Joshua Tree National Park

If you live in the southern California area and have never been to Joshua Tree National Park you are missing a puzzle piece to your life’s experiences. If you enjoy the colors and smells of the desert in the spring, or you want to experience lightning storms in late summer,  put Joshua Tree National Park on your must visit list. As for accessibility to wheelchairs and scooters, well you are indeed limited. Most, if not the entire park, is not accessible to manual wheelchair users if you wish to explore off the paved roads. If this is you, don’t be discouraged, there are still great areas to explore and experience the desert of Joshua Tree NP. Electric Wheelchairs and scooters with good ground clearance increase your opportunities and will let you hike a few of the popular trails with little difficulty.

The main road that runs through the park from highway 62 is called Park Boulevard. The road is narrow, with little to no bike lane area to the edge and a curb. The only parking areas are at trail heads, and you will find it impossible to find a turnout. If during your slow drive you find a cool spot for a sunrise or sunset shoot but you need to travel the edge of the road for some distance, don’t plan on it, there is no room for you at roads edge. Besides, if a park ranger spots you setting up your tripod partly exposing yourself to traffic you will be escorted back to your vehicle. So you have to absorb the disappointment and find other opportunities, and there are plenty, you just have to explore the dirt roads through the park. Most of the dirt roads throughout the park are drivable by car, but beware, they can change quickly to rough terrain and sand drifts. Our mini van had an easy time except for a few areas and those were marked four wheel drive beyond this point. One such road is the one to the Lost Horse Mine, which is a great road for Joshua trees at sunrise, but depending on the rainfall can be difficult to travel past the ‘Y’.  We were able to drive up to the trailhead at The Lost Horse Mine however the trail was not wheelchair accessible past the trailhead. One of our favorite areas was along Queen Valley Road to where it dead ends at a day use area. The is a gate that the park uses to close the day use area, not sure why, hopefully during your visit you will find it open as we did. Sunset is the best time to photograph in this area and you have many early spring flowers during late February and several walking stick cactus for foreground elements. The day use area at roads end is a little hilly but the surface is hard, at least it was when we we last there in May. There are primitive restrooms in the day use area and plenty of park wherever you can parking, just don’t expect it to be level. During your visit you must drive up to Keys View at 5,185 feet. The road is paved to the end and the parking lot is capable of parking a ton of cars and several handicap parking stalls. The way the parking lot is laid out if all the handicap parking is in use there are end stall options that may be available. The path from the parking lot to the viewing area is a little steep for a manual wheelchair, I’m not sure what would be worse, going up or coming down. Once you reach the vista viewing area be prepared, if the weather is fairly clear you will be able to see the entire Coachella Valley and a hazy view of Salton Sea.  At the base of your view you will see the San Andreas Fault, although you won’t actually be able to see it, at least you hope not. Also plan on making a trip to the Cholla Cactus Garden, about an hour plus drive from the North Entrance Ranger Station to what you believe is the middle of nowhere.  The Cholla Cactus Garden is merely a large garden of Cholla Cactus with several rocky dirt walkways weaving around these prickly dangerous monsters of the desert. If you are not careful you can get up close and painfully personal with these guys and the rocky dirt walk path doesn’t help. I would say you could handle the walk path in your manual wheelchair but with much effort. An electric wheelchair or scooter with a couple of inches of ground clearance will easily negotiate the walk paths with ease. The day we were there the sun was nearing mid-day which limited my photographic opportunities for placing the sun behind the cactus. Planning our next visit we will arrive early morning of late afternoon for better positioning of the sun. For opportunities like this I usually use my 15mm fisheye or an ultra wide angle and get as close as I dare. Since I always expose for the bright sun I might even add a  fill flash to bring out detail in the cactus.

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