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Joshua Tree National Park Quick Guide: U2, Amazing Boulders and a Lonely Tree

The mythical Joshua Tree National Park is a huge protected area in southern California, characterized by spectacular rock formations (called monzogranite) and primitive, dramatic desert landscapes. Named after the area’s bristled, large branching yuccas, the Joshua trees (yucca brevifolia), the park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. The park has, thus, 2 very different desert ecosystems. The Colorado Desert, from the eastern part of the park, features natural gardens of creosote bush, ocotillo and cholla cactus. In the bigger, slightly cooler, and higher Mojave Desert, the iconic Joshua tree thrives and we can find boulders shaped in the most amazing ways.  Because of Mojave’s altitude, the Joshua Tree Park has spectacular viewpoints of the Coachella Valley, which is just one hour drive from Palm Springs, the main resort town in the valley,

Visitors arrive at  Joshua Tree and its national park from Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas, usually on short trips and camping breaks. Inspired by the art of U2’s The Joshua Tree album’s cover (1987) and some rock’n’roll myths surrounding the strange”burial” of singer Gram Parsons in 1973, some visitors prefer to get there from LA, via Palm Springs. 

Mental post-it:  The real Joshua Tree on the U2 album sleeve died in 2000, and also a few people died attempting to locate it!  Bono decided to name the album after the tree due to its spiritual meaning to the  Mormon. According to a Mormon legend, ancient settlers called the twisted plant “Joshua Tree” in reference to the Old Testament prophet Joshua, since the tree’s extending branches reminded them of Joshua raising his hands in fervent prayer.  The tree in the album cover was chosen because it was standing alone, which was compelling since most of Joshua Trees are spotted in large groups. The whole story is fascinating and you can read it here.

The late standing-alone tree from U2 Joshua Tree album
U2 Joshua Tree Album Cover

Mental post-it 2: Joshua Tree’s human history started sometime following the last Ice Age when the Pinto People started to colonize the area.  These hunter-gatherers might have been a part of America Southwest’s oldest civilizations. They dwelt in Pinto Basin, which is inhospitably dry nowadays but had a moist climate and has been spanned by a river some 5,000 to 7,000 years ago.

This quick guide will help you to plan your visit and better enjoy this fantastic place:

Before you go,  download the free Chimani app to easily navigate your way across the park, with or without wifi or data signal. You can access GPS enabled maps, track your itinerary, read content written by experts and much more! 

The Famous Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park

When to Go

If you want mild temperatures, which is ideal for hiking and rock climbing, the best time is on early Spring  (March, April), when the desert wildflowers blossom, or late Fall (October, November), when the gentle autumn light illuminates the park.  If you want to camp the ideal season is Winter. Summer, even though it is scorching hot, is perfect for stargazing.

Spring at Joshua Tree National Park

Early spring is among the very best times to go to Joshua Tree National Park. Temperatures are mild throughout the day and sharp through the night. Spring is also famed for magnificent wildflowers. If you like outdoor activities like trekking and rock climbing, March, April and early May are the best months to go to Joshua Tree. The only drawback is that it gets a bit crowded, particularly on weekends, school holidays and holidays like Easter.

The wild cactus flowers growing during Spring at Joshua Tree National park

Summer at Joshua Tree National Park

Summer is the most famous season in Joshua Tree on account of this scorching hot daytime temperatures. Thus, outdoor activities like trekking and rock climbing are uncomfortable and even risky to your health, and heat strokes aren’t uncommon among visitors when the temperatures spike. It’s advisable to drink lots of water and restrict physical action to the early morning or late day.  There are fewer people in the park at this time of the year and the season is wonderful for stargazing.

Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park

Temperatures are balmy at nighttime, and August is famed for its yearly Perseid Meteor Shower. Check it below:

Late Autumn at Joshua Tree National Park

Late autumn is another fantastic time to see Joshua Tree National Park. Temperatures continue to be high until September, but begin to cool off in October. If you are a photographer, you are going to adore the way fall’s gold light illuminates the crazy rock formations.

The Autumn light turns stones into golden nuggets

October and November are two of the very best months to go to Joshua Tree. The temperatures are perfect and there are fewer people than in Spring. Additionally, there are a number of fantastic festivals near the park, for example, the autumn edition of the Joshua Tree Music Festival and Bhakti Fest.

Winter in Joshua Tree National Park

Chilling temperatures retain many people from visiting Joshua Tree National Park in winter, except for rock climbers, who descend on Joshua Tree when hot summertime destinations such as Yosemite are coated in snow.

About rock climbing: you can book lessons at Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School, no experience needed!

Snowfall is uncommon in Joshua Tree, but it may occur. If you are fortunate enough to see the park white with snow, you’ll certainly love the gorgeous scenery!

Camping at Joshua Tree National Park

Exploring 

The park’s greatest attractions, the forests of Joshua trees, enormous rock formations, fan palm oases, and seasonal gardens of cholla and ocotillo, can be appreciated on a leisurely half-day automobile tour which contains both “high” and “low” desert zones.  Scenic routes provide many insights about the area’s intricate desert ecology, wildlife, and history.

A road at the Joshua Tree National Park

If your plan is to explore the park by bike, you’ll find greater solitude and security biking the park’s backcountry dirt routes such as the ones in Queen Valley, dated from the 19th-century gold-mining era.

For a half-day visit starting from the park’s northern border, choose the Park Boulevard loop from the town of Joshua Tree throughout the West Entrance Station, or by Twentynine Palms, by the North Entrance Station. If possible (ask the staff about haze conditions), consider the 20-minute  walk to 5,185-foot-high Keys View, that overlooks a huge panorama of sterile desert basin and range stretching south to Mexico.

If you’re starting out of Joshua Tree, go back to Park Boulevard and continue east over Sheep Walk to Jumbo Rocks, turning right (south) on Pinto Basin Road for the driveway down into extended vistas from the Colorado Desert zone. Make sure you stroll the self-guided nature paths through the Cholla Cactus Garden and the Ocotillo Patch.

Backtrack to Twentynine Palms and the Oasis Visitor Center, which includes a little cactus garden and fantastic desert ecology interpretive displays. The Center adjoins the historic Oasis of Mara (among five spring-fed oases inside the park’s borders), where the Pinto people once found food, water, and shelter.

If you’re starting out of Twentynine Palms and the Oasis Visitor Center, go south up to the Ocotillo Patch, then reverted to Park Boulevard and follow along westward to Joshua Tree.

Hope you find this Quick Guide useful! Enjoy your visit and please share!

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