Joshua Tree National Park Sets Attendance Milestone & Braces For Strong El Niño

For the first time in its 74-year history, Joshua Tree National Park topped the 2-million visitor mark, reaching the milestone Monday, December 28, 2015.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua trees have been described as ugly, but we have always found them fascinating. The odd-shaped stick figures offer an opportunity for your imagination to run the gamut in trying to figure out what the shape of each plant resembles. Joshua trees were named by early Mormons travelers who felt the trees resembled Joshua pointing the way to heaven.

Joshua trees are pollinated only by yucca moths that lay their eggs in the trees’ flowers. The larva then feed on seeds as the fruit matures. The average lifespan of the plants is approximately 150 years.

Joshua Tree was established as a national monument by President Franklin Roosevelt who signed a presidential proclamation on August 10, 1936. At the time, the monument comprised 825,000 acres, a reduction from the original proposal of over a million acres. The monument was upgraded to national park status in 1994 and at the same time 234,000 acres of land were added. Approximately 75 percent of the park’s nearly 800,000 acres are designated as wilderness.

The 1994 expansion of the park resulted in new boundaries that encompassed elevations that ranged from 900 feet to over 5,000 feet which, in turn, covered three major ecosystems. The southern and eastern sections are part of the Colorado Desert, while the northern portion of the park consists of the southern reaches of the Mojave Desert. Higher elevations in the western section of the park exhibit a mountainous ecosystem.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite its large number of annual visitors, Joshua Tree doesn’t seem particularly crowded. Pullouts at wayside exhibits offer ample parking spaces and roads throughout the park exhibit none of the congestion that is fairly common in many of the most popular parks.

The lack of congestion is due in large part to visitation being more evenly spread throughout the year, compared to many other national parks that experience especially heavy visitation during a limited number of summer months. Rather than a short summer season, Joshua Tree enjoys an extended season that runs from fall all the way through spring. Only the hot summers deter the public from visiting the southern California desert.

The park’s main roads are laid out in a wiggly Y-shape with entrances on the northwest, north, and south. Modest visitor centers are located near each entrance.

Joshua Tree National Park has nine campgrounds, only three of which have potable water. The campgrounds are first-come, first-served except for two locations that offer reserved sites during the busy season of October through May. Many sites are spaced so campers didn’t appear crowded. Campgrounds situated in boulder fields interspersed with Joshua trees offered campers quite a bit of privacy and some outstanding scenery. Most sites are not suitable for big rigs.

The Joshua Tree is just one of hundreds of plants native to this national park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Joshua Tree is just one of hundreds of plants native to this national park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With weather forecasts predicting a strong El Niño, officials at Joshua Tree National Park are cautioning visitors to be alert to the weather and problems it may create.

Staff preparations include a variety of planning scenarios ranging from dam safety, to extreme weather rescues, to road and transportation issues. Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith will also consider preemptive closures if a forecast seems to warrant it to ensure visitor safety.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon involving a section of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru that warms up, causing atmospheric alterations which can have a dramatic effect on global weather patterns. What that means for California is a significantly higher chance of heavy rainfall and the challenges it creates.

Meteorologists are predicting an El Niño effect that could exceed the 1997 event. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is encouraging people to consider the phrase “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” as a mantra for this year’s flood season. It can take only 6 inches of swiftly moving water to knock over an adult, 12 inches to carry off a small car, and 2 feet to carry away most other passenger vehicles.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please Note: This is part of an on-going series on America’s National Parks Centennial

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no

name, where the streets have no name …

— Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

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