In this spotlight blog, our Commercial Director Roger Thompson explains why you should visit Joshua Tree National Park, with its dark night skies, breath taking desert landscapes, hiking trails and unique geologic features, and why the park keeps him returning to this magical area of the West Coast time after time.
Ever since the spring of 1987 I wanted to visit and experience a little of what inspired my childhood musical heroes – U2.
What made them want to use this place as the backdrop to their hugely magnetic and appealing album of the same name, and to use the Joshua tree as the badge of honour on their most successful album to date, which enabled them to leap from being a little known punk band from Dublin to international fame?
Desert landscapes and the Great Outdoors
Once I visited Joshua Tree National Park for the first time I could no longer genuinely believe in lyrics such as ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’.
If you enjoy magical desert landscapes, exceptionally hot and beautiful weather, the great outdoors and active pursuits like hiking, biking, camping and wildlife watching, then you will love the vast wilderness of ‘JT’ (as I like to call it).
This vast desert terrain has become one of the top places in the world to have on your bucket list – a real must-do for travellers, nature enthusiasts and explorers alike.
Unique plant life
Nowhere else on earth can you see forests of distinctive, giant and reaching yuccas known as the Joshua trees. The name was first given by Mormon settlers as the unique shape of the trees reminded them of the Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
More interesting plant life can be found in the form of cholla cactuses – the Cholla Cactus Garden is a unique feature of the park where you can see the ‘teddy bear cactus’ which receives this nickname because if you get too close, a segment of the cactus may break off and fly at you!
The place where ‘Two Deserts Meet’
The park is a unique 800,000 acres of unspoilt natural beauty where the Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems combine. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land largely sculpted by strong winds and rains, including scorpions, coyotes, lynx, rattle snakes and bighorn sheep.
Joshua Tree National Park is an exceptional stargazing spot, and many glimpse their first sight of the Milky Way here.
Most visitors agree the landscape comes alive once the red sun sets and a beautiful pink, purple and blue ombre is cast over the park as the desert night skies takes control of this vast California wilderness and it comes alive.
As the park is far from the light pollution of any city, stargazing can be enjoyed here at any time of year.
If you love hiking, the ‘Hidden Valley’ hiking trail is a must do. It’s only 1 mile in length, which is perfect given the desert heat and gives you a great chance to see the Joshua trees and explore and climb around the rocky landscapes.
Longer trails are also available, which can be done in spring and autumn when the temperatures are not so high.
‘Dream beneath a desert sky’
Over the past 30 years, I still find myself returning time and again to experience a little of being ‘In God’s Country’.
The park is only three hours from Los Angeles, and a short drive from the desert towns of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Indio.
To experience the best of southern California, we recommend the following itineraries to see Joshua Tree National Park and beyond:
California and the West covers the major highlights of California and the Southwest: including Highway 1, San Francisco, Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon, coupled with some lesser known gems like California Gold Country and of course Joshua Tree National Park.
Another fantastic way to spend 2 weeks in California is our Western Classic itinerary, which allows you to stay in some of the most exciting cities in the United States, take in a beautiful coast and, a couple of days later, a stunning inland mountain range en route to a fabulous national park.