It was an easy 30 minute drive to the Cottonwood Springs entrance at the south end of the park. On my last visit this was as far as I had got. My main purpose on that trip had been to purchase an annual park pass and to explore the area near the visitor center.
This time my plan was to drive a bit further into the park. With only a few hours in the afternoon I knew I wouldn’t get too far into the park if I was going to make some photo stops.
The eastern part of the park is part of the Colorado Desert. While my impression of a desert, before having spent much time in one, was of a barren wasteland covered in sand, the reality is much different. Sure there is lots of sand. There is also a wide array of plant life that manages to survive in this brutally arid environment. In this part of Joshua Tree NP smoke trees, mesquite and creosote bushes are found in abundance along with numerous forms of cacti.
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
Creosote is an interesting shrub. While it does produce seeds, they take too long to germinate and most never actually sprout. Rather the plant spreads by cloning. The plant is extremely slow growing: a one foot high bush may be 10 years old. Many patches of creosote bushes may be thousands of years old. When the bush is young it seems to live quite nicely with other desert plants but as it grows larger it becomes dominant. One theory is that the plant secretes a chemical that kills off other plants. Another is that creosote is just a lot better in soaking up any available water before other plants can absorb it.
Part way into the park is the Cholla Cactus Garden. This “garden” is a vast expanse of cholla cacti. The field of multi-jointed Teddybear Cholla stretches nearly as far as the eye can see.
Just past the cactus garden the road starts to climb through the transition from the lower altitude Colorado Desert to the higher Mojave Desert. Joshua Trees and yucca plants start to appear as you drive further into the Mojave. The Joshua Tree, for which the park is named, is not a tree at all. The unique looking plant is a member of the Yucca family.