For the second year in a row, we've piggybacked a trip to a National Park onto wedding celebration. Two very dear friends ,who married last year in front of immediate family, hosted a large party for everyone in Palm Springs. Given the proximity to Joshua Tree National park, it would be negligent if not criminal of us not to visit. The park is about 45 minutes outside Palm Springs and looks more like a Dr. Seuss book than a national park. We explored the park with two other wedding goers, our friends Leigh and Reed, whom you may recall from their jaunt to see us in the Dominican Republic and who have become our camping buddies. The four of us set up shop at a camp site and spent our days venturing into a very unforgiving landscape.
When people hear the name Joshua Tree, they often think of U2's 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. They also believe the iconic album image was photographed in the park. in truth, that tree - no longer standing- was almost 200 miles outside the park. But that is a different topic.
The land was once home to ranchers, miners, and other itinerant groups. In fact, itinerant Mormons named this particular strain of yucca because it reminded them of the story of Joshua raising his hands to heaven. Those who used the space for grazing also tried to build water catchment tanks and reservoirs that built up during the rainy season.
The park itself is an incredible mix of trees, plants, and rock formations, some going back more than a billion years, and straddles the line where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet. The higher elevation of the former makes it cooler, more hospitable to certain plants and wildlife, and, for us campers, a more pleasant place to camp. However, the middle-of-the-day sun is still ferocious and nights can easily catch you by surprise with rapidly dropping temperatures.
The Colorado desert is much more unforgiving. The natural plants are much different from those in the neighboring desert 3,000 feet above and camping for visitors is much more restricted. The colors are deeper shades of red and orange, whereas the Mojave is lighter tones of brown, molasses, sage, and green. You can see some of the pictures we captured in our gallery.
We camped at Jumbo Rocks, a designated spot in the Mojave portion of the park. The park has a handful of designated campgrounds to help ensure visitors are not damaging the land by setting up shop wherever they please, and to make sure a certain level of water and sanitation are met. Aside from that, however, the park is largely open for exploration. Remnants of former dwellings, mines, and watering holes sit out in the open. Just as it is in places like Yellowstone or Glacier, you assume all of the risk inherent in exploring such a space.
Our day trips included Hidden Valley, Ryan Mountain, the giant boulders in and around Jumbo Rocks, and the Lost Horse Mine. Driving to these various attractions, hiking among them, taking the time to understand all that has happened here throughout the centuries before this was even part of the United States (or Mexico for that matter), reinforced the importance of the National Park System. Not that anyone appears to be clamoring to develop this portion of the desert, still it deserves protection because of its rich history and the gateway to the past that it is for all of us.