20200611_102951Joshua trees at JTNP (June 2020).

One of the most-distinctive parks in California, Joshua Tree National Park is both an oasis and an adventure, perfect for roughing it up with desert hikes in the day, only to relax and stargaze at night. Millions of tourists, in-state and out-of-state, visit this national park every year to check out the unique topography and, of course, the famous Joshua trees: these peculiar-looking plants are certainly a sight to behold, and they add to the dreamy, almost mystical charm of this dry, desert land.

Joshua Tree was made a national park in 1994, as means of land conservation for the state of California. This national park is enormous, and is in fact larger than the state of Rhode Island! Due to its vast landmass, it’s not a surprise that it encompasses a wide range of varying topography, as well as fauna and flora. Joshua Tree is in part of the Mojave Desert (which is spread throughout much of the southwestern United States), as well as a smaller portion in the Colorado Desert. The iconic Joshua trees tend to be concentrated in the western part of the park, whereas one is bound to see more cacti and palms while visiting the eastern portion. It is common for visitors to spend overnight in Joshua Tree to cover as much of the park as possible, as there’s so much land to cover and to see.

When I visited last June, however, I only had one day to take it all in. My family and I woke up early to be out of the door by 6:00, and to make the two to three-hour drive over from Los Angeles. Despite Joshua Tree being located in California (especially southern California), it was still a long way to get there as we zipped through the freeway, the scenery changing from industrial rigs to Indian casinos to eventual barren desert. Should we have gone further, we would’ve crossed the Arizona border!

After a smooth, 2-hour-and-40-minute drive, we reached the nearest entrance (West Entrance) to the park. My family and I opted for the $80 Annual National Park Pass to get in, which would also allow us to visit other US national parks– otherwise, it would’ve cost us $30 per entrance fee!

Given that we’d arrived early (and the fact that it was on a weekday during the peak of COVID lockdown), Joshua Tree was devoid of other tourists besides ourselves. That said, we had the roads pretty much to ourselves as we drove through the flat desert, peppered with the crooked Joshua trees which seem to lean in towards the road we traversed, as if greeting us. It was already quite warm in the day by 9:00 (low 80°F/27°C), and it would only get hotter as the day wore on.

Our first stop of the trip was at Keys View, a panoramic point where we could view the sweeping Coachella Valley (yes, as the eponymous music festival is named after), the Salton Sea, and Mount Signal. Just past Mount Signal is the US-Mexico border, which is wild to imagine being that close!

20200611_100214Keys View.

Following Keys View was a drive to Cap Rock, named after a smaller boulder perched on top of a larger one to resemble a “cap.” The view close-up is somewhat underwhelming, but from the distance on the 0.4-mile circuit we took, Cap Rock looked pretty neat. Along with the numerous Joshua trees in the area, it made for some distinctive photography. Fun fact: Joshua trees aren’t actually trees, but instead a variety of the yucca plant. Now you know!

20200611_101910Cap Rock.

Just before lunch, my family and I headed over to Barker Dam, a small, early 20th-century dam used by cattlemen in that era. We parked at the trailhead and did a one-mile loop through the rocky terrain to reach the dam, only to find that it was all dried up! During rainy season, there’s plenty of water in the reservoir for a lovely sight, but as it was summer and rainless, there was unfortunately not much to see. There were also apparently some petroglyphs in the surrounding area, but we weren’t able to find them. All the same, we did spot some cool plants and small wildlife roaming around.

20200611_110255Barker Dam (sans water).

We then headed over to Jumbo Rocks, where I’d read had a unique rock formation called “Penguin Rock,” shaped in the black-and-white bird itself. Despite hiking for a good 20 minutes (albeit sans directions), we couldn’t find it and ended up returning to the car for a lunch break before continuing with our day. Any case, there were plenty of “jumbo” rocks to marvel at!

