Joshua Tree National Park
Photo courtesy of Ellie Tyler, Joshua Tree, CA ©
The north entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, and site of the official “Park Visitor's Center,” is at 29 Palms California. The town is a gateway community to the Park, numerous desert wilderness areas, and other protected areas under supervision by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
For excellent photo galleries of Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve, visit our Galleries, Museums, and Murals page.
President Franklin Roosevelt issued a proclamation on August 10, 1936 establishing 825,340 acres of the California desert as the Joshua Tree National Monument, but then a little later, in 1950, commercial mining interests were successful in removing 289,000 acres from the monument for the excavation of various mineral ore.
On October 31, 1994, President Clinton signed the 'California Desert Protection Act,' part of which changed Joshua Tree Monument to a National Park and increased its holdings by an additional 243,000 acres. It also meant 'protection' for the fragile desert ecosystem within its boundaries and conservationists breathed a sigh of relief.
Today, Joshua Tree National Park's more than 794,000 acres encompass six mountain ranges and two deserts. The two large ecosystems contained within it are primarily determined by elevation. The Colorado Desert occupying the eastern half of the Park is below 3,000 feet, while the higher, wetter, and cooler Mohave Desert occupies the western portion and varies in elevation from 2,000 feet to almost 6,000 feet.
Quail Mountain, at 5,814 feet above sea level is the highest point within the park, while the lowest is the Pinto Basin at 1,200 feet. According to park records, the highest recorded temperature was 118 degrees in 1961, while the lowest was a cool 10 degrees in 1990. The average rainfall, including snow, is a mere 4.06 inches per year. With such little precipitation, the park experiences an average of 230 clear days a year.
Approximately 80 percent of the park is designated as wilderness where "The earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man... where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
At present, Park staff have recorded and catalogued 673 different plants, including 20 different cacti, 20 species of snakes, and a variety of lizards. The endangered Desert Tortoise also makes its home in the park and there are more than 2,000 species of birds, many of which make the park their permanent home.
The mammal population is represented by the Desert Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Lions, Bobcats, Kit Foxes, Badgers, Coyotes, and a large variety of rodents including many species of mice. Park biologists concede that they cannot even guess the numbers of different insect species to be found there.
For current information about the park, including self-guided trails, Ranger-conducted tours and programs, camping, hiking, backcountry wilderness permits, rock climbing, or other interests, please visit the park's Oasis Visitor Center located at 74485 National Park Drive in 29 Palms, or tel: (760) 367-5500.
For the first-time visitor to the desert, it may appear bleak and drab - and even boring to some, but upon closer inspection, the desert is actually full of life and unique ecosystems delicately woven together. It contains a rich cultural history and surreal geologic formations which can be fascinating. The park offers the visitor endless opportunites for exploration and discovery. Depending on the number of hours you can spend and your interest in it, we are happy to suggest below just some of the things you can do here.
The longer you can spend here, the more you are likely to see and appreciate, but if you can manage only a few hours, the best place to start is the The Oasis Visitor Center in 29 Palms. The center is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, except for Christmas. The Cottonwood Visitor Center is open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm (except Christmas and occasional closure because of staff shortages). The Black Rock Canyon Visitor Center is open most days From October through May. Park brochures and newspapers, cultural and natural history exhibits and specific information is available at each center.
If you plan to spend an entire day, be sure to include several nature trail hikes in your schedule. From mid-October through May, there are many Ranger-led programs Friday through Sunday. Check the Visitor Centers and campground bulletin boards for program listings.
If solitude is your thing, plan an all-day hike. You can obtain hiking maps and trail information from the Visitor Centers. But remember, as fascinating as the desert can be, it can also be a dangerous place, even life-threatening if you are not mindful of the potential hazards.
You are welcome to bring your pets, but they MUST be on a leash at all times. They are also not allowed more than 100 yards (90 meters) from any road, campground, or picnic area.
Some visitors like to experience the desert from the seat of a mountain bike. This is fine as long as you stay on the main roads in the park
. Mountain bikes are considered off-road vehicles, and as such, they are not allowed on trails, service roads, or any other road closed to vehicular traffic.
One point of interest is the fact that the park has gained an international reputation amongst rock climbers. This means, during the winter season especially, you'll see many of these people climbing and dangling from ropes on some of the spectacular rock formations in the park. You are welcome to rock climb, but urged to remember that it can be dangerous, and you should never do it alone.
Should you be able to spend more than one day in the park, there are many more options open to you. Back-country camping is permitted, but notice to the ranger station is required. Books and topographical maps from the park centers give information needed for the longer hikes and camping trips.
For more information, there are several books available about the Joshua Tree National Park in our library for guests to read, and also for sale through the Park Association Book Center.