Cacti, Joshua Tree National Park
The southeast portion of the park is at a lower elevation than the northwest and is therefore hotter and drier. Here the Joshua tree's give way to other desert plants such as this concentration of Cholla plants
Head toward the eastern section of Joshua Tree National Park and you'll find the Cholla Cactus Garden. These cacti are quite common in the eastern Colorado Desert portion of the park and tend to grow in big clumps. The Cholla Cactus Garden is just one such gathering of cacti.
From a distance, these impressive cacti look almost fuzzy. Up close, their long spines are definitely not touchable. Their impressive size and lovely green & brown colors make for great photos, though. At the Cactus Garden, you can stoll along a marked path and admire all the cacti.
In the eastern part of Joshua Tree NP you will come across the Cholla Cactus Garden. To have a better look at these cactus species you may follow one of the parks 12 nature trails.
From far away, the cactuses look soft and touchable, but all I can say is that these plants do not belong to the cactus family for nothing...
In the eastern part of park, which is the Colorado Desert, the most widespread plant is the creosote bush but in a few areas you'll be able to see the cholla cactus. The Cholla Cactus Garden is one of these areas where the chollas dominate the landscape due to favorable goundwater conditions. A 1/4 mile loop trail winds through the patches of chollas. You can pick up an instructional leaflet near the entrance ($0.25 donation suggested). You are instructed not to touch the cacti (and I'm sure a lot of people try to hug them) which look fuzzy and inviting - their common name is teddy bear cholla - but they can surely sting. The leaftlet talks about plants and animals of the desert. One interesting and well-adapted little fellow is the desert wood rat which makes its home among the cholla cactus joints.
These fuzzy cacti look as if they belong in an episode of star trek. They are fascinating, but very painful. This species is sometimes known as the jumping cholla because the little balls of spines seem to leap from the cactus to the unsuspecting hiker. I have first-hand experience with the jumping cholla (and yes it was very painful) but that will have to wait until I make my Anza-Borrego Desert page.
It's a fitting end to a spectacular journey. As the shadows of the gorge grow larger and the sunlight recedes beyond the Hexie Mountains to the west, the head feels abit light but the spirits are still soaring. You realize you've journeyed deep into the heart of lightness. And you're better for it. STOP
About 1.5 miles farther east from cholla cactus garden you'll find the the Ocotillo Patch (which is actually nothing more than a patch). The Ocotillo is a tall shurb, also a member of the Colorado desert flora. I thought it looked interesting and worth the short stop.
As you cross out of the Mojave desert and into the Colorado desert, the scenic drive has fewer points to stop at. One of the more impressive ones is this patch of Cholla cacti. The Cholla is also known as the jumping cactus - if you should get too close and brush up against this cactus, the spines will "jump" and stick themselves into you. There are a number of warning signs at the beginning of the trail that leads through the garden to be extremely careful, as you'll get very up close and personal with these along the quarter-mile loop trail. This is an extremely nifty landscape, and a very flat and easy path (although you certainly will probably be a little more aware of you footing so you don't trip and fall into one of these babies!) Some of the cacti are fairly tall, and eventually you end up in a spot where you can see nothing else around you. A highly recommended stop - but not good for small kids or pets.
Take the drive from the North Entrance Station to Cottonwood Visitor Center. Along the way you will see the Cholla Cactus Garden on the right side of the road. This is an unusually dense area of Teddy Cholla Cactus. We have see Teddy Bear Cholla in a number of deserts, but we have never seen so many in one area. And what is really strange is that there are hardly any in the other areas of the park.
By far the most dense area of cacti in the entire park, the cholla cactus garden is a quick stop as you ride along Pinto Basin Road. The trail is set and you take a quick walk around while checking out the large amount of cactus. It's worth taking a stop just to see so much of them at once.
There is a small brochure you can purchase on site that provides information as you walk through.
The Cholla is sometimes called a "jumping cactus" because of the way it catches onto unwary passersby. One of the more interesting things to see in the park is the "Cholla Cactus Garden", a short relaxing walk through a grove of these cacti complete with an informative guide and educational signs. Just watch out for the cactus and make sure it does not jump on you.
Another plant in the park, which is frequently mistaken as a cactus due to the thorns and its appearance, is the Ocotillo. The Ocotillo is actually a type of deciduous plant; but unlike most deciduous trees it does not grow leaves in the spring and lose them in the fall. It grows leaves after a rainfall and loses them during a drought, possibly losing its leaves up to 5 times in a year. The Ocotillo plants in the photos are budding leaves, showing there was a recent rainfall.