The most stark transition from the southeast to the southwest has been the shift from humid forests to barren desert landscapes. The change from tall pines and moist soil to cacti and parched sand has been the most visually obvious transformation – but my favorite difference is in the wildlife that inhabits my new surroundings.
The creatures of the desert are true warriors in this harsh environment. Battling daily for basic needs like water, food, and shelter from the relentless sun, I often found myself amazed that they can survive in the merciless conditions of Joshua Tree National Park. Catching a glimpse of desert wildlife is often a daunting task itself – I spent the entire three weeks we were in Joshua Tree, Phoenix, and Joshua Tree on keen lookout for a desert tortoise, and saw nothing but their burrows.
In Joshua Tree National Park, some creatures have learned to take advantage of picnicking humans – like this Scrub Jay who surprised us by landing inches away from Niko and I while we were snacking on sunflower seeds atop a boulder at Baker Dam. He was totally undaunted by us, and hopped all over our area begging for some seeds.
While it was pretty neat to have such a close encounter with a Scrub Jay, it made Niko and I pause to think about the impact humans have on the wild terrain of Joshua Tree National Park. This creature has clearly learned that humans are an easy source of food – how long before he abandoned eforts of getting food on his own?
Like any honorable outdoors folk, we didn’t give him any of our bounty – because wildlife should always be kept wild!
Aside from our feathered friend, there were many wildlife sightings throughout the climbing and camping areas we frequented during our trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Rabbits could often be seen scurrying through the brush, and coyotes patrolled the Hidden Valley campground on a nightly basis.
Our most impressive animal encounter at Joshua Tree occurred while we were on our way out of the park. Wrecked from climbing and the harsh desert elements, we had decided to retreat back into town when we suddenly noticed a bit of commotion on the road ahead of us. Always prepared, I unholstered my camera in anticipation of whatever was causing the mini traffic jam. We rolled a few yards ahead, and our path was suddenly blocked by a flurry of fur.
Once my eyes adjusted, I realized that two coyotes were chasing a bobcat through the desert. The coyotes boldly sauntered across the road in front of us as the big bobcat clawed its way up a Joshua Tree to seek refuge from its agressors. Conveniently, the entire scene played out right in front of the van, lending to these two excellent shots:
It wasn’t quite the tortiose sighting I had been so eager for, but this chaotic encounter with a big cat certainly satisfied my craving for a unique wildlife encounter in Joshua Tree National Park. Whoever said the deserts are a desolate place without life has clearly never spent a week at this incredible national park.