The Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park, California
© Bryan Jolley/Tandem Stills + Motio
A garden of prickly delights
To celebrate the final weekend of National Park Week, we're at Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California, about a three-hour drive from Los Angeles. This 1,235-square-mile stretch of land where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts converge was declared a national monument in 1936, then was redesignated a national park in 1994. That status protects a wide variety of plant and animal life, including the eponymous Joshua tree, which can be found growing mostly in the hills on the Mojave side of the park.
The Cholla Cactus Garden, seen here, lies near the center of the park in what is called the Pinto Basin. Visitors can safely navigate this prickly section via a nature trail that allows a close-up view of a large collection of cholla cactus, which is spread out over 10 acres. This plant may look fuzzy from afar and is sometimes even sardonically referred to as the teddy bear cholla, but you don't want to snuggle with one—or even touch it at all. The cholla cactus is recognizable by its dense yellow new-growth spines, which grow on top of dark lower trunks. Stem-joints from cholla cactus fall off easily and the spines have tiny barbs that can latch onto your skin and be painful to remove. We'll just admire them from a distance, thank you very much.