That collared lizard and juvenile chuckwalla just couldn’t help themselves. The sun had come up, warming the granite boulders of Joshua Tree National Park. It was a prime opportunity for me to catch a glimpse of some desert dwellers emerging from deep within cozy clefts in the rocks. Sure enough, the chuckwalla stuck its head out to greet the sun, the temperature hitting 80 in the shade. Better yet, the lizard was sunning itself on a granite slab, its long tail coiled like a garden hose.
Otherworldly is one way to describe this national park, its boulder-strewn lunar landscape scattered with spindly Joshua Trees across a region where the Colorado and Mojave deserts converge. Clustered between Highway 62 and Interstate 10, Joshua Tree is like no other desert landscape in the American Southwest. You can easily drive through the park to see the iconic trees, but you’ll need to get out and hike to find the hidden fan-palm oases tucked away in remote, boulder-choked canyons.
Try the moderate, three-mile out-and-back 49 Palms Oasis Trail, and the more challenging, nearly eight-mile Lost Palms Oasis Trail. The palms indicate that water flows in these canyons and that they are reliable havens for desert critters, everything from black-chinned sparrows and desert bighorn sheep to coyotes and the endangered desert tortoise. You wouldn’t think of Joshua Tree National Park as a wildlife haven, but with 250 recorded bird species, 52 mammal species, and 45 reptile species, chances are good that something avian, mammalian, or reptilian will show itself among the clusters of rock and hardy desert flora.
It would be a shame not to backpack in and camp out beneath the stars in such an arid environment. It appears as if the stacks of boulders, Dr. Seuss-esque Joshua Trees, and the heavenly constellations all go hand in hand.
However, for a less-rugged stay, there is some cool lodging located on the periphery of the park. Consider Dome in the Desert, Pioneertown Motel, and The Rising Sun Tipi when searching for alternatives to nylon and down sleeping bags. Plus, there’s prepared nourishment always waiting along Highway 62. You can’t go wrong at the Crossroads Café and, across the highway, the Country Kitchen, a Joshua Tree mainstay.