The Flora of Joshua Tree, With a Little Fauna Thrown In
by Jeff Lewis

There's a big difference between National Park land and a National Forest.  The former is heavily protected, while the latter can be clear cut or strip-mined.  While National Parks are notable for their relatively pristine habitats—at least in the less touristy portions of the parks—it's a little ironic that National Parks in the American West received their honor generally for geologic reasons (Glacier, Yosemite, Ranier, Lassen, the Grand Canyon and the other parks of the Colorado Plateau) or because of trees (Sequoia, Redwood and Olympic NPs).

Joshua Tree National Park, as the name suggests, owes its park status largely to its trees.  It's not the only spot in the West with joshua trees, but the park straddles the Colorado and Mojave deserts, which enables visitors to pass through two distinct desert ecosystems in a matter of hours.

The Colorado Desert

The Lost Palms Oasis, at the southern end of the park, earns its moniker.  There is water, palms aplenty—which no doubt were lost at some point because they sit in a dale that is not visible from the road—and plenty of wildlife.

If I had a better zoom on my camera, or were willing to risk sunburn or heat stroke warmness, I could have presented you with a fine shot of a mountain quail surveying his realm on a rock outcropping above the oasis (my picture of a brown spot on a brown rock doesn't rate inclusion here).

If I were a National Geographic wildlife photographer, skilled at capturing motion, I would be able to share shots of the giant flying beetles mating in mid-air (instead of the blurry black dots on a field of blue, which I snapped).

Nonetheless, I'm happy to share this camouflaged little bug—any entomologists out there know what it is?—hiding below a sea of spider webs.

Insect in a Precarious Locale

The spring of 2005 was notable for its desert blooms.  We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of them, notably the beautiful red flowers of the prickly ocotillo.

The Author, Complemented With Red

Lizard and Ocotillo

The signs at the Cholla Cactus Garden, on the Colorado side of the border between the two deserts, warned of the extreme hazards of brushing or petting the cacti, which, despite being covered in razor sharp spikes, look like amorphous teddy bears.

I constantly had to fight the temptation to touch them because they really looked soft and cudd-i-ly, like a Mon Chi Chi (or in the case of the cactus below, a camel).

Camel Cactus, or Perhaps Moose Cactus

Safe for the Moment

Not Suitable for a Corsage

Guess Which One Is Dead

The Mojave Desert

The Mojave portion of the park is far and away the most popular because it boasts the joshua trees and some impressive rock outcrops that are popular with rock climbers.  We were too pressed for time—and too lazy—to get out and hike, so we don't have any of the spectacular Joshua Tree pictures of rock, sky and tree that dominate the gift shop's postcards (we only took ones that were somewhat nice).

I do have some pictures of the park's two types of yuccas, though: the mojave yucca and the joshua tree.

Bees on Mojave Yucca Bloom

Joshua Tree, Bent

Joshua Tree, Not Bent

©  Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2005