80°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

Joshua trees just part of park’s attraction

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California may be named for a tree you can see closer to home, but it also offers some other attractions worth the 200 mile drive.

Sprawling over 794,000 acres, it boasts five palm oases, which are otherwise rare in North America, interesting historical sites and a location easily incorporated into visits to Palm Springs or San Diego. It is internationally famous for rock-climbing opportunities, with 8,000 climbing routes on more than 400 granite formations.

A good place to start an experience here is at the Oasis Visitor Center, just outside the town of Twentynine Palms at an elevation of 1,960 feet. Besides natural subjects, the fine exhibits cover the park’s human history, which dates back as far as 7,500 years. Those who frequented the park in those days are known now as “the Pinto people,” members of one of the earliest cultures identified in our region.

Directly behind the visitor center is the Oasis of Mara, one of the park’s five oases of fan palms (Washingtonia filifera). There are only 158 such groves in North America. These palms need a constant supply of water and here they get it from natural underground sources resulting from a major earthquake fault and fractures in this area. Washingtonia fan palms live a long time, averaging 150 years, and are the tallest palms native to this continent, sometimes reaching 75 feet. To view these unusual trees there is a one-half mile loop trail, paved and fully accessible even to those visitors requiring mobility assistance.

After leaving the visitor center a good way to see the park is taking a drive out to Key’s View Lookout, about 24 miles away. There are plenty of places to stop along the way and you will be traveling through many vegetation zones. One must-see place is the Cap Rock Nature Trail. This easy 0.4 mile loop trail takes you through distinct granite formations and you’ll get to easily see some of the park’s other native plants such as peach thorn, desert almond, galleta grass and Mojave yucca.

Key’s View Lookout is located at a higher elevation, about 5,180 feet, so you will find pinyon pines and juniper there. The short trail leads to the viewpoint itself, where you can get far-reaching views of the Palm Desert and the Salton Sea to the southeast.

The Joshua tree park supports quite a wide assortment of birds including Scott’s oriole, western screech owl, loggerhead shrike, ladderback woodpecker, American kestrel and red-tailed hawk. There are 52 species of mammals that make the park their home, including a couple of hundred desert bighorn sheep.

Winter is my favorite time to visit the park. This time of year you will find plenty of solitude and for February, daily average temperatures at the lower elevations are in the mid-60s.

Many make day visits to Joshua Tree on the way to Palm Springs, about 60 miles from the visitor center, or to San Diego, about 170 miles. But there are nine campgrounds in the park, primarily first-come, first served with fees from $10 to $15 per site. From October to May only, you can reserve a site at Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds through www.recreation.gov.

For more information about the park, call 760-367-5500 or visit www.nps.gov/jotr.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns were recently compiled with new information and photos in “Base Camp Las Vegas” and published by Stephens Press. She is the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Explore history, raft, fish, camp at Lees Ferry on Colorado River

In Lees Ferry, Arizona, the past remains visible in the present. It is a good destination for a night or two beneath the stars in a remote area along the Colorado River at the eastern base of the stunning Vermilion Cliffs.

Meadows are birders’ paradise

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful place to hop your way into spring. An easy day trip of about 100 miles from Boulder City, this 24,000-acre refuge lies in Amargosa Valley, a few miles beyond Pahrump. One of the largest oases in the Mojave Desert, it was designated a refuge in 1984.

Falls an oasis in Death Valley

When you think of Death Valley National Park, California, you probably don’t conjure images of a year-round stream and waterfall. But at Darwin Falls you get that and more.

Explore Zion with field of experts

The Zion National Park Forever Project (formerly known as the Zion Canyon Field Institute) is now in its 20th year of hosting field programs. Below are the events scheduled through July, yet be assured, many of the same programs, plus additional offerings, will also be conducted later in the year.

Death Valley’s Eureka Dunes perfect for adventurers

To visit Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park, California, takes preparation and a willingness to drive some rough backcountry gravel roads. It’s quite an adventure just getting there, but in this remote area of the park, you can experience serene and quiet beauty. If you’re up to it, late winter is the time to go.

Tucson perfect for those craving getaway

If you are itching to get away for a few days, but don’t want to travel too far, consider Tucson, Arizona.

Winter makes canyon views more grand

Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular destinations in the world. The hub of the park is the South Rim, about a 4½-hour drive from Boulder City. This breathtaking canyon is as wide as 18 miles in some places, and it’s 1 mile deep to where the Colorado River runs 277 miles through it.

Hiking trails get more traffic during pandemic

After a spring coronavirus lockdown, Las Vegas Valley residents have taken to local hiking trails in large numbers.