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Joshua Tree National Park!
by Dianne Kochenburg

I've been extremely fortunate this year to travel to two major national parks. First, Yosemite NP this past spring, and last month I spent the day in Joshua Tree NP. Those distinctively odd-looking trees flourish in the park. They are everywhere, growing in strange forests, and nestled among piles of the most interesting and eerie rock formations. It's a hiker/climber park for most folks. For me it's a look-out-the-car-window park, with quick strolls for picture taking, or a picnic in the shade when we remember to bring something with us.

We had stopped earlier in the day for lunch in a very strange place called Pioneer Town, outside of the Yucca Valley-29 Palms area. It had been recommended to us by our seatmate on the incoming plane ride into Palm Springs. He raved about the only restaurant in town. I think the town might have been a movie site at some point. It had that look about it, like Wyatt Earp or Matt Dillon might step out on the dusty street and start shooting at any moment. We had a delicious lunch and were more or less in a food coma for our drive through the park.

Joshua Tree is located between 29 Palms and Palm Springs in the southeast corner of California. They call it the Colorado desert, but there is some disagreement about just which desert it is. I'm thinking Mojave. But it doesn't matter to most of us, it's the strange beauty of the place that attracts visitors.

Joshua Tree is not your usual NP, where you might find a welcoming lodge, restaurants, manicured hiking trails, streams, lush vegetation, that sort of thing. Joshua Tree is definitely a deserted desert, with its own special rough-around-the-edges beauty. You will find flowering cacti, grasses, and spiny looking plants that appear to be gasping for water in this large, rambling space with many trails and roads to check out. But no water!

You must bring your own food and water, there is no concession stand once you pass the park ranger station. You must also bring your own camping gear if you want to be comfortable. There are lots of places to set up a camp, lots of sites with picnic tables and there are bathrooms, but that's about it. You must be a self sufficient camper. And did I mention that it's hot? Yes, it is very hot, and it might rain, there might be flash floods, but most of all, there is plenty of sunshine, relentless sunshine.

You might see desert critters like iguanas, tortoises, lots of birds, snakes, spiders and sheep. I only saw one roadrunner. Whew. Joshua trees only grow at the 3,000 foot level, in deserts. So they are on the rare list. The rock piles occurred because of volcano activity some time in the distant past. Many of the rocks have names, but we renamed most of them because whoever they hired to name the rocks didn't have much imagination. But I'd say "spooky" is the most common description that occurred to me. Lots of the rocks reminded us of ghosts and skeletons. It's all bone-colored country, and sandy brown, and an odd gray-green color for the plants, all rather monotonous after a while, like much of the desert anywhere in the US. I love to make a run through this park when I'm in the area.

How lucky I am to be living so close to wonderful national parks!

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