The obvious thing to say about Joshua Tree is that the first thing you notice when you get there are the actual Joshua Trees. But the second thing I noticed, and left a greater impression on me, were the mountains. Notably because they don't look like mountains at all, they lack the crisp triangular lines that we typically associate mountains with. Instead they look like piles of enormous rocks, as though some giant creature piled them up for fun. The boulders range from fist to house sized and a blast to climb around on. Between these rubble mountains are open plains entirely made up of Joshua Trees. Not nearly dense enough to be called a forest, with one every 10 to 20 feet, but they fill up entire clearings.
Joshua Tree is the first national park I've been to where there's essentially no supervision or set boundaries. It still has all the trappings of a typical national park: smoothly paved roads, clear signage, little folding maps, posts with scientific and historic facts here and there, maintained trails and a select few areas that are posted as off limits to park visitors. But once you pass the entrance gate, you're left to explore the park however you want. Signage feel more like suggestions. You can start off on a trail then deviate and walk off into any direction if you'd like. There are undoubtedly endless ways to explore the 1,200 square miles that the park covers. In Joshua Tree you are left to truly explore and experience the park first-hand and up close.
At just over two hours east of central LA, near Indio and Palm Springs, Joshua Tree is incredibly easy to access for a day trip or a weekend away.