The United States is home to many natural wonders. While I will visit more touristy place while on vacation, I love exploring nature in my home country. Joshua Tree National Park has been on my list of places that I wanted to visit in my lifetime. The national park is named for the Joshua trees, which are native to the Mojave Desert, that grow throughout the park. The Joshua tree (yucca brevifolia, yucca palm, tree yucca, palm tree yucca) is a monocotyledonous tree native to the arid southwestern United States that thrives in the open grasslands of Joshua Tree National Park. Climate change threatens the Joshua tree, so I wanted to visit the park sooner rather than later.
Joshua Tree National Park encompasses a total of 790,636 acres, with 429,690 acres of designated wilderness. When the development of new desert roads in the late 1920s brought an influx of land developers and cactus poachers, Pasadena resident Minerva Hoyt became concerned about the removal of cactuses and other plants from the desert to the gardens of Los Angeles. Her efforts resulted in the creation of Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936. The monument was elevated to park status on October 31, 1994.
Elevations in Joshua Tree National Park range from as low as 536 feet to as high as 5,814 feet at Quail Mountain. The park is home to two desert ecosystems — the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert — whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation. The park provides habitats for 813 plant species, 46 reptile species, 57 mammal species, and more than 250 bird species. Threatened or endangered species that call the park home include the desert tortoise, triple-ribbed milk vetch, and Parish’s daisy. The park also protects over 700 archeological sites, 88 historic structures, and 19 cultural landscapes. The museum collection houses 230,300 items.
My kids and I started our exploration of Joshua Tree National Park at the Black Rock Canyon Campground. Only a few other cars were parked at the campground at the time, so we were able to take in the beauty of the Joshua trees and the desert all by ourselves. We then headed to the West Entrance and stopped in the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. A 7-day vehicle permit to enter the park cost an extremely reasonable $30. The entrance fee supports the operation of the national park, and I would have gladly payed a little more for the week-long pass because I consider our national parks invaluable. If I lived in the area, I would have purchased the annual pass for only $55. An America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series costs only $80 and provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States.
After stopping at a few sites along the road, my kids and I hiked the one-mile loop that circles a small valley surrounded by tall boulders at the Hidden Valley picnic area. The rock-enclosed valley was once rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers. The trail was an easy walk for my two oldest kiddos, and I wore my toddler on my back. Signs along the trail identify the plants and animals, making the hike extra educational for my homeschoolers. Much of the path is level, but the trail does meander through some interesting rock formations that my kiddos enjoyed climbing.
I would have loved to have hiked the Barker Dam Trail, which visits a small reservoir built by early cattle ranchers within the Wonderland of Rocks, but my young children were tired from the previous hike. We thus stuck to road-side attractions for the rest of our day in the park. My kids especially enjoyed stopping at Skull Rock and viewing the Jumbo Rocks. We also stopped briefly at the Cholla Cactus Garden and Ocotillo Patch. We stayed close to our van, however, because of the warning signs about bees. My son hoped to see some bighorn sheep, and signs along some of the roads gave him hope, but all the sheep must have been hiding that day. We exited the park at the Cottonwood Visitor Center at dinnertime after entering right before lunch.
If you are ever in Southern California, I cannot recommend visiting Joshua Tree National Park more highly. Home to the Joshua tree, the park is a natural wonder in the United States. I would have loved to have spent more than a day exploring the park with my three kiddos. Admission is extremely reasonable at just $30 for a 7-day pass. With climate change expected to reduce the population of the Joshua tree by up to 90%, get out to Joshua Tree National Park while you still have the chance. The experience is amazing for the entire family!
For more information, visit the Joshua Tree National Park website.
Family Fun in California: Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson
Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center © 2019 Heather Johnson
Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson
Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park 1 © 2019 Heather Johnson
Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park 2 © 2019 Heather Johnson
Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park 3 © 2019 Heather Johnson
Snake in Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson
Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson
Flowering Shrub in Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson
Ocotillo in Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson
Chollo Cactus Patch in Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson
Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson
Kids in Front of Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park © 2019 Heather Johnson