General Information

Joshua Tree National Park encompasses one of the most interesting and diverse patches of desert in the United States. Its namesake species, the spiky, dramatically crooked Joshua tree, is also considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Mojave Desert. Last year, 1,259,583 people came to the park’s 794,000 acres of open space seeking clear skies and clean air, and the peace and tranquility, the quietude and beauty, only deserts offer.

Joshua Tree National Park is opened year round. Visitor Centers are open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, and are wheelchair accessible. The peak visitation month is April. Entrance fee to the Park is $10 per private vehicle, $5 for walk-ins and bicyclist, this fee allows unlimited entry and exits for seven days. Golden Eagle, Golden Age and Golden Access passports are also accepted.

There are nine campgrounds with tables, fireplaces, and toilets. Several picnic areas for day use are available. You must bring water and firewood. Motels, stores, restaurants, dump stations, and auto services are located in nearby towns. There are no services within the park. Food, gas and other supplies are available in Twenty-nine Palms, Joshua Tree, and Yucca Valley.

A variety of hikes, birding events, campfires, tours and other activities are conducted by park rangers chiefly in the spring and fall; information is posted on campground bulletin boards, at ranger stations, visitor centers, and at wayside exhibits located along main roads leading into and through the park. Check with the Visitor Centers for schedules. Publications are sold at Visitor Centers and at Black Rock Canyon. These provide you with opportunities to acquaint yourself with park resources. The park protects 501 archeological sites, 88 historic structures, 19 cultural landscapes, and houses 123,253 items in its museum collection.

Joshua Tree National Park is immense and infinitely variable. You'll find the tumbled granite boulders to which the park owes its recent fame in the high central range. And don't miss the towering fan-palm oases, where an entire realm of wildlife revolves around their precious water. The Park can seem unwelcoming, even brutal during the heat of summer when, in fact, it is delicate and extremely fragile. Today’s moment of carelessness may leave lasting scars or disrupt an intricate system of life that has existed for eons.

So that future generations may enjoy it, too, we ask that you follow these regulations:

Enjoy the park, but do so safely. Joshua Tree contains abandoned mines and associated structures that are potentially dangerous. For your safety, use extreme caution in driving or walking in the vicinity of all mine workings. Watch for open shafts and prospect holes Supervise children closely and never enter abandoned mines. Always carry enough water-at least 4 litres (l gallon) per person per day; 8 litres (2 gallons) when it is hot or if you are performing strenuous activity. Avoid drainage areas after thunderstorms or severe weather because of flash floods.

Detailed information on weather, road conditions, backcountry use, campgrounds, and regulations may be obtained at visitor centers or entrance stations. Ranger-conducted activities, available on weekends during the fall and spring, can increase your understanding of the monument. Ask about current programs. For information, write: Superintendent, Joshua Tree National Park, 74485 National Monument Drive, Twenty nine Palms, CA 92277. Or call (760) 367-5500.

Natural Surroundings

Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Few areas more vividly illustrate the contrast between high and low desert. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert, occupying the eastern half of the park, is dominated by the abundant creosote bush. Adding interest to this arid land are small strands of spidery ocotillo and jumping cholla cactus. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the undisciplined-looking Joshua tree, extensive strands of which occur throughout the western half of the park.

In an otherwise hot and sparse environment, palm oases are a luxuriant gift of shade and solace. Requiring a constant supply of water, oases often occur along fault lines, where uplifted layers of hard impermeable rock forces underground water to surface. There are only 158 desert fan palm oases in North America; five are located in Joshua Tree National Park. Oases once serving earlier desert visitors now abound in wildlife.

Deserts are composed of plants and animals living together in what seems like an oppressive environment. Living and nonliving elements interact complexly, forming the desert ecosystem. The lifeblood, of course, is the sun's energy, converted to a living form by green plants. Many birds, mammals, reptiles and insects depend on the Joshua tree for food and shelter. Other native animals include: the kangaroo rat, bighorn sheep and golden eagles …

The Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, is a giant member of the lily family and the namesake of Joshua Tree National park. Like the California fan palm, the Joshua tree is a monocot, the subgroup of flowering plants which also includes grasses and orchids. The Joshua tree provides a good indicator that you are in the Mojave Desert, but you may also find it growing next to a saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert in western Arizona or mixed with pines in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The tallest Joshua tree in the park looms a whopping forty feet high, a grand presence in the Queen Valley forest; it is estimated to be over nine hundred years old. These "trees" do not have growth rings like you would find in an oak or pine. This makes aging difficult, but you can divide the height of a Joshua tree by the average annual growth of one half inch to get a rough estimate.

