The Joy of Joshua Tree

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Washington DC may have its National Cherry Blossom Festival and in Kern Valley, the Turkey Vulture Festival. And then there is the garlic in Gilroy and the mustard in the Napa Valley.

That is admirable, but if it is the legendary Joshua tree you seek, the finest dot on the map for you to explore is the vastness (794,000 acres of which 585,040 designated as wilderness) of Joshua Tree National Park. This is also the place to marvel at rock formations at their most unique, from the “pumpkin in stone” to the “seal rock.”

And the “elders of the desert” are found here too, and I don’t mean the Sun City variety. I am referring to the desert tortoise, terrestrial reptiles who love the climate of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. Although these crusty desert dwellers spend nearly 95 per cent of their time hibernating in burrows they do emerge in warmer months. Park visitors are asked to fill out a wildlife observation form just in case one is observed in their natural habitat.

And right now the timing is perfect. “The Joshua Tree Guide” says “spring usually brings warming temperatures during the day but nights remain cool,” adding that “the spring wildflower season debuts with cream colored blooms of the Joshua Tree in February followed by colorful annuals at the lower elevations around the south boundary of the park.” Bird fans might get a peek of the great horned owl, cactus wren or the wacky roadrunner, which, I was reminded by a park ranger, is a proud member of the cuckoo family.

But the most regal of all the desert critters, I feel, is the western grey fox, which loves to show off its beautiful tail. The gourmet diet of this species is said to be rodents, lizards, birds and a smattering of tree vegetation. We day-trippers loved our picnic in the park but we sourced out fresh feast that morning from the Rattler, a very hip take out discovery at 61705 29 Palms Hwy. (760.366.1898) Check it out at the www.rattlerfinefoods.com. And don’t feed the leftovers to the coyotes, it’s against the law; otherwise a vigilant park ranger will present you with a “ticket”!

And speaking of rattlers, do not fear, there is one delightful nonpoisonous reptile snaking around the park called the rosy boa; a water lover, they are often seen near park oases. Black Rock Canyon, in the northwest corner of the park (campsites are located on a hillside at the mount of the canyon, surrounded by Joshua trees), is the ideal place for hiking. The trailhead for a 35-miles section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail is located in this area; backpackers are asked to register at the back-country board for overnight wilderness trips. Curt Sauer, Superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park, is passionate about preserving the pristine environment while providing the million plus visitors from around the world all they need to make their trip here a memorable adventure.

Bladderpods, beavertail cacti and prickly pear aside, Joshua Tree National Park is a veritable classroom for those who dare to delve into the mysteries and drama of this national treasure.

Details: Park admission is $15 per vehicle, valid for seven days. The park is 140 miles east of Los Angeles via I-10 off Hwy. 62.

Check www.nps.gov/jotr and www.joshuatreeorg.com

www.Joshuatreechamber.org

760.367.5525

Pamela Price is the co-author of “Fun with the Family in Southern California” (www.globepequot.com)