Aggressive honey bees at Joshua Tree National Park force multiple campgrounds to close

Megan Marples, CNNPublished 16th July 2020
(CNN) — Two areas of Joshua Tree National Park are closed after aggressive honey bees forced the park to clear the areas over the past week.
Jumbo Rocks campground was closed July 9 and Cottonwood, which includes a campground and visitor center, was shut down July 13, after swarms of aggressive honey bees moved into those areas. Joshua Tree National Park representative Hannah Schwalbe said that honey bees are a natural part of the park, but they can get thirsty in the summer months.
"It's been really hot, so a lot of their water sources are drying up, and they're thirsty just like how a lot of our visitors get when they come to visit the desert," Schwalbe said.
When their natural sources of water dry up, Schwalbe said they look for other sources of water, such as water bottles or air conditioning units in cars that humans bring into the park.
"It is really intimidating when you get out of your car and there's a huge swarm of bees that are looking for the water off of your air conditioning unit," Schwalbe said.
While swarms of bees are normal for the summer months, Schwalbe called this a "big year for the bees" because this summer has seen a spike in the number of swarms. However, she said there have not been any reports from visitors, park rangers, or park staff of any bee stings.
The Barker Dam Trail in the Northwest side of the park still has a small amount of water, so Schwalbe recommended visitors try that hiking trail.
"The Barker Dam Trail is a very popular hiking trail and there's water along it, so all of the bees are going to be able to find that dam, that water source," Schwalbe said. "So we're unlikely to have aggressive or thirsty bees in that area."
Larger than the state of Rhode Island, Joshua Tree National Park is two and a half hours east of LA by car.
Larger than the state of Rhode Island, Joshua Tree National Park is two and a half hours east of LA by car.
Courtesy Hannah Schwalbe/NPS
Jumbo Rocks is closed until July 23 and the Cottonwood area is set to open as soon as the situation is under control, according to Schwalbe. She said the park's biologists are working on different strategies to help the bees find water.
About 35% of the campgrounds are shut down due to the aggressive honey bees, but Schwalbe said the summer is their offseason so visitors shouldn't have trouble finding a campsite. To stay safe, Schwalbe recommended visiting earlier or later in the day, or waiting until September and October when it's cooler out to visit.
"Just like the bees, you could end up really thirsty in the park and really hot," Schwalbe said. "You might want to consider visiting just at the sunrise and sunset and potentially not camping."