90°F
weather icon Clear

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
Fishers angle for best spot

Anglers covered the shorelines at Veterans’ Memorial Park on Saturday, June 11, as Boulder City hosted the Southern Nevada free fishing day event.

94-year-old still out on the green

Feeling younger than ever, 94-year old Virginia “Birdie” Hurst is an avid golfer who has no plans to slow down.

Catalina evokes visions of romance, nature

For many who grew up in the 1950s or ’60s, the name of Santa Catalina will always evoke the vision of California at its most romantic, thanks to the Four Preps’ influential pop song of the same name. But the actual island has helped city folk enjoy romance, nature and elegant surroundings in their preferred proportions for nearly a century.

Waterfall standout of Grand Staircase-Escalante

While it would take a lifetime to see all the extraordinary wonders of the 1.87-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, even on a short visit you can hike to some of the highlights. One of the standouts, that most people are eager to visit, is Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Orchards highlight visit to Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah boasts some of the finest rock formations and geologic wonders in the West, including the Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the Earth that extends 100 miles. It is also one of the top choices for visitors to hike; its 150 miles of trails take in slot canyons, natural arches and bridges, waterfalls and petroglyphs.

Desert living heralded in Palm Springs

For outdoor lovers who are looking for a family or multigenerational weekend, Palm Springs, California, will certainly fit the bill. While there are hundreds of wonderful things to do here, three places should top any list for those traveling with people of different ages.

Park features more than namesake Joshua trees

Joshua Tree National Park, California, lies about 185 miles from Boulder City, but the scenic route seems just a hop, skip and jump, for it consists partly of a drive in the remote and visually stunning Mojave National Preserve, along a short section of Route 66 and through the ghost town of Amboy.

Bridge extends welcome to Havasu visitors

Moving one of England’s tourist attractions to the American Southwest sounded far-fetched until somebody did it. Now it has become the second most popular tourist destination in Arizona, only being outdone by the Grand Canyon.

Remains of old outpost ‘preserved’

Fort Piute makes a wonderful day outing to a remote area in the extreme eastern region of the Mojave National Preserve in California. You’ll need to be prepared for this trip, though, as the road is rough; you’ll need a high-clearance vehicle with good off-road tires, a spare and tools to change one.