We spent two excellent days exploring the magnificent Yosemite National Park. With two children in…
One of the main reasons we came to stay in the high desert of California was to visit the Joshua Tree National Park. If you ask most people to picture a desert their description would probably include words such as barren, bare and arid. Most of the time these descriptions would be fitting but we were lucky enough to be visiting in Spring and shortly after some much-needed winter rains had fallen and the desert was in bloom. Everyone had told us to come in through the south entrance of the park, and this turned out to be an excellent recommendation. At the very first pull-in, we stopped at the desert was carpeted with a blaze of colour; yellows, blues and an occasional dash of red. Amazing!! Unfortunately, this brash display of colour only lasts a few short weeks before the blazing summer suns dry and shrivel these delicate flowers. We were so lucky to be here at just the right moment.
The area is unusual in that it is a transition point of two desert ecosystems; the Colorado Desert (an extension of the Sonoran Desert) and the Mojave Desert. Our journey started in the Colorado Desert but as we climbed in altitude the terrain slowly changed and the scrub like bushes of the lower altitudes are replaced by the more rugged yuccas and cactus. This is a vast wilderness area; it is around 80 miles from the south entrance to the north entrance. About halfway through the park, we come across the Cholla Cactus Gardens. The Jumping Cholla Cactus is notorious for very loose joint attachments which attach to hapless by-passers with the slightest brush. It is said to “jump” on you if you get close to it. The thorns swell in your skin and they become very difficult to remove. Not nice!! The thorns are said to resemble the fuzzy arms and legs of a Teddy Bear, thus the name Teddy Bear Cholla, but we wouldn’t recommend cuddling this plant!
We reached the edge of the Mojave Desert, which offered wonderful smooth rock-like formations carved into beautiful formations by weathering through the millennia. We stop for what we believed to be a short trail through the rocks to find a sculpted rock named Skeleton Rock – unfortunately, we chose to go “off-trail” and had to do a bit of scrambling to get back on track. Up here in the Mojave Desert is where we see our first Joshua Tree, after which the National Park is named. These tall yucca-like plants, growing up to 30 feet tall are a member of the lily family, strangely enough. The Joshua Tree is a resilient plant and quite happily survives in the harsh environment of the Mojave Desert, where it provides shelter for a host of birds and insects. Its useful properties were also recognised by the local native Americans Years long ago as they utilised its tough leaves to make baskets and sandals, and flower buds and raw or roasted seeds made a healthy addition to the diet. This time of year the Joshua’s are in full bloom, they have spikes of tightly packed white flowers which remind us of horse chestnut tree flowers.
Planning your visit to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park lies within a few hours’ drive of several major metropolitan areas. The park is located about
- 140 miles east of Los Angeles,
- 175 miles northeast of San Diego,
- 215 miles southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, and
- 222 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona.
There are three park entrance stations:
- The West Entrance is located five miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village.
- The North Entrance is in Twentynine Palms, three miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Utah Trail.
- The South Entrance near Cottonwood Spring is an access point along Interstate 10, 25 miles east of Indio.
The park is always open and may be visited any time of year. Visitor centres are open from 7:30 am to 5 pm
7-day vehicle permit $30
Best time to visit Joshua Tree
Early spring is one of the best times to visit Joshua Tree National Park. Temperatures are mild during the day and crisp at night. Spring is also famous for stunning wildflowers. If you enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and rock climbing, March, April and early May are some of the best months to visit Joshua Tree.
Where to stay in near Joshua Tree National Park
There are plenty of camping areas inside the park, but if this is not your thing then Palm Springs and the surrounding valley offers a large number of options for accommodation.
1. LES CACTUS
Located in Palm Springs, a 16-minute walk from Palm Springs Convention Center, Les Cactus has accommodations with free WiFi and free private parking. The property is around 3.2 miles from Palm Springs Square Shopping Center, 3.9 miles from Palm Springs Visitor Center and 8 miles from Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Guests can use the hot tub, or enjoy pool views.
At the hotel, rooms include a closet, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, bed linen and towels. The rooms will provide guests with a fridge.
Les Cactus offers a continental or buffet breakfast.
2. TURTLE BACK MESA BED & BREAKFAST
Natural hot mineral water heats the hot spring bath and spa at Turtle Back Mesa Bed and Breakfast. This B&B in Indio Hills has free WiFi access and is 15 mi away from the Riverside County Fairgrounds.
All spacious rooms feature a desk and tile/marble flooring at the Turtle Back Mesa Bed and Breakfast. Each room offers a private bathroom with a bathrobe.
This bed and breakfast has an on-site spa with massage services. It has a hot tub and barbecue facilities. There is a garden and sun terrace as well.
Joshua Tree National Park is 38 minutes’ drive away from the Indio Hills Turtle Back Mesa. Eagle Falls Golf Course is 15 mi away.
3. CASA CODY
Surrounded by lush gardens in Palm Springs, this historic inn offers views of the San Jacinto mountains. With adobe hacienda architecture, each air-conditioned room offers free Wi-Fi and cable TV. The front desk is open 24 hours.
Founded in the 1920s, Casa Cody features guest room with desert-inspired decor. Each includes a private bathroom and mini-fridge. Some offer a full kitchen and fireplace.
Where to stay