Our lackluster hikes at the previous two locations were made up for at our next destination, Skull Rock. Not only was the trek over a mere 0.15 miles, but it also wielded a towering, impressive formation shaped in, of course, a skull. It is one of the main sites to see in Joshua Tree, and very much worth it.

20200611_123019Skull Rock.

Temperatures were already at a sweltering 100°F (38°C) in the early afternoon as we headed to the trailhead of Arch Rock. Although it was only a 0.4-mile trek, the heat made it a struggle to comfortably hike over. Even when we did reach Arch Rock, it was still quite the distance away– unless we were willing to scale over some treacherous-looking boulders to get closer, we just opted to admire it from where we stood before rushing to the car for water and A/C (whew!).

20200611_130519Arch Rock from a distance.

It was a matter of saying goodbye to the Mojave Desert as we traversed the park from northwest to southwest, into the Colorado Desert. The change in topography was subtle, but noticeable as we saw fewer Joshua trees and more cacti in place of them. We stopped at the Cholla Cactus Garden to marvel at the array of the knee-high succulents, before ending at the Cottonwood Spring Oasis for a glimpse of palm-like trees and heading out by 15:00 to return to Los Angeles (if we wanted to return by dinnertime, that is).

20200611_134052Cholla Cactus Garden.

20200611_142533Cottonwood Spring Oasis.

Overall, it was a long and exhausting day at Joshua Tree National Park. Going in the heat of summer might not have been the most-ideal, as it did hit 108°F/42°C at one point. But I will say that I enjoyed checking out a unique part of my home state that I hadn’t seen before, as well as to get out of the house in the midst of the pandemic. It’s definitely the smaller trips which remind you why you love travel so much– I hope to return to Joshua Tree someday to stay overnight and capture the stars. We will have to see! 🙂

— Rebecca

56 thoughts on “Destination: Joshua Tree National Park, California

  1. Great post and wonderful photos, Rebecca 🙂 This national park is certainly one of America’s greatest natural playgrounds, where two desert ecosystems collide. Its weird and wonderful plants would definitely be a good reason to explore the park and so would be the glorious sunrises and sunsets. I would love to visit one day to watch the sun set in the park and capture the spiky silhouettes of the Joshua Trees against the mesmerising skies. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Absolutely! JTNP certainly offers dramatic contrasts in its environment. I only stayed in the park during the day, so unfortunately I wasn’t there to catch the sunrise nor sunset. I’m sure that it would be incredible to experience them, along with stargazing! Hope you can go someday, and thanks for reading!

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  2. You’re lucky to live so close to Joshua Tree National Park, it’s such a change of scenery to the extremes. Every time I read the name I can’t help but think first of U2, my Irish past, but that’s another story. Thanks for the review and the tips.

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    1. It’s interesting, because U2 actually didn’t film or do the photoshoot at Joshua Tree, but rather near Death Valley. But they certainly bring the national park to international fame! Definitely an otherworldly experience out there, that’s for sure. 🙂

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      1. In Texas, I’d get dressed for the day, walk one block and melt. We scheduled our outdoor wedding for the first Saturday in October, so the temps would be below 90F (32C). As it was, the cool front arrived Thursday, from 90s to 70s (21C) just in time.

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    1. JTNP is definitely one of the most far-west national parks on continental United States. It truly is a unique place full of biodiversity not seen elsewhere in the world. Hope you can visit someday!

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  3. Such great description of the Joshua Tree National Park alongwith stunning photos!Rebecca you have such a nice blog which I am following since long time now!Pl visit my site also and follow if you find it worth!Be happy & be safe 😁

    Liked by 3 people

    1. JTNP is such a unique and wondrous place in California– sometimes, I can’t believe it’s in my home state! Star-gazing is at the top of my list of things to do, and I intend on returning to the park to do just that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Looking at your photo of skull rock, I can clearly see the skull. That wasn’t the case when we were out there a few months ago. There were a lot of people at that particular site and they were all over and in front of it, sitting in the eye sockets and such, so we didn’t really have the clearest view. Glad to see a clear picture of it and thanks for the memories!