The park is a land shaped by sudden torrents of rain and climatic extremes. Rainfall is sparse and unpredictable. Streambeds are usually dry and water holes are few. This land may appear lifeless, but within its parched environment are intricate living systems, each fragment performing a slightly different function and each fragment depending upon the whole system for survival.

The park encompasses some of the most interesting geologic displays found in the California's deserts. Exposed granite monoliths and rugged mountains of twisted rock testify to the power of the earth forces that shaped this land. Washes, playas, alluvial fans, interact to form a giant desert mosaic of immense beauty and complexity. Geologists believe the face of this modern landscape was born more that a million years ago. Molten liquid heated by the continuous movement of earth's crust, oozed upward and cooled while still below the surface. These plutonic intrusions are a grantic rock called monzogranite.

The monzogranite developed systems of rectangular joints. One set, oriented roughly horizontally, resulted rom the removal, by erosion, of the miles of overlaying rock, called gniess (pronounced "nice"). Another set of joints is oriented vertically, roughly paralleling the contact of the monzogranite with its surrounding rocks. The third set is also vertical but cuts the second set at high angles. The resulting system of joints tends to develop rectangular blocks. Good examples of the joint rock system may be seen at Jumbo Rocks, Wonderland of Rocks and Split Rock.

Of the dynamic processes that erode rock material, water, even in arid environments, is the most important. Wind action is also important, but the long-range effects of wind are small compared to the action of water.

The present landscape is essentially a collection of relict features inherited from earlier times of higher rainfall and lower temperatures. The erosion and weathering processes of the present are only partially responsible for the spectacular sculpturing of the rocks.


Humans have occupied the area encompassed by Joshua Tree National Park's nearly 800,000 acres for at least 5,000 years. The first group known to inhabit the area was the Pinto Culture, followed by the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla, hunting and gathering along a slow-moving river that ran through the now dry Pinto Basin. Later, other American Indian groups traveled through this area in tune with harvests of pinyon nuts, mesquite beans, acorns, and cactus fruit, leaving behind rock painting and pottery as reminders of their passing.

In the 1800s cattlemen drove their cows into the area for the ample grass available at the time and built water impoundments for them. Miners dug tunnels through the earth looking for gold and made tracks across the desert with their trucks. By the mid 19th century, Mormon migrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the prophet Joshua, seeing the Joshua tree limbs outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward.

By 1910, Bill Keys had arrived in Joshua Tree, having been hired as custodian and assayer of the Desert Queen Mine. Once prosperous, the mine had lost money in recent years. When it finally closed, Bill claimed it and a five-acre mill site for his unpaid wages. In 1917 Keys homesteaded additional acreage adjoining the mill site and this 160 acres became the Desert Queen Ranch. Keys married Frances Mae Lawton the next year. For 60 years Bill and Frances worked together to make a life and raise their five children in this remote location.

Homesteaders came in the 1930’s seeking free land and the chance to start new lives. They built cabins, dug wells, and planted crops.

After the area became a national monument in 1936, local and regional residents were the primary park visitors. As Southern California grew so did park visitation. Expanded automobile traffic found its way to the area. Weekend Californians came to the desert to enjoy the clean, clear air, but also to confiscate various species of cactus for their home landscaping. When Mrs. Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, a wealthy California society matron saw the devastation left by these weekend visitors, she persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to protect this area by proclaiming it a national monument on August 10th, 1936.

When President Clinton signed the California Desert Protection Act and turned Joshua Tree into a national park in 1994, its rise to prominence was complete. Joshua Tree now lies within a three-hour drive of more than 18 million people. As a next-door neighbor to the massive Los Angeles area, Joshua Tree has naturally become a very popular getaway but the park remains a wonderfully low-key place, 75 percent of its land designated wilderness

Getting Here

The Joshua Tree National Park lies 225 kilometers (140 miles) east of Los Angeles. You can approach it from the west via Interstate 10 and Highway 62 (29 Palms Highway) to the north entrances of the park at the towns of Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, and Twenty-nine Palms. The south entrance at Cottonwood Springs, which lies 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Indio, can be approached from the east or west, also via Interstate 10.