Taking a page from a Dr Seuss book, the whimsical Joshua trees (actually tree-sized yuccas) welcome visitors to this 794,000-acre park at the convergence of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. It was Mormon settlers who named the trees because the branches stretching up toward heaven reminded them of the biblical prophet Joshua pointing the way to the promised land.
Rock climbers know ‘JT’ as the best place to climb in California, but kids and the young at heart also welcome the chance to scramble up, down and around the giant boulders. Hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-fan-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams, while mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas seen from dirt 4WD roads.
The park is especially lovely in springtime when the Joshua trees send up a huge single cream-colored flower and the octopus-like tentacles of the ocotillo cactus shoot out crimson flowers. The mystical quality of this stark, boulder-strewn landscape has inspired many artists, most famously the band U2, which named its 1987 album The Joshua Tree.
Unless you’re day-tripping from Palm Springs, you can base yourself in the trio of desert communities linked by the Twentynine Palms Hwy (Hwy 62) along the park’s northern perimeter. Of these, Yucca Valley is the most commercial, with banks, supermarkets and big stores. Joshua Tree is favored by artists and writers and has the best eateries along the highway. Twentynine Palms, home to the country’s largest US marine base, is more down-to-earth.