Hot Spot: Joshua Tree National Park

Where:

Joshua Tree National Park is a well known, but less explored National Park located in the south-central valley of California. About 3 hours west of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree is a spectacle that is surrounded by a whole lot of what many people would consider nothing. This is a very arid part of the country, and this is reflected in its dry, expansive nature.

Why:

While the summer heat is nearly unbearable (average temperatures hang between 95-100 degrees F between May and September), this place is spectacular in the “off-season”. In fact, this park’s on-season happens between October and May because of the cool and temperate weather.

When driving to Joshua Tree, you’d be surprised that the surrounding areas are quite uneventful compared to the jewel that is the actual National Park. Encompassing almost 800,000 acres of land, this place is a breathtaking intersection between two desert climates – the Colorado and the Mojave. In addition, it is a compilation of some literally outstanding rock outcroppings that provide world-class climbing, exploring, camping and hiking for about 1.4 million visitors every year.

Backcountry exploration with a little help from the Red Fox Challenger 3. This tent saved us from some serious winds and rainfall. Photo by Arielle Powers

Backcountry exploration with a little help from the Red Fox Challenger 3. This tent saved us from some serious winds and rainfall. Photo by Arielle Powers

The sheer immensity of this park was my favorite thing. While the campgrounds will fill up on any given weekend (and even during the week) in the busy season, it’s not hard to get off-trail to explore some lesser seen spectacles.

The Desert Queen Mine is one of the many abandoned mines in the park, whose trail leads you through some incredible large boulders, and up into the remnants of a copper mine. From across the valley, you wouldn’t even know it was there, but look closely and you’ll see rocks with glimmering veins of blue copper that litter the ground.

The geology of this place draws many enthusiasts (and could make one of you, too) because of its unlikely location on the intersections of multiple fault lines, including the infamous San Andreas Fault. You can see in the rocks that the shifting of the land over time has created interesting formations from the granite outcroppings.
As the rocks shifted, cracks that run parallel and perpendicular to each other formed in the rocks. As rain fell over many thousands of years and eroded the stone, the shapes became more rounded, creating striking formations.

The geologic history of the rocks at Joshua Tree can be seen clearly here. Photo by Arielle Powers

The geologic history of the rocks at Joshua Tree can be seen clearly here. Photo by Arielle Powers


The backcountry exploration is boundless. There are a number of roads that only 4WD vehicles can take you on, and other backcountry trails that will cross the most remote parts of the park. I had the pleasure of hiking about 5 miles of the California Riding and Hiking Trail, which is about 37 miles long and takes you through a valley between many 5,000 foot peaks and amazing rock formations.

Whether you just want to witness the grotesque yet astounding Joshua Tree itself, study a spectacle of geology, scramble or climb some amazing rocks, or enjoy some top-notch camping, Joshua Tree National Park has it all, and then some.