LIFE FINDS A WAY IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Any fan of the cult classic Jurassic Park remembers the famous line uttered by Jeff Goldblum’s character throughout the film, “life finds a way.” Life finds a way, he says, in response to the fact that the all female population of dinosaurs are somehow, still laying eggs.
But life finding a way isn’t limited to a dinosaur inhabited mythological island in a 1993 Hollywood movie. Life finds a way in all sorts of environments. And one of the best examples of that is the desert.
Life finds a way in the desert, and one place in which that life is incredibly bizarre, beautiful, and unique is Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree is actually where two beautiful deserts meet, forming an incredible landscape with never-ending adventures.
I recently returned from a first time trip to Joshua Tree, and want to share my experiences. If you ever find yourself in the southwest United States, make some time to head out to Joshua Tree, and see for yourself exactly how life is able to find a way.
How to Prep
Prepping for a trip to Joshua Tree is unlike prepping for other camping trips for a bunch of reasons. Most importantly, there isn’t any water. Once you get deep into the park, there are no water fountains, flush toilets, sinks or bubbling brooks.
The average person hanging out in Joshua Tree needs to drink at least one gallon of water a day. The average person hiking in Joshua Tree needs to drink double that. Getting dehydrated can happen easily, especially when temperatures jump past 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Much of the park is drivable, so lugging extra water isn’t a big deal. If you’re backcountry camping (which is permitted, although I didn’t do any this time) you should pack light as you’ll be bringing lots of water in your pack. Some people choose to stay in Palm Springs and make day trips to Joshua Tree, but honestly, where is the fun in that?
Where to Camp
Joshua Tree is littered with incredible campgrounds, all offering different landscapes, things to do, and flora and fauna. I stayed at what’s often called the most popular campsite, Jumbo Rocks. Jumbo Rocks gets its name, quite fittingly, from the endless supply of jumbo rocks that are placed throughout the site.
Located about half an hour inside of the park, Jumbo Rocks is awesome because the massive boulders can provide much needed shade throughout the day. In addition to setting up your tent underneath a rock for shade, find a tent that allows you to easily install a “tent fan,” as tents in Joshua Tree can seriously feel like little ovens. Make sure you sit up on one of the massive boulders in the evening and watch the desert sunset too.
Like I mentioned earlier, Jumbo Rocks doesn’t have any running water; there are toilets but be prepared to plug your nose. Bring lots and lots of water, much more than you think you’re going to need.
There are a few campsites inside Joshua Tree that do offer water and flush toilets. These are located on the edge of the park, and are the Black Rock and Cottonwood campsites, and are much better for families or those not totally down for the extreme adventure.
Where to Hike
Hiking in Joshua Tree is a one of a kind experience. There are trails for hikers of all skill levels, including daylong hikes and hikes that take just a few minutes.
If you camp in Jumbo Rocks, take the short and easy hike to Skull Rock. The roundtrip hike takes you to some incredible boulders, one of which looks like a skull. For those driving through the park, Skull Rock is located right off the main road.
Another cool and easy trek in Joshua Tree is to Barker Dam. At less than two miles, the Barker Dam Loop is definitely a good choice for hikers of all skill levels. Since I went in the middle of the summer, the dam was dry, but it was still beautiful and teeming with plant life.
For those looking for a longer hike, I’d suggest checking out the Lost Palms Oasis trail. This oasis features tons of massive palm trees that offer shade for weary hikers. Views of the oasis are incredible, and the collection of palm trees definitely illustrates the “life finds a way” point.
What to See
Joshua Tree is named for the Yucca brevifolia, which in my opinion is the coolest looking tree I’ve ever seen. They are everywhere in the park, and stopping to just stare at the bigger ones definitely occupied a lot of my time. There are full on forests of these trees in the national park and it’s quite a site if you’ve never seen one before.
I searched long and hard, but I didn’t see a desert tortoise. They’re supposedly out there though, and stumbling upon one of them is supposed to be quite the experience. Many signs in the park warn that if you should see one to not touch it, as they can pee themselves and then die of dehydration.
Joshua Tree is one incredible place to visit, and I definitely would list it near the top on my list of favorite national parks I’ve been to. What I love so much about it is how unique it is, compared to all the other national parks. It doesn’t get very crowded during the summer, making it a great destination for those annoyed by big crowds and obnoxious tourists.
If you ever find yourself in this vicinity of the country, I encourage you to stop by Joshua Tree and truly see how life finds a way.