The remarkable landscape of Joshua Tree National Park in California is a source of amazement. Like some playground of lost ancients, rocks and boulders are piled whimsically in a desert landscape of Joshua Trees and blasted oaks. The park protects two desert ecosystems that feature tortoises that drink no water and pricklypear that look science fictional. Amazing!
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About Joshua Tree National Park
The park was first designated a national monument in 1936 and accorded national park status in 1994. It occupies 795,156 acres in southeastern California where it protects two desert ecosystems, each with characteristics that reflect their elevation. The higher area is the Mojave Desert and the lower area is the Colorado Desert. The park is named after the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) native to the Mojave Desert. People of the Pinto Culture lived in the area as early as 8,000 BCE, and a series of ancestral peoples followed. Spaniards were the first Europeans to see the area in 1772. A Mexican expedition explored here in 1823 when that new country gained its freedom from Spain. California, including the area of the park, was annexed to the United States after winning the Mexican-American War in 1848. Miners arrived in the 1860s and dug a series of mines, eventually totaling about 300, searching for gold and silver. The Desert Queen Mine was one of the last successful mines, producing copper, zinc, and iron. The related ranch and mill were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. White settlers arrived here in 1870,
established farms, and grazed cattle. The Joshua Tree, as well as Pinon pine, California juniper, types of oak, the
dollarjoint pricklypear, and other plant species, grow in the higher and cooler Mojave Desert. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert covers the eastern part of the park where hot, dry conditions support a variety of desert scrub and cactus. The park’s iconic rock formations result from exposure of volcanic rock, often pushed to the surface by tectonic forces, that is subject to the forces of erosion. The area of the park, is crisscrossed with active faults. The San Andreas Fault passes southwest of the park, and a system of related faults extends throughout the area of the park. Five blocks of mountains in the park are called Transverse Ranges because they tend to run east and west along fault lines. The Coxcomb Mountains in the east run north and south parallel to the San Andreas. Camping is available at nine campgrounds in the park. It is also possible to backpack into the backcountry to camp. The park is an attraction for rock climbers because it offers thousands of climbing routes that include all levels of difficulty.
Birders are attracted to the park because it is a haven for many species that winter there. There are also many resident desert birds, ranging from the greater roadrunner and the cactus wren to Gambrel’s quail. The park is adjacent to a section of the Pacific Flyway that attracts a range of migrating species. Many park animals like birds and squirrels are active during the heat of the day, but a range of animals prefer the cool of the night. Nocturnal animals seen after dark range from Big Horn sheep and coyotes to bobcats and black-tailed jackrabbits. Despite its ability to survive without drinking water, the desert tortoise in the Mojave Desert lowlands is now considered a threatened species.
On average the park receives only about 5.45 inches of rain throughout the year. Between June and September, temperatures average more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, while January sees an average low of 35 degrees. Average high temperatures exceed 60 degrees in nearly every month of the year. The park is trending hotter and drier. Annual precipitation has declined 39 percent between 1895 and 2016, and the annual average temperature has increased 3 degrees.
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