“Joshua Alone”
Joshua Tree National Park

On a good weekday morning (no wrecks, no road work, no acts of God) I can make it to out to Joshua Tree National Park’s west entrance ranger station in about 92 minutes. I’ll usually leave the house early and get there in time to enjoy a cup of coffee as the sun comes up. I make a few photographs and then head back home in time for brunch. It’s always a nice way to begin my day during the cooler months of the year.

The park is one of my favorite places to spend time. The photo opportunities are incredible. The rock climbing encompasses routes of all levels of difficulty and is considered world-class. There’s camping, hiking (with the extremely small chance of getting lost and never being heard from again), bird watching, strange plants to identify, wild animals to see (if you are patient and watch carefully), beautiful sunrises and sunsets, an interesting history, amazing geology, and a night sky that will dazzle you with stars. What more could an outdoor enthusiast ask for?

Well, how about a few less visitors? Like many popular tourist destinations, Joshua Tree NP can get crowded. It’s a big place (slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island) with many sights to see and areas to explore, so it’s not as if it’s “Disneyland crowded” by any means. But it’s getting too crowded for me. I’ve cut back on my trips to the park quite a bit because of just that. Oh well, I could whine all day long about the crowds but I might as well be farting in the wind for all the good it would do. Progress slows down from time to time but there’s no stopping its inevitable march forward, and more warm bodies on this planet is a large part of that so-called progress.

I’d be willing to bet that with the increasing number of visitors to the park each year one of the major concerns for the National Park Service has been how best to protect its desert landscapes and ecosystems from humans. Eventually the status quo will have to change and my guess is that it will have something to do with limiting entrance to the park. Not the American way, but then America hasn’t been acting like itself for quite a while. Fewer visitors means fewer folks stomping around the place leaving their mark on the terra firma, intentionally or otherwise. Personally, I think the idea of limiting visitors sucks but we’re running low on other options.

Enter the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), an unwelcome cause that created an unexpected, but much needed, respite for the park. Joshua Tree National Park closed its visitors centers on March 17, 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Four days later the park was closed to everything but foot and bike traffic. Ten days after that, on April 1, 2020, the entire park was closed to all visitors. Just over six weeks later, on May 17, 2020, the park was reopened with limitations (visitor centers and group campsites remained closed). Confused yet?

With the virus seemingly making a comeback (they claim because of the cooler winter weather) the status of the park remains fluid. If you plan to visit the park be sure to check here for current information on the availability of access and services.


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