Rancho Mirage: Joshua Tree National Park
Located at an ecological crossroads, where the low Colorado Desert intersects with the high Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park encompasses a varied, fascinating landscape.
The scenery of its 800,000 acres in Southern California includes fantastically shaped boulders, amazing flora, rugged mountains, and unusual trees nicknamed “J-trees.” When the vivid sunsets and innumerable stars are factored in, it’s clear that the park is a place of considerable beauty, where the wonders of nature are showcased day and night. Here is an overview of things to do and see.
The park’s recreational options include something for everyone from couch potatoes to athletes. Tours include an 18-mile geological motor trip that stops at the most interesting features, as well as a 90-minute guided walking expedition. Visitors who come from urban areas where city lights obscure the stars will especially enjoy the stargazing tour, which gives glorious views of numerous constellations and the Milky Way. Birdwatching is another delight because many species can be spotted here year-round. The diverse sights from nature also make photography a popular pursuit.
Recreation for more active park visitors abounds. Hiking trails are plentiful and vary in difficulty from easy to demanding. Boulders offer exciting challenges for rock climbers of all skill levels. Other options include mountain biking and backpacking. Many miles of equestrian trails traverse the park, though the lack of available water can be problematic for horseback riders and their animals.
Black Rock Canyon
Black Rock Canyon is home to junipers, a Joshua Tree forest, and an assortment of shrubs that bloom in the spring. Hikers can choose from modest 1- to 3-mile trails, and backpackers can tackle a challenging 35-mile trail. Possible wildlife sightings include an array of birds, along with an occasional desert tortoise, bobcat, or deer.
Cottonwood Springs Oasis
The water in Cottonwood Springs was used first by the area’s Cahuilla Indians. Later, in the gold rush era, it was an important stop for miners and prospectors journeying to mines in the north. Today, concrete ruins and the remains of a primitive gold mine are testaments to the role the springs played in the late 1800s. The oasis is one of the best birding spots in the park. A number of trails begin here, and their difficulty ranges from short and easy to a more rigorous 8-mile roundtrip.
Plenty of scenic pathways go through Covington Flats, which is home to the area’s largest Joshua trees, pinyon pines, and junipers. The 3.8-mile dirt road from the picnic area to Eureka Peak is steep, but the top affords wonderful views of Palm Springs and Morongo Basin.
Indian Cove is surrounded by tall rock formations in unique shapes that rock climbers find irresistible. It’s known for an abundance of mature Mojave yuccas and shrubs that adorn the area. In spring, the colors of the flowers provide a lovely contrast against the background of the sand-hued granite rocks. The Cove is another part of the park popular with birders.
It’s most rewarding to take the 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard to the lookout point on Key’s View Road because it provides panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. The stunning vista includes the Santa Rosa Mountains, Salton Sea, San Jacinto Peak, and the San Andreas Fault. This spot is wheelchair accessible, which makes the visual feast available to all.
Many years of erosion and water accumulation have led to the creation of Skull Rock, a large formation that appears to have two hollowed out eye sockets. It’s another favorite attraction for park-goers.
The remoteness of the park makes cell phone service unreliable, so to ensure a safe trip, follow the advisories below:
- Because the weather in the desert can change quickly, check the forecast before starting out.
- Wear sun protection, including a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
- To prevent dehydration, drivers and passengers in a vehicle should bring at least one gallon of water per day; while hikers and bikers should carry two gallons of water per day.
- Bikers should wear helmets and proceed with caution on roads with potholes and narrow shoulders.
- Avoid vigorous physical activity when temperatures are very high.
- Wear sturdy shoes.
- Bring along a first-aid kit, map, and food.
- Dress in layers.
- In case of an emergency, head to the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, where a public telephone is available.
The park is open 24/7 throughout the year. Weekly admission fees range from $15 for pedestrians and cyclists to $25 - $30 for motorists. Pets are permitted only within 100 feet of a picnic area or road. The address is 6554 Park Boulevard, Joshua Tree CA 92252.