Joshua Tree National Park // California

While passing through southern California from a wedding, we took the opportunity to check out the hot desert of Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a can’t-miss – but for the reasons you might not think of. 

I own a “Secrets of the National Parks” books by National Geographic. I love what it has to say about Joshua Tree:

To the untrained eye, Joshua Tree National Park looks like a vast expanse of desert wilderness littered with gigantic piles of rusty brown rocks and punctuated by scraggly trees. Ironically, to the trained eye of a desert aficionado, it looks the same way.

So why would I want to go to an old desert? That’s exactly what I thought when I entered the park. Joshua Tree was never on my bucket list for national parks. I was ready to venture out to Glacier or Yellowstone long before I volunteered to walk through a hot desert and look at rocks.

But there is something about Joshua Tree NP that draws you in. My first guess is the Joshua Trees – probably the most unique trees I’ve seen in my lifetime. They branch out in all different directions and shapes, growing however they please. If they’re small enough, you might mistake them for a cactus, with their prickly branches.

Hidden Valley (not the salad dressing) lies in the park with a 1-mile trail that is a great hike if you haven’t died from heat exhaustion yet. If you’re looking for a longer hike with a little elevation change, try Ryan Mountain. There are plenty of other hikes that give you different views of the park, and if we’d had time, I would have done the short hike to Wall Street Mill, an old stamp mill for processing ore.

Joshua Tree is filled with rich history of Native Americans and ranchers, stories you might only hear in old western movies and unique views. Plus, tumbleweed rolling across the street that you only see in the wild west – that happened.

It’s definitely the first time we’d ever seen anything like it, but it’s something I think Midwesteners need to experience. We’re used to snow and trees and open fields of grass. I’m still not sure JTNP was my favorite national park, but it certainly gave me a new perspective on the variety of national parks our nation protects. We only spent an afternoon at Joshua Tree, and I’m hoping I’ll have an opportunity to go back and dive deeper.

Joshua Tree Recommendations

Don’t Miss: Driving through the whole park, doing a short hike, seeing Joshua Trees up close.

If You Have Time: Ryan Mountain, Wall Street Mill.

Skip: Trying to conquer more than one hike.. it gets dangerously hot.

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