Named for the region’s twisted, bristled trees, Joshua Tree National Park is a unique site in the Mojave Desert. From Sky Valley RV Resort in Hot Springs, CA, we drove north to access the park, closer to the Hidden Valley trailhead.
What are Joshua Trees?
Joshua trees are actually a type of yucca (yucca brevifolia) and they are the world’s largest yucca plants. They are sometimes called Yucca Palms, Tree Yuccas, and Palm Tree Yuccas. It also bears the Spanish name izote de desierto, which means “desert dagger.”
The oldest Joshua Tree is estimated to be approximately 1,000 years old, while the average lifespan of a Joshua Tree is said to be about 500 years. Joshua Trees are slow growing trees, adding only 2 to 3 inches each year, so it takes 50 to 60 years for a Joshua Tree to reach full height.
What’s In A Name?
The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in hopeful prayer.
Not to reveal my age, but my first memory of these strange trees comes from the legendary Irish group U2 and their album The Joshua Tree. As it was for the settlers, the trees represented a symbol of faith and hope in the face of adversity. U2 released the album at a time when they too felt like misfits trying to navigate a hostile environment, which they did successfully: The Joshua Tree made the band stand out from the crowd and remains the band’s highest-selling album.
A Thorny but Thriving Living
A hostile environment such as the Mojave Desert still provides a good living to many plants and animals. And in the desert, like in all nature, things are intertwined and interdependent.
This is especially true for the Joshua tree and it all begins with a moth—the tree’s only pollinator. Yucca moths use their unique dexterous jaw appendages (think Flerken-like tentacles) to collect pollen from Joshua tree flowers and deposit it on the female parts of each flower as the moth moves between blooms. The moth lays its eggs inside the seed pods, where their offspring eat the seeds—their only source of food. The caterpillars crawl to the ground and form cocoons, then continue the cycle. The bond between the Joshua trees and this particular moth is unique, as most pollinators are accidental (they rub against pollen while they feed). The yucca moth’s pollination is an active act of survival, as the tree seeds are the exclusive source of food for its offspring. The partnership has been going on for million of years and has been the subject of much research.
The scraggly brushy tree also provides a good home for many birds, such as the Scott’s oriole and the ladder-backed woodpecker, while the loggerhead shrike (small grey and black bird) skewers its prey on the tree’s sharp needles. The woodrat collects cactus joints and discarded leaves for its nest, while the antelope ground squirrel feeds on scattered Joshua tree seeds. The spotted night snake gets its favorite snack, the yucca night lizards, while it crawls among the dead tree limbs. During the spring, the Joshua tree flowers are one of the only sources of wet food available for insects, ravens, and ground squirrels.
A Desert Oasis—Palm Springs and Hot Desert Springs, CA
Back at Sky Valley RV Resort, we enjoyed the quiet and quaint resort, complete with black swans, brilliant blooms, and spectacular sunsets. I loved the place and highly recommend it (even if we weren’t able to receive an internet or phone signal).
Our next stop took us away from the desert, past Mt. San Jacinto, and close to the ocean, to the beautiful and coveted San Diego area.