Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Spring is the perfect time to visit Joshua Tree National Park

April 15, 2010, 7:35 am

At the point where two major deserts meet — the Mojave and the Colorado — an hour and a half east of Fontana is a place like no other on earth, and not because it gives its namesake to a 1987 U2 album.

Joshua Tree National Park — which will celebrate its 75th birthday next year — is 794,000 acres of unbridled desert beauty. And especially with all the rain that recently fell this past winter, this is the best time of year to take it all in.

Joe Zarki, community coordinator for the U.S. National Park Service, said there is nothing like it this close to the population centers of Southern California.

“It’s close to Los Angeles,” Zarki said. “It’s Southern California’s national park. You do get a lot of the folks coming out from the Los Angeles area.


“We have great weather here. While the rest of the country is digging out under snow, we have temperatures in the 50s and 60s.”

Zarki said the flora and fauna of the park is the big attraction right now.

“The big thing now in the spring is wildflowers,” he said. “When we get a lot of rains, deserts come alive with flowers. We’ve had a lot of rain, but the timing was strange. Since mid-December, we’ve had 10 inches of rain, which is an entire year of rain.”

Zarki added that getting much rain so fast isn’t always the best thing for the desert wildflowers.

“The flowers like the rain spaced out, so we don’t know what we’re going to get,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to see mass carpets of flowers.”

But you will see the iconic joshua trees, he said.

“This is the season for joshua trees,” Zarki said. “They’re starting to bloom and in pretty good numbers. They’re not so dependent on rainfall. They like a cold snap and that helps them bloom. They’re in the higher elevations. They like the cooler parts of the park.”

PLANTS AREN’T THE ONLY THING TO SEE in Joshua Tree National Park. There is much wildlife there, but you have to be patient to catch a glimpse.

“In the desert, a lot of the animals are nocturnal, so people don’t see much,” Zarki said. “Or they’re shy, like bighorn sheep. We have between 200 and 300 in the park. They are in the rocky areas in the higher mountain areas, so people don’t see them.”

In addition, people can see more than 40 species of reptiles, including 20 species of snakes and six to seven species of rattlesnakes, Zarki said.

This is on top of other lizards, coyotes and birds, such as roadrunners, red tail hawks and quails, Zarki said. But many of these animals still go unseen by humans.

“The rattlesnakes, in particular, are very shy,” he said.

BUT SPRING IS STILL THE MOST POPULAR time of year for people to visit Joshua Tree National Park, Zarki said.

“A lot of things that go on in the desert are things that people don’t realize are going on,” he said. “Same thing in fall. If you come out here in October, people don’t notice what’s happening. But people come now when the place comes alive. February, March and April are our busiest months. The place is beautiful.”

SOMETHING ELSE THAT ATTRACTS VISITORS TO Joshua Tree is rock climbing, Zarki said. The park has world-renowned climbing, with between 1.3 and 1.4 million rock climbers coming to the park each year.

The park is also inexpensive to visit. An entrance fee for one carload of visitors for seven days is $15 for that one car. The camping fee also ranges in price from $10 to $15 per person.

Just remember safety when coming to the park, because there is very little cell reception inside, Zarki said. If there is an emergency, contact a park ranger at once.

Also, the park averages an elevation of 3,000 feet and is usually 10 to 15 degrees cooler than nearby Palm Springs. It also gets hotter as you head south and the elevation begins to drop, Zarki said.