Joshua Tree National Park

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For those who enjoy the slightly unusual, the Joshua Tree National Park, situated off Highway 62 between Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley, California is the place to see. The park covers 794,000 acres made up of desert floor interspersed with gigantic heaps of enormous rocks, piled up in such a way that it is impossible to believe that they are a natural feature. At the weekend, these proved to be a magnet for climbers, who scaled up the great heights with an ease that belied the vastness of the rock formations. Hidden canyons can be found amidst the rocks and one in particular was regularly used by cattle rustlers to hide their animals until they could be re-branded and sold back to their original owners.

The flat, sandy acres between the monumental stones are where the Joshua trees grow, each one evenly spaced out from the next by some means of chemical inhibition from the roots. Once again, it all looks too uniform to be the work of nature.

More strange plants can be found in the “Cactus Garden”. In particular the Cholla cactus flourish here and anyone unlucky enough to simply brush against them will soon know it. Their common name is the Jumping Cactus, due to the ease with which they attach themselves to anything. Their spines are covered in microscopic barbs and prove very painful to remove, as we witnessed on two unwitting visitors as we entered the area.

Very well hidden in the back of beyond, is the abandoned Keys Ranch, available to visit only by appointment. Here resided the Keys family in the early 1900s who managed to live a totally self-sufficient existence in this very hostile environment, producing seven children into the bargain. They grew all their own fruit and vegetables by dynamiting holes in the rocky earth and back-filling with animal manure and silt. Bill Keys remained there until he died in 1966. The National Park bought the ranch and it has been left exactly as it was.

If you are in Los Angeles or Las Vegas, make a detour and visit this strangely beautiful and unearthly part of California. You really won’t be disappointed.

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