Cities Journal
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14 Most Visited National Parks


2. Joshua Tree National Park (CA)

Joshua Tree National Park is a vast 800,000 acres with a wide variety of terrain throughout. The land can seem brutal and inhospitable during the high summer; however, it is actually fragile and delicate. The lands are shaped by strong winds, sudden rain torrents and other climate extremes, although rain is often unpredictable and sparse.

The parched land is home to intricate systems of life that are just waiting for an opportunity to grow. Life here depends upon the entire ecosystem of the area for survival.

Two deserts represent the two main types of terrain in the park of “high” and “low” desert. The low Colorado Desert occupies the eastern half of the park below 3,000 feet and is home to the creosote bush, cholla cactus and ocotillo. The Mojave Desert is higher, wetter and somewhat cooler.

It is home to the famous Joshua tree which dominates the western half of the park. Legend has it that Joshua trees got their name when Mormon pioneers thought Joshua tree limbs looked like the outstretched arms of “Joshua leading people to the promised land.”

Five fan palm oases provide dramatic contrast in the dry desert and indicate those areas where water can be found at or near the surface. Geologic displays like exposed granite monoliths and rugged mountains of twisted rock are what remain after tremendous earth forces form and shape the land.

Flora such as arroyos, alluvial fans, playas, bajadas, desert varnish, pediments, gneiss and aplite form a giant tapestry of awe-inspiring complexity and beauty here.

The late 1800s cattlemen were the first U.S. visitors to the area, followed by miners in search of gold. The 1930s brought homesteaders seeking free land and a fresh start.

These days, visitors come to the area seeking inspiration from its wide open spaces, fresh air and clear skies. There’s a peace, quietude and tranquility that only the desert can offer, and Joshua Tree National Park is for many a spiritual sanctuary.

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