After weeks of staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, everyone is desperate for a bit of fresh air. Since getting out into nature feels more necessary than ever, L.A. residents are lucky to be so close to Joshua Tree National Park. The park encompasses over 790,000 acres of wilderness divided into two separate deserts and is steadily reopening to the public in a limited capacity. Visitor centers and group campsites will remain closed for the time being and permits for special activities will not be issued. Trails, parking spaces, small campsites, and bathrooms are all open to the public. Currently, all campsites are first come first served; no reservations are being accepted at this time. Park rangers are asking that visitors observe social distancing procedures and recreate safely. Water is not readily available in the park, so visitors must bring their own. Please check the daily heat index before planning a visit.
Joshua Tree at a Glance
The earliest known residents to the area were members of the Pinto culture from 8000-4000 BCE. After that, four major native tribes inhabited the area in large numbers. Their populations dwindled as European settlers moved in. Small enclaves of each tribe still live near the Twentynine Palms oasis. Cattle ranchers took over the area in the 1870s until mining became the more popular occupation in 1940. The mines excavated ore for gold and silver. Today the mines have either collapsed or been filled in by the park service. Joshua Tree is split into 2 distinct deserts that are divided by elevation. The higher, Mojave desert, has large stands of the famous Joshua trees as well as large rock faces and boulders suitable for recreational climbing. The Colorado desert is lower and hotter, mostly covered in scrub. Cactus plants thrive here; some so densely packed in the Coachella valley that they look like natural gardens.
Rock Climbing in the Park
Joshua Tree National Park is known the world over as a premier spot to rock climb. There are thousands of different places to climb for all skill levels. Quartz and Monzonite granite are the main types of rock suitable for climbing here. The dramatic rock faces are also appropriate to many different styles including trad climbing, sport climbing, and boulder problems. There are routes that allow visitors to practice hand jamming, heel hooking, overhanging, and smearing. You name it, it’s available at Joshua Tree. Beginners should consider trying Quail Springs Rock or Atlantis Trail.
Hiking the Trails
Hiking in the desert is a completely different experience than in forested or mountainous ecosystems. It’s best to avoid the heat and get an early start. There are lots of different trails in Joshua Tree that cater to various skill levels. Many trails are short, under 5 miles, and easy to complete before the sun gets too high in the sky. The Cholla Cactus Garden Trail is perfect for novice hikers and gives visitors a chance to get up close and personal with Teddy Bear Cholla, a variety of cactus with dense spikes that make it look fuzzy. Panorama Loop, as the name suggests, has 360-views of the surrounding desert and gains over 1,000 feet in elevation. The trail is rated as moderate. Birds, lizards, and ground squirrels are frequent companions to day hikers. At night, visitors should remain vigilant as rattlesnakes are prevalent nocturnal hunters within the park.
The SoCal Night Sky
Joshua Tree is one of the few National Parks currently allowing visitors to camp overnight (sites are first come first served). Since its nearly 2 hours from L.A., the light pollution is minimal and the stargazing is excellent. In the spring, Leo is prevalent in the southern sky. Regulus is the brightest start in this constellation and an easy way to identify it. The Milky Way is visible on moonless, summer nights in the central sky. The Summer Triangle draws stargazers every summer but it isn’t a constellation; it’s an asterism. It’s formed by three bright stars: Vega, Aquila, Deneb (in the Lyre, Eagle, and Swan constellations, respectively). The Triangle is visible in the east at dusk and then wheels overhead throughout the night. In August, the Perseid Meteor Shower is a reliable astronomical event.