Desert Paradise

Joshua Tree National Park in California spans two distinct desert ecosystems and is home to a fascinating variety of plants and wildlife.

With its picturesque, almost mystical beauty, Joshua Tree National Park is where many visitors fall in love with California’s peaceful desert paradise. Located about 225 kilometers east of Los Angeles, the park is spread across approximately 320,000 hectares and spans two distinct desert ecosystems: the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. Visitors come from all over the globe to witness the park’s namesake Joshua trees as well as enormous lunar-like boulders, which combine for some of the most epic photo opportunities.

Designated a U.S. national monument since 1936, Joshua Tree National Monument was promoted to its national park status under the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. Today, over 2.8 million people visit the park annually to experience its otherworldly scenery and indulge in hiking, camping and rock climbing. It is open throughout the year, but tends to be busiest from October through May, when the weather is moderate.

The park is named after the Joshua tree, which is described by the National Park Service website as “twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.” These strange-looking dangling “trees” are actually a member of the agave family, and can grow well over 20 feet tall while averaging over 150 years in age. Joshua trees can be spotted throughout the park’s western portion located in the Mojave Desert, also referred to as the “high desert,” with elevations rising above 3,000 feet.

For those who prefer to enjoy nature from the comfort of their own vehicle, the park’s west entrance is the best option. With approximately 150 kilometers of paved and nearly 170 kilometers of unpaved roads, visitors can drive for many hours exploring the park. The Park Boulevard loop is the main paved road for a driving tour of all the main landmarks, vistas and rest points.

The eastern half of the park transitions from the Mojave “high desert” to the Colorado Desert, a flatter ecosystem, known for milder weather and blossoming wildflowers during springtime. The Cholla Cactus Garden is a highlight of the park, featuring four hectares of vibrant cacti and expansive plant life. In total, about 750 documented plant species are found throughout the park. The garden features a flat trail that guides visitors on a casual stroll through clusters of beautiful “teddybear cholla,” the signature cactus known for its beautiful bright yellow spines and misleading fuzzy appearance. These spines are actually very sharp and can detach very easily to stick to anyone who gets too close.

A variety of wild animals, reptiles and birds is found at Joshua Tree National Park. The best times to watch the wildlife are at dawn or dusk, when the temperatures are moderate. During daytime, visitors are likely to see only birds, lizards and ground squirrels. The park is home to about 52 species of mammals and over 250 species of birds.

There is no lodging within Joshua Tree National Park. There are, however, nine campgrounds offering 523 campsites for visitors who wish to spend the night outside. Camping fees range from $15 (Rs. 1,030 approximately) to $20 (Rs. 1,370 approximately) per night, with amenities like toilets, tables and fireplace grates available. The busy season of October through May usually requires a reservation to guarantee a campsite. Visitors can also opt for the private campgrounds located outside the park. Traditional hotels and motels, as well as vacation rental homes can be found in the neighboring towns like Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms.

The energy emanating from Joshua Tree National Park is easy to lose yourself in, but there are several safety tips that travelers should consider before visiting. Because of its remote desert location, there is almost no cell phone service inside the park. Emergency phones can be found at the ranger station in Indian Cove or at the parking lot at Intersection Rock, near Hidden Valley Campground. Park rangers advise visitors to be very cautious during times of extreme heat. Temperatures are often over 38 degrees Celsius during the summertime, and rangers recommend travelers drink at least four liters of water per day to replace the loss from sweat. Enjoy responsibly!


Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.


Garden of Thorns

Dr. J.S. Sarkaria National Cactus and Succulent Botanical Garden and Research Centre in Panchkula, Haryana, houses over 2,500 species of cacti and succulents. It is considered Asia’s largest outdoor landscaped cactus garden. It was founded in 1992 by Dr. Sarkaria, a surgeon who served in the Indian Medical Service and donated the huge collection of cacti and succulents that he had amassed during his travels. The Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) provided land and finance to build a public facility to care for and propagate his precious garden. It was initially called the National Cactus and Succulent Botanical Garden and Research Center, but was renamed after the death of Dr. Sarkaria in 2004.

Spanning over 2.8 hectares, the garden holds the largest comprehensive collection of Indian succulents in the world, most of them rare and endangered species, and contains three separate greenhouses. The garden is open through the year, though the timings may vary at different times of the year. Entry fee to the garden is Rs. 10 per person. For those looking to start their own cactus and succulent collection, plants are also available for purchase at the garden. —J.C.