Saturday, April 16, 2016

Joshua Tree National Park—This is One Weird Landscape!

One of the things I love the most about our full time life is being able to see unique sights across the country.  The Joshua Tree fits the bill for unique.
Joshua Tree National Park is in California, just outside of Desert Hot Springs.
We have been to Joshua Tree National Park before.  This trip we had time to linger and make sure we were able to enjoy the quirky, twisted plant called the Joshua Tree. 
Joshua Tree National Park is full of large rock formations, desolate desert, blooming flower meadows and bizarre looking Joshua “Trees”.
The Joshua Tree is actually the largest of the Yucca plants.  It is not a tree at all. It’s Not Tree?  What???
The only place in the world the Joshua Tree grows is this region of the Mojave Desert. 
So why is it called a Joshua Tree—that was my question?  A group of Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century saw this unique plant.  It reminded them of the story in the Bible when Joshua reached his hands up to the sky in prayer.   When I look at the Joshua Tree and think of this story, it is true; it does appear that they are reaching their arms toward heaven.  Albeit the arms that appear to be riddled with arthritis. 
If this crazy plant can survive the rigors of the harsh desert, it can live for hundreds of years.  The tallest trees reach about 50 feet.   Although as we drove through the National Park, it is rare to see trees as tall as 50 ft.  Most of the trees appear to be 15 to 30 feet tall and about 1 to 3 feet in diameter—small for a tree; but huge when you consider it is a Yucca plant.
There is nothing welcoming about the appearance of a Joshua Tree.  The “leaves” look like dark green knives.  But I really enjoy seeing the rich green color in the desert.
We were lucky enough to be viewing the trees in April, so there were flowers in some of the trees.  The flowers are a creamy white color and look almost like a bunch of grapes.  Because we had heard the trees do not bloom every year, we felt very blessed to see so many blooms.  The number of blooms depends on the amount of rainfall in any given year.  A winter freeze is also necessary to produce the blooms—some years the area does not get heavy enough freezes to produce blooms.

Throughout the National Park there is the occasional gardens of ocotillo and cholla cactus.  First I learn the Joshua Tree isn’t a tree and now I learn the Ocotillo is not a cactus. The Ocotillo appears to be a group of sticks branching out from the base.  We saw some that were full of green “leaf” covering and some were as brown as dead trees. 

They can grow up to 30 feet tall, however it was rare for us to see any that were taller than 15 feet, or so.  Because of the time of year we are here, we were able to see many blooms.  The bright crimson flowers wave slightly in the desert breeze.  The stems of these plants are often used to create a fence or rows of Ocotillos are planted to create a natural growing fence. It looks like it certainly would deter anyone from crossing.
From a distance the Teddy Bear Cholla look like a fuzzy, cuddly plant with Teddy Bear like arms reaching out to say hello. The Cholla cactus—Teddy Bear Cholla, is anything but warm and fuzzy.  We have heard horror stories about the prickly spines on the Cholla jumping off the plant and attaching to the innocent traveler. I was not willing to get close enough to allow these jumping cactus spine to attack me.
The Cholla Patch was a large group of the cactus stuck out in the middle of the park.

As if the Cactus are not scary enough...  Now I have to watch for bees! 

The park was alive with the beauty of fresh blooms--bright yellow wild flowers and other flowers blanket the desert floor. 

We were at Joshua Tree National Park in April—which seemed like a perfect time of year.  There are many blooming cactus.  The temperatures are between 70 to 85 degrees.  I read that summer ground temperatures can reach 180 degrees!!!   Ouch! 
Throughout the park there are massive rock formations.  We have always enjoyed seeing the different rock formations around the country.  The boulders in this area did not disappoint and were some of the largest we have seen.

We had a great day touring the park.  Most of the time was spent driving on the designated main park road, which is paved.  
We also took a couple of Four-Wheel drive detours—which provided some of the best scenery. 
We love any opportunity to go off main roads to a Four-Wheel drive adventure.  Today ended with a great combination of touring the Joshua Trees, seeing massive rock formations and bouncing over the back roads of the park.

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