Why California's Joshua Tree National Park should be on your USA Travel List
The California desert is synonymous with the Wild West, cacti and of course, Coachella, but did you know it’s also a hiker’s dream destination? I went off-the-beaten-track to explore the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park in the heart of desert land USA and was bowled over by the incredible natural beauty on display. With miles of hidden trails, an abundance of wildlife and tons of local history to boot, it’s definitely a place where you’ll want to keep your camera glued to your hand at all times. Here are five reasons why you should add this dream destination to your bucket list:
1. There are trails for all abilities
With approximately 800,000 acres of land making up this desert playground, it’s no surprise there are so many hiking trails to choose from - whether you’re scaling a mountain or wandering through mammoth-sized rock formations. Visit one of the information centres, situated at the park’s three entrances for a free map and get the lowdown on the most popular trails from one of the knowledgeable guides. A car is a must as it will allow you to easily access any of the hikes that take your fancy (plus you’ll be able to make the most of the air-conditioning in the warmer months). In just a few hours we explored the rock formations of Hidden Valley, got lost in the maze-like giant cacti at Cholla Cactus Garden and spotted some local critters at one of the park’s water sources Barker Dam. The Hidden Valley was definitely a highlight as I loved roaming amongst its rocky landscape - it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
2. Wild encounters are commonplace
There is absolutely no phone reception at Joshua Tree which adds to the peaceful feeling that greets you as soon as you step out into this desert wonderland. It also might be one of the many reasons that wildlife spotting is so popular here - the peace and quiet! Joshua Tree straddles both the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and we were surprised to learn that there are big differences between them, especially when it comes to the species that call each desert their home. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of several animals on our travels. From desert cottontails to gophers and western scrub jays to woodpeckers - David Attenborough eat your heart out! If you’re keen to see some of the areas wild inhabitants, I recommend getting to the park as early as you can, and be sure to pick hikes in both deserts to increase your chances.
3. The succulents are a millennial's dream
If you’re a millennial like me, you might be aware that a penchant for blush pink, a diet consisting mainly of avocados and an obsession with succulents are all stereotypes of our generation. If that’s the case, then the Cholla Cactus Garden is a millennial’s dream! Even if you’re not a fan of succulents, you can’t help but be amazed by the incredible collection of quirky cacti of all shapes and sizes in this must-visit area of the park. Our guide told us that they spring up seemingly out of nowhere, and he was right. After driving for around 30 minutes through the park, we had almost given up when we suddenly saw rows-upon-rows of cacti towering in front of us. You could spend hours here getting the perfect Instagram snap amongst the flora and fauna, but be careful not to touch them - ouch!
4. You’ll see valley views for days
Whilst Joshua Tree may not have the mountain range of Yosemite or the sheer scale of Yellowstone, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty that truly has to be seen to be believed. The best place to catch some of the area’s most expansive views is at Key’s View, situated just a short drive from the Barker Dam trail at the crest of the Little San Bernardino mountains. At the popular lookout, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Coachella Valley and the San Andreas fault. Be warned, it can get pretty breezy at the top so pack a jumper and hold on to your hats!
5. You can learn about Native American history
For all you history buffs, a trip to Joshua Tree offers an education in Native American culture and helps bring the park’s unique beginnings to life. The best place to swot up on your knowledge is at The Oasis of Mara at the park’s north entrance. We learnt that this area was first inhabited by the Serrano tribe who planted 29 trees for every boy that was born to the tribe in their first year. The palms became the backbone of their livelihood - providing shelter and shade near the oasis to allow crops to thrive. Now a visitor centre, you can learn all about the tribe and tread the path once taken by these early settlers, pretty cool stuff.
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