Interesting Facts About Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is the second largest national park in the state of California, and sits in the southeastern portion of the state.

The park lies where the Mohave and Colorado deserts meet, making Joshua Tree an incredibly special place.

If you’ve been dreaming of seeing Joshua Tree in person, these interesting facts might help you move from the dreaming stage to the planning stage. 

The Joshua Tree the Park is Named for Isn’t Actually a Tree

If you’ve ever seen a Joshua tree in person or photographed, you might think it has an unusual profile.

That’s because it isn’t actually a tree at all, but a type of yucca plant that grows to impressive, tree-like proportions. 

Joshua trees don’t grow everywhere.

They are only found in the Mohave desert areas of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California, and only at elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet. 

The largest yucca variety, Joshua trees are an outstanding food source for numerous insects and rodents.

Researchers believe that Joshua trees were once a food source for prehistoric giant sloths, as fossilized dung samples from these creatures are filled with Joshua tree seeds and leaves. 

Don’t be tempted to gather seeds or any other portion of these plants, though, as they are protected by federal law.

With their 15-40 foot height, gathering seeds would be a lot of trouble, anyway. 

joshua tree
Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Joshua Tree National Park is Massive and Untamed

The park spans 1,235 square miles, but visitors are only able to see a fraction of the park lands.

There are trails that lead into the harsh desert landscape, but they are pretty extreme, suitable for only the heartiest  explorers. 

There are 57 known mammal species that reside in Joshua Tree National Park, including some that are potentially aggressive and dangerous.

Examples include coyotes, mountain lions, black bears and bobcats. 

Joshua Tree National Park is home to six distinct mountain ranges.

The oldest rocks in the park are estimated at 1.7 billion years old, and are exposed along several of these mountain ranges.

Over time, erosion has washed much of the softer rock down into the canyons and basins of the area, leaving the older, harder rock at higher elevations. 

The Park has a Deadly History

The California gold rush is the stuff of legends, but life during those times was also somewhat treacherous.

In 1894 a man named Frank James struck gold in the hills of what is now Joshua Tree National Park.

Unfortunately, he didn’t keep that good news to himself, and was promptly murdered by men who then took over his gold claim. 

In 1905, two friends thought it would be a good idea to try and walk more than 25 miles to get to a 4th of July celebration.

They also figured they would only need one canteen of water between the two of them, and that outing ended when one of the men decided to head back the way he came and the other died, presumably of dehydration. 

In 1973 a musician named Gram Parsons was living a hard life of drinking and drugs.

He was such a fan of Joshua Tree National Park that he asked his friends to burn his body within park boundaries.

When Parsons died, those friends stole his coffin from LAX and took it to the desert to set it on fire. 

Joshua Tree National Park is a Stargazer’s Paradise

The dark skies and lack of light pollution make Joshua Tree a great place to see the stars.

On any given night there are millions of stars to be viewed, and you can even see the Milky Way.

If you venture out to gaze at the night sky, be sure to have patience.

It can take around 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the low light conditions, at which point the stars will seem brighter than ever. 

If you don’t want to spend the night in one of the wilder areas of the park, you can visit an observatory in 29 Palms that offers guided stargazing in a safe and comfortable setting.

Rock Climbing Fans Love Joshua Tree National Park

There are some national parks that are best enjoyed from the trails, and others that look amazing from the water.

At Joshua Tree National Park, many visitors choose to view the parklands from the side of rock formations. 

Joshua Tree National Park features more than 8,000 climbing routes, with options at virtually every skill level.

Rock climbing enthusiasts from all over the world travel to the park to take a stab at some of these iconic routes, and even more people travel to watch these adventures from the safety of ground level. 

Novice climbing guides are available at rangers’ stations, and trips can be hired from locally owned outfitters.

For advanced climbers, permits can be obtained ahead of time, but it is critically important to make sure rangers and others know where you are planning to climb and the timeline for completion.  

There are campgrounds within the park that serve as an excellent base camp for climbs, and some of the lower elevation climbs include shaded areas.

Dry climbing is possible even after short rains due to the type of rock found in the park. 

If you’re a lover of the wilder side of life and interested in viewing the landscape and wildlife that occurs where two deserts meet, a trip to Joshua Tree National Park might be just what you’re looking for.

Hopefully these interesting facts will inspire you to plan the trip of a lifetime to this amazing national park.

It’s important to remember that the National Park system was founded on the belief that there is value in protecting the nation’s wild areas, and that Americans of all ages, both now and for generations to come, deserve the chance to experience untamed wilderness and beauty.

Taxpayer dollars allow the national parks to continue and to be a resource for all Americans, so be sure to take advantage of this privilege as soon as possible. 

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