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    1. Indeed, the crowds have multiplied since our trip to JTNP last summer, at the height of COVID lockdown. It was also blazing hot that day, so I guess that deterred people from visiting. Despite the crowds, I hope you had a good time!

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  5. I am planning to go to San Diego at the end of July and also hit up Joshua Tree. I didn’t know about all the other things I can see so it’s good to know. I am a bit concern about how hot it till be since you also went during the summer.

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      1. Yes I’ll make sure to have both! I am planning to drive up California so I am super excited to check out multiple cities and national parks. Let me know if you have recommendation.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. The big cities of San Diego and Los Angeles are great to spend at least a weekend in. Food scene is good all around in these places, as well as in Orange County. For beaches, definitely check out Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Malibu in Los Angeles, and Cambria in Central California. Solvang is a cute stop for a taste of “Little Copenhagen.” I would also suggest Carmel, the 17-Mile Drive, and Big Sur, if you can. And I’d offer San Francisco, but I’ve heard it hasn’t been doing well in recent years…for national parks, Yosemite, JTNP, Death Valley, and Redwood National Park are solid options. Also heard good things about Lake Tahoe. The list could go on, so if you have more-specific questions on things to eat and see, let me know!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes I have Solvang on my list. I went years ago but my husband has never been. We have those national parks on our list. I’ll look up the beaches. Thanks for your suggestions. I am sure you have lot of blogs about Cali so I’ll be sure to check them out and let you know if I have more questions.

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    1. As I’m from Southern California, it can get pretty hot in the summer, so I guess I grew up used to the heat (at least, dry heat). Also willpower: I was keen on reaching my destination on the hike, so when there’s a will, there’s a way! 🙂

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    1. I’m glad you had a wonderful time in JTNP! Honestly, a day isn’t enough to see everything, and it’s great you got to take your time and see more of it (as well as hike)!

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      1. I’m sorry you didn’t get more time. I was parked 10 minutes from the entrance for 4 months. 😂 I didn’t go in often, though, because it was the busy season and every trail was crowded.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh my goodness, what a trip! I’m glad you were able to enjoy the park despite the blazing heat… California seems to have a lot of diversity when it comes to plants and climates.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. People outside of California assume the state to be a desert, but it really is a lot more than just dry, barren land. From forests to oceans to everything in between, we have it all (even in JTNP)!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Such an amazing place to visit, except the temperatures I guess😁 I would love to visit the park, one day, it is truly impressive. You guys are so lucky for the annual NP pass, it is definitely worth it!! We have also opted for that pass when we’ve had a road trip 5 years ago through several states.
    Have a lovely weekend!
    Christie

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t have any expectations before I went to JTNP, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! Yes, we purchased the NP pass, but unfortunately, we didn’t go to any other national parks after that and let the NP pass expire. 😦 But I have plans to go to national parks later this fall, so the adventure will resume! Thanks for stopping by, Christie!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I found that any adventure turns out much better if there is no expectation🙂 Enjoy the rest of the year!! p.s. I believe you might share the pass with someone else? I remember (from when we’ve had it) there were 2 signature spots on the pass? I might be wrong though..

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  8. Great post! I have never been there but I’ve heard many people say that it is an incredible place! You can definitely feel the heat from these pictures ahahah! I love the cactus garden, they look so cute! 😊 Thanks for sharing your adventure!

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  9. I didn’t know there were so many interesting rock formations in that area. More than the cholla and joshua trees, although they make for such an unusual landscape. Reminds me of driving through Organ Pipe National Monument many times with their tall shapes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, JTNP truly has one of the most-diverse topography in the US, if not the world! I’ve not heard of the Organ Pipe National Monument, but after a quick Internet search, I see it bears resemblance to JTNP; I’ll have to explore someday!

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