Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at 794,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park. The western end of this park encompasses the Joshua Tree forests that represent the higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave, while the eastern end is below 3,000 feet and has the Ocotillos and Teddybear Chollas of the Colorado Desert. Just below this transition zone is the Cholla Cactus Garden, with a short trail featuring resident plants and animals, including Desert Woodrats that make nests using the spine-filled joints of the Teddybear Cholla.
The Joshua Trees are the stars here. A number of birds nest in them, including Ladder-backed Woodpeckers that drill holes in their trunks, and Ash-throated Flycatchers that use the abandoned woodpecker holes. Cactus Wrens, Scott’s Orioles, and occasional Red-tailed Hawks can also be seen here. The limbs that fall to the ground provide shelter for Desert Night Lizards.
Standing like an island in a desolate sea, the oases, a third ecosystem, provide dramatic contrast to their arid surroundings. Five California Fan Palm oases are scattered throughout the park, indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally at or near the surface. The largest, Lost Palms Oasis, is reached via a trail near Cottonwood Spring. The spring is a good place to look for butterflies and birds, including the elusive LeConte’s Thrasher. The park’s wonderful springtime wildflower displays can stretch over several weeks -- Colorado Desert species bloom first, then Mojave species.
The many hiking trails in the park include several short, self-guided trails. The 14-mile Geology Tour Road (for automobiles) provides insight into the interesting and varied geological features of the park. At 5,185 feet high, Keys View provides sweeping vistas of the nearby mountains, the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, and the Salton Sea.
Have you been to this park? How many stars would you give it?