The rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park were formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface.
Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California and includes parts of two deserts: the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. Previously a national monument, Joshua Tree was designated as a U.S. national park in 1994 when Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act. Joshua Tree covers an area of 790,636 acres (an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island), with some 429,690 acres being designated wilderness areas.
Joshua tree forest. Photo: eleephotography, flickr
The park is named for the Joshua tree forests—a plant species belonging to to genus Yucca—that are native to the area. Joshua Tree National Park also boasts some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California's deserts. The region's rock formations were formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface. Groundwater is responsible for the erosion that created the spheres from rectangular blocks. These impressive outcrops are known as "inselbergs" or "monadnocks."
A rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park called "Skull Rock." Photo: Betsy Weber, flickr
The national park is a mecca for outdoor recreation and wildlife enthusiasts. Joshua Tree features nine established campgrounds, various hiking trails, climbing routes and spectacular bird watching opportunities.
And visitors should also look to the skies! Joshua Tree is a popular location for amateur astronomy and stargazing. The site is well known for its dark skies, which are largely free from southern California's extreme light pollution. The park's elevation and dry desert air, along with the relatively stable atmosphere in southern California, often make for excellent astronomical observing conditions. Joshua Tree's sky darkness ranges from a green to a blue rating on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale.
Sadly, scientists predict that Joshua trees may disappear as climate change alters their habitat. This is why The Wilderness Society is working to pass Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Desert Protection Act to protect about 1.5 million acres of wildlands and add more than 2,800 acres to Joshua Tree National Park's northern boundary for future generations.