Cove and Black Rock campgrounds by calling 1-877-444-6777, or online at www.recreation.gov. Other sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Keep in mind that temperature changes of 40 degrees from daylight to nighttime are common -- pack plenty of warm gear for your overnight stay. Rain is rare, but when it rains, it pours. You probably won't need it, but just in case, be sure you've got a good rain fly for your tent.
Those who stay overnight in Joshua Tree National Park will be treated to some of the very best stargazing in California. Clouds are extremely rare, and with no major cities nearby, the stars really pop all around you -- it feels like you're enclosed in a dome of stars. It's amazing how much more there is to the sky when you're in a place like this.
2011 is Joshua Tree National Park's 75th anniversary as a national monument (it was upgraded to national park status in 1994), and lots of special events are planned to commemorate the occasion. Check the calendar here to see what's going on during your visit.