Situated in south eastern California, the Joshua Tree National Park was declared a US National Park in 1994, although it had previously been protected as a US National Monument from 1936 onwards.
The park covers a total area of 3,200 km2 (1,235.5 sq mi), around 54% of which is designated as a wilderness area. The park is in fact made up of two deserts; the Mojave which is at a higher elevation and features the forests of Joshua trees native to the park (and after which it is named), and the other, lower Colorado Desert.
The Colorado Desert to the east features the cholla cactus, creosote bushes and spiky ocotillo plants, all specimens which thrive well in such dry areas.
The Mojave Desert area is slightly cooler and presents an almost surreal landscape. The Joshua trees can grow in dense clusters, but occasional single tree dot the open spaces between, which also contain lower growing trees, such as desert scrub oak. Bare granite outcrops, rugged canyons and giant boulders make this a great place for climbers, although with no natural water sources, the area is less appealing to backpackers and campers.
The park also features a third microclimate: the Little San Bernardino Mountains extend through its south west edge. Here, the main specimens are Californian juniper and pinyon pine.
Types of wildlife are many and varied, and the sparse vegetation in the park makes it easier to spot them. It’s most common to see birds and lizards during the day as most mammals are nocturnal, venturing out to forage only in the cooler night times. Over 250 species of birds have been sighted here, but many of these are just visiting: the park is a rest stop for migratory birds escaping the rigours of heavy snow in nearby mountains. Only 78 species are known to nest here and these include Golden eagles, roadrunners and Gambel’s quail.