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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Joshua Tree National Park

                                                                      by Gary Becker

          While on our stay in Indio, California we took several side trips to surrounding parks. We made two trips to Joshua Tree National Park on separate days and were surprised by the difference in habitat on each occasion. On our first trip we entered the park through the northwest entrance apply named Joshua Tree Visitor center. Turns out this section of park was in the Mohave desert and loaded with its namesake(the Joshua tree). 
Susan and Joshua Tree

          On our second trip we entered through the southeast entrance(Cottonwood Visitor center) and found no Joshua trees. Seems we were no longer in the Mohave desert but rather the Colorado desert which is below 3000 feet above sea level and lies within the much larger Sonoran desert which spans southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico.       
         Common to both areas however are the enormous pilings of smooth rocks. These rock piles began underground as a result of volcanic activity. Magma(which was to become granite) rose from deep within the earth and intruded into the overlying rock.

          As the magma cooled and crystalized underground cracks formed both vertically and horizontally. The granite continued to lift upward where it came in contact with ground water. Chemical weathering caused by the ground water worked on these angular granite blocks widening the cracks and rounding their edges. 

Flash floods eventually washed away the ground surface and exposed the huge eroded and smoothed boulders which settled one on top of another creating the impressive rock piles.

          The Joshua trees are not really trees but species of yucca. With their twisted spikey branches they look like a Dr. Seuss creation. In these arid areas we saw cactus wren, rock wren, Gambel's quail, ravens and  red tailed hawks.
Cactus Wren

Rock Wren

Gambel's Quail

          There were several species of reptile including what I believe were the desert iguana and the zebra-tailed lizard. Predictably the better birding was in the wet areas and so we sought them out. My only life bird on the trip was the rufous-crowned sparrow which we found in a wonderful watering hole called Barker Dam. 
Rufous-crowned Sparrow

          The dam was built in the early 1900's to hold water for the cattle and mining use. Today the cattle are gone and the mines closed but this small rain-fed reservoir attracts lots of park wildlife. Besides the sparrow I found lesser goldfinch, Say's and black phoebe's, phainopepla, Cedar waxwing, Townsend's warbler,yellow-rumped warblers, scrub jay and Western bluebird all in this rather small area. 

Lesser Goldfinch

Western Scrub Jay

          It was certainly the highlight of the first day's tour along with the Key's View Vista which is an overlook at 5185 feet in the middle of the park with views all the way to Palm Springs and the san Bernadino mountains.

The high flying twosome - Gary and Susan

          When we made a return trip several days later we entered through the Cottonwood visitor center at the southeast entrance. The Joshua trees were gone but replaced by cholla cactus, ocotillo, green-backed palo verde trees and smoke trees. 


          I can't say that we added any new birds on the visit but the landscape was gorgeous and the hiking exhilarating and definitely left us vowing to return.

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