Unravel desert mysteries in Joshua Tree National Park

Bighorn sheep, dramatic granite spires, weird trees--Joshua Tree National Park has plenty of reasons to visit.

Viewed from the road, this desert park, consisting of over a half-million acres of stark wilderness, might not seem like the liveliest place. But stop and take a closer look, and you'll discover  a fascinating variety of plants and animals that make their home in this land shaped by strong winds, unpredictable torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. The park's namesake Joshua trees, actually a form of yucca, sprawl their branches like twisted arms spread wide in the air. Night skies fill with an impossible number of stars. Fascinating geology and cultural history make the region even more compelling.

What's more, Joshua Tree teems with wildlife. Herds of beautiful desert bighorn sheep roam the landscape. In spring and summer, look for an unexpected variety of birds on their annual migrations (Joshua Tree sits along the Pacific Flyway). The parkland attracts humans too, especially climbers, who flock here in winter, when other destinations become inclement, to test their skills on the dramatic granite monoliths. There's exceptional hiking through rugged canyons; there are also plenty of short walks that allow visitors to enjoy the mild winter weather and the gorgeous seasonal light. No matter when you come, be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection, and watch your step—six kinds of rattlesnake call Joshua Tree home.