Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 28: Joshua Tree NP is AMAZING

We woke up at the crack of dawn in the parking lot of the hotel who last night had generously hosted us, as well as they could have without their knowledge, that is. We made a quick stop to let Hanz romp around a bit and then scurried out of 29 Palms and towards the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.

I found this sweet artwork adorning the back of a building in 29 Palms.
I was really looking forward to visiting Joshua Tree National Park. For some reason I associated it with Ansel Adams' photography which I really enjoy, even though I don't think he took more than couple pictures there.

It was not long before we had reached the park entrance. I was thrilled to note that there was no other car or human being in sight. That has been my number one issue with visiting the National Parks- there are way too many people! I mean, I live in Montana for a reason, I don't really enjoy being around too many people while I'm doing any kind of recreation like hiking, birding, canoeing, etc. Plus there is the fact that when there are a lot of people around your chances of seeing wildlife are much slimmer. Of course, it's not a very fair complaint because the very things that draw me to the Parks are what draw the millions of other visitors. It's just really too bad that we have so little "wilderness" that we now have an expanding population having to share the little that is left of the vast wilderness that once covered this nation.

When I got out of the car to take a picture of the Welcome to Joshua Tree National Park sign I got distracted by a roadrunner running across the road! I had never seen one before and I was very impressed with how fast he scurried around. I later talked to a park ranger who was telling me how aggressive they are in conjunction with being fast and how that has caused some panic for visitor's who have been admiring a lizard only to see the roadrunner scurry over and swiftly gobble it up!

The desert is amazing to me because it seems to shift between ecosystems in a fairly rapid way. The northern part of Joshua Tree is in the Mojave Desert while the southern half is considered part of the Colorado Desert and there is a marked difference between the two. The park's namesake comes from the Joshua Tree which is only seen in the Mojave desert section of the park. The Mojave in general has more layering and variability in the height and color of its plants while the Colorado Desert tends to only have low growing and sparse vegetation. I tended to find the Mojave more visually appealing and it also seemed to have more animal life, maybe because it has more diversity. At least that is what I gathered from my experiences in the two deserts within the park.

The Mojave Desert section of Joshua Tree National Park
Me posing with a really cool cactus in the Mojave Desert section of  Joshua Tree National Park
As soon as we entered the park we started seeing really interesting plants and animals. Literally every time we stopped the car and were quiet for a moment we would notice some kind of wildlife. After seeing the roadrunner we saw Gambel's quails, a jackrabbit and a couple kangaroo rats. Don't let the "rat" in this animal's name scare you off, it's not a rat or a mouse; it's in the heteromyidae family and its closest relative is the pocket gopher! Of course it was impossible for me to get any of my own photographs because everything scurries around in the desert and hides in the low-lying brush. So you will just have to visit so you can experience it for yourself!

Photo of Kangaroo Rat courtesy of the NPS/ Patrick Myers
Unfortunately we had decided to do Joshua Tree in a day so that we could get to the ranch that same night but SPOILER ALERT: we would end up going back for an overnight over a month later. :)

We barely saw any cars in the whole park, which was nice; we could take our time and not feel hurried. There is a road that takes you from the northern tip of the park all the way to the south and back into civilization, which we took. The park is a good size, being almost 800,000 acres in total with more than half of it being back-country access only. I would have liked the chance to explore the back country a bit but again, because of the sheer volume of visitors that come to the park, no dogs are allowed on trails.

Along the road we took towards the south there were interpretive signs every so often that gave more information about the plans, animals and geology of the area. We had to stop near one that was next to huge and magnificent rocks. Tyler being a bit of a compulsive climber took to them immediately. I stayed on the ground, where it was safe, and took pictures!

Tyler is the dot on top of the huge rocks in Joshua Tree NP
I have found out some fascinating information about the plant and animals in this park. One example is the park's namesake, the Joshua Tree, which got its name from a group of Mormon settlers who crossed this area in the mid-1800's. They thought its branches looked like they were reaching up to the sky to pray, much like Joshua in the bible, and so it was named. 

The Joshua Tree is the main indicator for the Mojave Desert region and is actually endemic to the southwestern United States, meaning that is the only place in the whole world where it is found. It has a critical symbiotic relationship with the yucca moth which is the only pollinator of the yucca tree's blossoms. The moth collects the pollen as sustenance for her offspring and in doing so taps some into the funnel-shaped pistol. The moth lays her eggs at the base of the pistol so as her eggs hatch they can eat some of the seeds that have grown because the mother fertilized the plant. When the new moths leave the plant there are still plenty of seeds that can scatter and turn into new Joshua trees! 

Nature is Brilliant.

For More Information:

Forest Service: Yucca brevifolia (Joshua Tree):

Joshua Tree National Park (NPS)

NPS Kangaroo Rat Fact Sheet

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