Under Desert Skies, I Wander

Joshua Tree National Park, California, photo by Kathy Vilim

Joshua Trees and Rocks of Joshua Tree National Park, California, photo by Kathy Vilim

After my stay in Butterfly Town near Monterey Bay, my travels took me to the High Desert, to Joshua Tree National Park, located Southeast of Los Angeles.  Going from the sea to the desert, I felt like a lizard warming up.  No fog here; no gray clouds.  Sunshine & breezes greeted me instead.  I was off in search of wildflowers in the desert.  Joshua Trees & Yuccas should be blooming right now.

As I entered the Park, the landscape could only be described as “other-worldly”. With its massive rock formations, I felt like I was on another planet.. maybe Mars.. some totally “other” place.  Everywhere I saw pictures to take. When people think of the desert, they think “there’s nothing there.”  (I spent lots of time photographing ‘nothing’ then.) That’s because they have never been to Joshua Tree National Park.

Here Joshua Trees stand like solitary sentinels alongside massive rock formations that have been here since time immemorial.  In other parts of the park, the Joshua trees spread out in wide forests or endless groves. This Park encompasses 1,234 square miles!  Makes me wonder how many Joshua trees there are here.

Joshua Trees Stand in Forest at Joshua Tree National Park, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Joshua Trees Stand in Forest at Joshua Tree National Park, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Some background: President Franklin D Roosevelt recognized the beauty of this desert region of Southern California in 1936 when he created Joshua Tree National Monument.   Joshua Tree was declared a U.S. National Park in 1994 when the U.S. Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act. Native Americans had already been living in this land with its monolithic rocks and strange Joshua Trees for thousands of years before that.

Slow growing, at ½” per year, one of the biggest Joshua trees, located in Queen’s Valley area of the Joshua Tree National Park, is 40ft high.  That makes this tree is over 300 years old.

It seems I arrived toward the end of the Joshua tree blooms this year.  Instead of a mass of flowers everywhere, I saw only scattered blooms.  No matter, instead I was able to photograph the fruit, which was every bit as pretty and intriguing.

Seed Pods of Joshua Trees, Yucca Brevafolia, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Fruit of Joshua Trees, Yucca Brevafolia, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Joshua Tree (Yucca brevafolia) is not a tree at all, nor is it a cactus.  It is related to the Yuccas, and a desert native plant.  It used to be in the Lily family, but when that huge family got broken up, it got put into the Agave family. Joshua Tree National Park is in the High Desert, with the Colorado Desert lying on the East Side, and the Mojave Desert lying on the West Side.  The Mojave Desert is where you find Joshua trees. The two different types of desert meet at about 2,500 ft elevation, making for some interesting diversity of plants & wildlife.

Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Little San Bernardino Mtns. From the Keys View Lookout at Joshua Tree National Park, you can see a panoramic view of the entire Cochella Valley.  April is the perfect month to experience this park. 58dg nights & 85 dg days.  Another month, and it will get pretty warm; summer temps reach 100 dgs.

As water is scarce in the desert, so too are blooming flowers, and critters find them right away.  I watched as bees fought over cactus blooms. Native bees, both the yellow and the big black bumblebees, as well as a mostly white lizard are some flower visitors I was able to catch “on film”. Look at more Desert Wildflowers here.

Lizard in Blooming Creosote Bush, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, photo by Kathy Vilim

Lizard Waits for Flies in Blooming Creosote Bush, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, photo by Kathy Vilim

The life cycle of the Joshua Tree begins with germination of a seed.  Its survival depends on well-timed rains and a good winter freeze.

In addition, pollination requires a visit from a Yucca Moth. The moth collects pollen while laying eggs; when the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the seeds which have formed and matured while the eggs were hatching, a happy symbiosis.

Joshua trees can also sprout roots from downed branches. Being able to reproduce vegetatively is an asset, as it allows for quicker recovery after a flood or fire that could kill the main tree.

Joshua Trees Stand as Sentinels, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, photo by Kathy Vilim

Joshua Trees Stand as Sentinels, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, photo by Kathy Vilim

Joshua Tree Park is at the inland edge of the Pacific Flyway and is used by hundreds of different species of migrating birds.  You might think lack of water would be a problem for the birds, but they can fly to find water in seeps. It is actually more difficult for them to find food.  As a result, only about 75 species stay in Joshua Tree Park full-time and raise their families here.  The Park includes two Oases, which are a great spot for bird watchers. The lack of vegetation makes it easier to spot birds!

Not only providing food for birds, Joshua trees provide habitat for small ground squirrels and rats, who build nests underneath the them and burrow underground to escape the desert heat. In the High Desert, Joshua Tree is an integral part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem.

Joshua tree forests tell a story of survival, resilience, and beauty borne through perseverance. They are the silhouette that reminds those of us who live here that we are home. Like the Lorax we speak for the trees, but often the trees speak to us. (Vegetation Specialist Jane Rodgers, nps.gov)

 

Native Bees Fight Over Hedgehog Cactus Bloom, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, by Kathy Vilim

Native Bees Fight Over Hedgehog Cactus Bloom, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, by Kathy Vilim

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Comments

    • says

      Thanks Carole, glad you are enjoying the tour. It’s so interesting to discover all the diversity of different ecosystems in the country, even in California alone. I am sure you will get out here to experience the special energy of Joshua Tree soon. And visit Cottonwood Springs Oasis for desert bird watching!
      Kathy Vilim recently posted..Desert Wildflowers of Joshua Tree

  1. cindy says

    Wonderful travels..thanks for sharing! I recently read that this was a bumper year fro blooming Joshua trees..so great timing! Happy Trails!

  2. says

    The white lizard is amazing! Bibi would have loved to try to feed it and said “Hi!” as she does to all the lizards in Topanga.

    You have captured the beauty here with your usual passion. It feels as if you actually live here as you write!

    Judith

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