Yes, I liked it there. It was a big “better than expectations”. Despite the hottest summer in decades in the southwest, at 120 degrees in the Cholla Cactus garden. Despite sweating through 3 liters of beverage in a day just in a short hike to take pictures of rocks, and looking for a dam. And a desire to stay in my air conditioned vehicle more than hike around and or explore the giant boulders that look like someone stacked them. Those big rocks just make the kid in you, who used to climb jungle gyms, scream to climb them. And those big rocks make you feel like you’re camping in a old western movie. Theme parks and restaurants have tried to recreate the environment of those big boulder campsites.
The southeast side of the park is mostly how you imagined a desert to look. There are a few oasis that you can see, Cottonwood Springs is the best example at the Southeast entrance, and easily accessible by car. Big palm trees! Including a conjoined one that reminds me of a cold cartoon. Remember the Dr. Frankenstein monster in Looney Tunes cartoons chasing Bugs Bunny?
As you travel north from Cottonwood Springs toward the main road with the boulders and Joshua trees, you will pass the Cholla Cactus garden. Hard to believe that those things produce spines so sharp, that a stray one will stick to your sneakers if you step on one.
But the north side of Joshua Park has the Joshua trees the park is named for, and they are the healthiest looking Joshua Tree Forest I’ve seen in the Mojave Desert. And if these Dr. Seuss looking trees are your thing, which they say are yucca plants and not cactus if you understand the difference, the forest of them that you drive through on the north side is expansive.
But the park has these iconic boulders to climb and explore, and a few to photograph like skull rock on the left (seemingly looking upon a white SUV, judging the wisdom of a white car in a dusty desert).
Barker Dam is a nice hike, but the dam is unimpressive when the water is low. But it is a reservoir of water in the desert. You will see birds nearby.
$20 to camp at most developed campsites that have a bathroom, and fire rings.
You can also camp backcountry, by signing up in designated locations throughout park, parking your car there, and hiking to a site away from the road and any water sources, and setting up camp. More details on their NPS website. When I went, you can get a map from the visitor center and the signup locations are marked by a small blue “B”. Backcountry camping is FREE, though you won’t have a fire ring or bathroom facilities nearby.
Pictured below is one of the developed campgrounds, Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Wildlife here does like the campgrounds. Jackrabbits lying in wait, reptiles sunbathing (only cold blooded animals in 120F weather), squirrels trying to steal your picnic basket, and an unpictured Cottontail rabbit.
There are three entrances, Twentyninepalms (town) from the northeast, Joshua Tree (town) from the northwest, and Cottonwood Springs in the south east. Coming in from Twentyninepalms, this is one of the first rock formations.
Keys View allows you to see the entire Coachella Valley, which is south of the park. They say you can see the San Andreas fault. But my eyes aren’t trained to see the difference in the rocks from 2 different geological plates. The fault isn’t like a big crack in the ground. But there is a display, which tells you how to locate Palm Springs.
During a cooler season, the north part of Joshua Tree Park would be an awesome place to camp and climb to the top of the boulders. During the hotter seasons, if you really must, bring plenty of water and shade structures to sit under.
Old Woman Rock, which doesn’t seem to be in google maps, but is mentioned on the internet, is across from Intersection Rock. (http://www.summitpost.org/old-woman/493147)