Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California. It is a place like no other. Upon arriving at the visitor center, we were welcomed by a sign that reads, “Do Not Die Today.”

Gotta love the Park Service! They don’t mess around.

Admittedly, this is not the park to be unprepared in. The park is home to six species of rattlesnakes. Summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees. Monsoon season brings lightning and flash flooding. There’s no cell phone reception once you wander away from the visitor centers. The risk of dehydration and heat stroke is a very real danger here.

So, why do millions visit the park? The Joshua trees and the desert landscape here are amazing. Joshua trees look like something from the imagination of Dr. Suess. The sunsets in the park are epic. The night sky is gorgeous. It’s a photographer’s paradise. It’s just so different from any other landscape you’ve ever seen. In a nutshell? It’s worth the risk.

However, use common sense. Bring extra water, electrolyte replacements, sun protection, and salty snacks. Go slow and don’t hike in the hottest part of the day.

Joshua Tree National park meets at the convergence of the Colorado and Mohave Deserts. The amount of vegetation here is surprising. There are 15 different species of cacti alone. One plant-like life form I loved looking at was the colorful lichen that grows on the rocks here. There are 145 lichen taxa in Joshua Tree.

(NPS/Tim Wheeler)

We saw yellow, orange, white, red, and black lichen. Coming from Appalachia, I didn’t know much about desert ecosystems. I looked at this landscape and thought, “How could anything survive here?” But, life finds a way. In fact, it flourishes. I was shocked to learn that wildflowers grow here in the Spring. There are 813 higher plant species, 46 reptiles, 57 mammals, and over 250 types of birds that call Joshua Tree home. Many animals live under ground. Many more are nocturnal. So, what may seems desolate is actually teeming with critters. Wildlife here includes bighorn sheep, Mohave desert tortoise, and the kangaroo rat. We spotted two coyotes, several lizard, and ravens on our visit.

Another thing I didn’t know about the desert is that they have monsoon season. Rain…in the desert? Yep, enough to cause flooded roadways and dangerous situations. Park rangers will tell you, “Turn Around- Don’t Drown.” The motto is posted all over in the Southwest from California to Utah. Monsoon season is serious. I never knew that there was flood risks in the desert until I took this trip.

We enjoyed driving through the park and we did stop for a short hike on the Creosote Trail. It was Summer when we visited the park so, it was too hot to safely do anything strenuous. Trails are marked with stones but in a landscape where everything looks very similar, it’s easy to get lost. It’s a good idea to hike in groups here, rather than venturing out by yourself.

If you visit in a different season and you prepare properly, there are lots of hiking options. There are 32 trailheads and 191 miles of hiking trails throughout the park with different difficulty levels.

There are nine campgrounds here and even two horse camps. We saw quite a few people biking in the park as well.

Passes can be purchased at or at Entrance Stations or Visitor Centers. Passes are good for 7 days and are purchased by car ($30), motorcycle ($25), or bicycle/pedestrian ($15). Annual Passes are $55 per year. Of course, if you plan to see more than one park this year, an interagency pass is the best way to save money and access 2,000 federal recreation areas for one price. The standard America the Beautiful pass is $80. It includes the whole family.

Interagency passes include:

  • Annual Pass: $80
  • Annual Military Pass: Free*
  • Lifetime Military Pass: Free*
  • Annual Fourth Grade Pass for US students in fourth grade: Free
  • Annual Senior Pass: $20
  • Lifetime Senior Pass: $80
  • Lifetime Access Pass: Free
  • Annual Volunteer Pass: Free (250 hours of volunteer service at any of the six participating federal agencies is required)

*A free Annual Military Pass is available for current US military members and their dependents. A free Lifetime Military Pass is available for Gold Star Families and US military veterans. Find detailed information about this new program, including who qualifies, acceptable forms of identification, and how to download a Gold Star Family voucher.

We have been traveling America in our RV for the last five months and we’ve visited over 25 National Parks and Monuments. The America the Beautiful pass has been the best thing we’ve purchased on the whole trip.

Overall, Joshua Tree was a great time. There are rock formations, scenic drives, and hiking. It’s a mysteriously beautiful place and I’m so glad we added to our travel plans.

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