About the Site
Joshua Tree National Park (3)  


Park History

Joshua Trees

Rock Piles

Colorado Desert

Plants of Colorado


Mojave Desert

Plants of Mojave


Keys View

Lost Horse Valley

Quail Springs

West Entrance




Colorado Desert

The other of the two major desert systems represented in Joshua Tree National Park is the Colorado. This desert is a subdivision of the Sonora desert found in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. A section of the Colorado Desert can be seen in the picture below with the Eagle Mountains in the background.

The Colorado Desert lies at a lower elevation than the Mojave, generally less than 3000 feet, and receives a great deal less moisture. It is also warmer and freezing temperatures are rare. The Colorado Desert contains fewer plants and presents a much drier appearance as can be seen below.

Another picture of the desert is shown below.

The yucca can be found in sections of the Colorado Desert, but the Joshua tree does not grow at all in this area. The picture below shows a view of the Eagle Mountains from the Cottonwood Visitor Center.

Another dry, dusty section of the desert can be seen below.

When the rains come, however, the downpour can easily overpower the dry earth's ability to absorb the moisture. Short lived, fast flowing rivers rush through the valleys and across the desert, accelerating erosion. These leave "washes" or dry river beds as can be seen below.

Another section of the Colorado Desert can be seen below. One of the most plentiful plants in the desert is the creosote bush, which compete with each other for water and space, preventing other plants from growing too close. The picture below shows a portion of the Pinto Basin, a 30 mile long, 10 mile wide flat area filled with sand and silt washed from surrounding mountains. In the Basin the temperature may reach 120 degrees in the summer.

The mountain ranges in the Colorado Desert section of Joshua Tree--the Cottonwood Mountains, Eagle Mountains, and Comb Mountains--stand in stark contrast to the desert basin. The picture below shows another section of the Pinto Basin.

There is a small visitor's center in the Colorado Desert. This building--the Cottonwood Visitor's Center--provides books, maps, and other informational material. It is one of the only places in the desert to obtain potable drinking water.

Plants of the Colorado Desert

The yucca and other plants may be found in the valleys and gullies in the desert.

The plants which live in the Colorado Desert must be capable of surviving with very little moisture. On the left below is a plant which appears to be desert holly.

The plant below is mesquite, one of the most common plants in this desert. It sends its roots very deep into the ground searching for water and is successful enough to thrive. Indian inhabitants of the area used to eat the beans which grow on this plant.

Even late in the fall the mesquite blooms may add a touch of color to the desert. That's a screwbean mesquite bloom below.

Additional flowers may be found in the desert, highlighted by the bright sun.

Some additional specimens of the desert vegetation is shown below. In the center is the cottonwood, usually found where there is an ample supply of water, in this case at Cottonwood Springs. On the right is the teddybear cholla.


A group of cholla can be seen below in the "Cholla Garden" with the Hexie Mountains in the background.

This plant is also popularly known as the "jumping cholla" because of the ease with which portions of the plant embed themselves in the skin of the unwary desert visitor.

There are a variety of flowers in the desert including the red blooms below.

One interesting plant in the desert is the ocatillo. During dry periods the thorned stalk of this plant is leafless and dormant, but after the rain it sprouts a heavy cover of greenery, achieving a high rate of photosynthesis in a short time. This plant is both plentiful in and endemic to the Sonoran Desert.

Another cottonwood tree at Cottonwood Springs is shown below, this one beginning to turn yellow in the late autumn when the picture was taken.

The green fronds of the palm at Cottonwood Springs add to the brighter, fresher look of the oasis.


For the most part the desert is dry, but there are several places where some water is available and plant life is frequent. Joshua Tree National Park contains 5 desert oases. The picture below shows some of the California fan palms which grow in the Cottonwood Springs Oasis, in the southern portion of the park. Years ago the water flow from the spring used to be 300 gallons a day, but it is not much more than a trickle today.

Another shot of this oasis can be seen below on the left.


The picture on the right shows another oasis, the Oasis of Mara, north of the park. Over time this area was inhabited by Indian tribes, prospectors, and cattlemen. The name comes from the Indian word "Merra"--a place of small springs and much grass. Water no longer reaches the surface at the oasis because pumping in the area has lowered the water table, but there is still water relatively near the surface which is responsible for abundant vegetation.

The Oasis Visitor's Center is located next to the Oasis of Mara and is pictured below.

- Next Page for Joshua Tree National Park -

  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com