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Joshua Tree was upgraded from a national monument to a national park in 1994. It covers 800,000 acres of the mountains and high desert that forms the north boundary of the Coachella Valley. (Coachella Valley is where Palm Springs, Indio, LA Quinta and several other desert cities were founded.) A Joshua Tree is a funny looking tree-like desert plant. It looks like a cactus when it is young and small with a cactus-like trunk and a big cluster of very sharp spines at the top. As the plant grows larger it forms awkward looking branches with a big cluster at the end of each. The trunk looks like a cactus plant until the tree is older. The trunk on the oldest and largest ends up looking exactly like a tree such as oak or maple. This photo is of one of the older and larger trees.
The National Park is a large area to see resulting in quite a bit of driving if you want to see it all. There are entrances on the south, north and west. Since we were staying in the Coachella Valley, we entered on the south side and soon realized that all the Joshua Trees are closer to the north and west section of the park. Driving through was still an interesting experience because of the desert landscape. The Colorado and Mojave Deserts come together in the park and provide some dramatic changes in terrain, landscape and plants. The Colorado is drier and lower elevation. The Mojave is called the high desert because it exists above 3000 feet. It is also wetter and cooler. The Joshua Trees grow in the Mojave Desert.
We explored all of the sections of the park and enjoyed a 2 mile and a 4 mile hike back into the countryside. The rock formations in the northwest provide great scenic views and also are a favorite location for rock climbers. In one area we ran into a very unique looking cactus that only grows in a very specialized combination of soil, moisture and temperature. It is called a Cholla Cactus and is also sometimes called a "Jumping Cholla" because the clusters of spines will stick to you if you brush up against it. There is a sign warning visitors about the danger because the sticky clusters are very painful. Here is a photo of the Cholla Cactus.
The day we spent in Joshua Tree was a desert experience that we will never forget. The unique Joshua Tree, as well as several other unique plants, will provide lasting memories. Soon there will be a Joshua Tree Photo Album in the cross-country photo album section of the web site.