This might be sad but I didn't know what an actual Joshua Tree was until I went and visited the Joshua Tree National Park. I knew of the park, but didn't know what the actual tree looked like. The park is named for the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) which is native to the land. It is a tall-growing variety of the yucca genus that grows prevalently within its boundaries. The name Joshua Tree was reportedly given by a band of Mormons who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century, the tree's unique shape reminding them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky.
The national park encompasses nearly 800,000 acres (an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island) of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, conserving two separate desert ecosystems at different altitudes. The profile of the Joshua Tree National Park (then a National Monument) was raised significantly in 1987 with the release of the best-selling U2 album The Joshua Tree, the cover of which featured evocative black-and-white photography of the Park's landscape and distinctive trees. The area enclosed by the park was declared a National Monument in 1936, a Biosphere Reserve in 1984 and finally a National Park in 1994.
The park is popular with rock climbers and was originally a winter practice area while Yosemite Valley and other parts of the Sierra Nevada were snowbound, but later became an area of interest in its own right. There are thousands of named climbing routes, at all levels of difficulty. The routes are typically short, the rocks being rarely more than 230 ft (70 m) in height, but access is usually a short, easy walk through the desert, and it is possible to do a number of interesting climbs in a single day. The rocks are all composed of quarts monzonite, a very rough type of granite made even more so as there is no snow or ice to polish it as in places like Yosemite.
We were there for rock climbing through a nifty groupon deal! We originally wanted to go the night before and camp but I couldn't muster the energy on that Saturday to get out there (due to a festive evening), so we woke up early Sunday morning to make the drive from Long Beach. It took around 3 hours and we had to meet our guide at 9am. When we booked our excursion we were warned many times by the guide company that Joshua Tree would be fairly warm that time of year (1st weekend in June) and they didn't advise climbing there that time of year (they preferred Mammoth), however we were set on seeing JT. We arrived and met our guide at 9 and he was excited to show us round. The groupon is such a good deal because it was just the two of us and the guide so were got his full attention. Our guide was a little bit older and informed us that he has been climbing for over 30 years which made us feel fairly safe. We geared up and set up base camp on a ledge not too far above ground. He gave us the safety talk, went and anchored the rope and we were on our way! We did a preliminary climb then he started reviewing techniques with us. After, we used some of the techniques to tackle a harder climb. The guide was very helpful in giving hints for holds or how to maneuver the mountain. We could tell he'd done this path many many times. In total we climbed 5 paths each. My knees got a big scraped up but I got to the top of each of them. After the 5th, I was tired, in a bit of pain, and done for the day. It actually took us the whole 4 hours, and it was getting a bit warmer.
It's easy to get a passion for climbing. It's incredibly liberating and empowering. Not to mention the amazing workout you get while doing it. Having a place like Joshua Tree so close is a gift for climbers. If you get the chance, try rock climbing while in SoCal, its an experience like none other.