Joshua Tree – cute trees and grazed knees

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Many of us will be aware of the Joshua Tree, but as they don’t tend to feature on nature programmes or in magazine articles, not many of us know much about them, where they thrive or even what they look like; which is quite surprising when you think that U2 named their greatest (in my opinion) album after them. Irish rock stars aside, though, it is odd that they’re not more widely reported on as they’re really quite unique in a number of ways:

  1. They only grow naturally in one place in the world – the Mojave desert – and then only at an altitude of between 3,500ft and 4,500ft
  2. It’s not actually a tree, it’s a member of the Yucca plant family
  3. They are dependent on the female pronuba Moth for pollination, which has evolved special organs to collect and distribute the pollen

The above moths are only found where there are Joshua Trees – an example of two species being entirely dependent upon the other

Ugly/Cute…?

At first glance they’re quite ugly as, unlike e.g. a conifer which is generally cone-shaped or an oak tree which is bell-shaped, they have no uniform shape, in that all their branches grow at random angles and to differing lengths. TBH they look a little like one-eyed zombies which could well be coming for you! However on closer viewing, their ungainly appearance makes them really quite cute, in a gentle giant kind of way. In fact, they got their name from the earliest settlers who came across them when traveling to California and likened them to being welcomed into the Promised Land by Joshua…

However, it’s not all about the trees…

The rounded rock formations in the Park are fascinating and a little hypnotic. They formed about 100 million years ago deep underground as a result of the Pacific Tectonic Plate being pushed deep underneath the North American Plate. This generated massive amounts of heat and melted much of the rock (called monzogranite) which rose to near the surface (oozed is probably more accurate, as it’s not a very quick process…) Over time, natural erosion washed away the top layers, leaving the monozogranite in its round form exposed.

Skull Rock, entirely formed by natural erosion

Whilst the rounded shape implies a smooth surface, it’s anything so If you plan to walk over them, their rough surface is very grippy, enabling the more adventurous to leap from rock to rock with vitually no risk of sliding off. That said, so take care as the rough surface is very rough and slipping and falling onto the rock will graze the skin where exposed and quite possibly through clothes as well.

The park is also home to the Cholla Cactus which bloom throughout the spring and add an attractive dash of colour to the desert environment. However, should you be up close to one, do be careful as the spines detach from the plant very easy and as they are very sharp easily pierce clothing to embed in the skin.

The park is located in the south western corner of the Mojave Desert, not too far from Palm Springs. It’s a great park to visit as it’s far less well known and publicised than the other Californian National Parks and so it rarely attracts large crowds; this giving a sense of tranquility and isolation that is often lacking at Yosemite and Grand Canyon.

Keys View overlooking Coachella Valley