From my perch at the peak of Ryan Mountain, 5,457 feet above sea level, a vast and undeveloped landscape stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. It was dotted with rock piles that looked quizzically out of place from above, curious geologic formations that might seem more at home on Mars than in California. The Joshua trees that carpeted the surrounding terrain cast tiny dark shadows from the afternoon sun. Nearby, a pair of ravens broke the silence with their calls, gliding effortlessly on the gusts of wind that turned hiking sweat cold against my back. I felt a million miles away from the crowds of downtown Los Angeles. And yet I was just a few hours away, completely immersed in the expansive wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park.
The Mojave and the Colorado deserts, each distinct ecosystems, meet in Joshua Tree National Park. A wide array of plant and animal species call the park home. Myriad trail systems traverse the arid landscape, allowing intrepid hikers to explore far from the crowds and creating a natural treasure for camping, rock climbing, wildlife viewing and star gazing. A lack of light pollution makes for spectacular night skies. Designated a national monument in 1936 and finally given national park status in 1994, Joshua Tree is a California gem.