Joshua Tree National Park is about 185 miles from Las Vegas, but the quickest route seems just a hop, skip, and jump, as part of it consists of a drive through the remote and remote Mojave National Preserve. visually stunning, along a short section of Route 66 and through the ghost town of Amboy.
Most easily accessible from Twentynine Palms, California, Joshua Tree National Park stretches south for approximately 800,000 acres. It has become a mecca of the wild lands, attracting 2.8 million people a year, mostly from October to May. There are 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 bouldering problems, 191 miles of hiking trails, and five palm oases to visit. Camping and cycling on the park’s back roads are popular.
The park has elevations ranging from 536 feet to 5,814 feet and is home to three of California’s ecosystems. The best known is in the northwestern half of the park, dominated by Joshua trees. But the eastern part of the park is in the Colorado Desert (a sort of subdivision of the larger Sonoran Desert), where the vegetation consists mostly of creosote, palo verde, ocotillo, and cholla cacti. A third ecosystem is found in the westernmost part of the park, above 4,000 feet, where the Little San Bernardino Mountains are home to California juniper and pinyon pine.
The park is a stopping point along the Pacific Flyway followed by migrating birds. More than 250 varieties have been identified there. At least 78 species nest in the park, including the Horned Lark, Western Kingbird, American Kestrel, Great Horned Owl, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Oriole. cap.
Joshua Tree is probably the best place to see the impressive California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, the only palm native to western North America. These trees have an average lifespan of 150 years and can grow up to 75 feet tall. They thrive in areas of the park where there is plenty of groundwater, which is forced to the surface along seismic fault lines.
There are five such palm oases in the park, and it is worth visiting a few of them. The closest to reach from Las Vegas is the Mara Oasis. Its trailhead is located at the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms and takes you along a half-mile loop trail, which is paved and level. If you’re lucky, you might even see a few hundred migrating red-headed vultures here during their spring migration. The closest palm stand, and the one in a more natural setting, is 49 Palm Oasis. The trailhead is located about 6 miles from the Oasis Visitor Center, and from there you set off on a moderate 2 mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of 300 feet.
The other three oases in the park are Cottonwood Spring, Lost Palms, and Munsen Canyon, all with a shared trailhead. It is located in the southern area of the park, about an hour’s drive from Twentynine Palms. From the trailhead, the oasis of Cottonwood Spring is just a five-minute walk away, and Lost Palm about 3.5 miles further, with an elevation gain of 500 feet. I would not recommend the Munson hike as it is an extremely long and difficult outing.
The park’s namesake, Joshua trees, Yucca brevifolia, are part of the agave family. This is a new classification; once they were considered important members of the lily family. DNA studies were responsible for the change after dividing the extended family into 40 separate families. The tallest of the yucca trees, fully grown Joshua trees are typically 15 to 40 feet tall, although you’re sure to see a few much taller.
It has been said that Mormon pioneers named the Joshua Tree after the Old Testament figure who led the Children of Israel to Canaan. Many believed that the angular branches of the tree, with dagger-shaped leaves only at the ends, suggested that the warrior-prophet was pushing them to another promised land. These quintessential Mojave Desert trees have a symbiotic relationship with the yucca moth for pollination.
There are three main visitor centers in the park, which are open year-round. The closest to Las Vegas would be the Oasis Visitor Center, near Twentynine Palms and open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Joshua Tree Visitor Center in nearby Joshua Tree is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Cottonwood Visitor Center in the south area of the park is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The town of Twentynine Palms has an elevation of around 1,988 feet, so the weather is about the same as you’ll find in Las Vegas this time of year. There are only a few places in the park where drinking water is available, so be sure to bring your own – more than you think you’ll need. If you’re hiking, bring at least two gallons per person per day and, of course, salty food, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. The town of Twentynine Palms has full services such as gas, markets and lodging. Before your visit, download maps and read about camping, activities, and services in the area at nps.gov/jotr, or contact Joshua Tree National Park at (760) 367-5500.