We visited Joshua Tree the first time we went to Palm Springs California. My step-dad actually wanted to hike there. And I chose to do something totally unprecedented and not plan a thing. I didn’t even research it. So going into the park I knew literally nothing, I just let myself experience and enjoy the park with no frame of reference.
From Palm Springs you drive up highway 62, through Morongo Valley and through Yucca Valley which looks like driving through Thunder Mountain at Disneyland, and then finally through Joshua Tree. You take a right just past the town of Joshua Tree on Park Boulevard, the road turns into Quail Springs Road where the Ranger Station will be located on the right, you can’t miss it, there is a sign, and a lot of cars.
We stopped in at the ranger station, talked to a couple people about the best day hikes and got a driving map for the park. If you do nothing else at the station I would suggest getting a driving map for the park. It is quite large and cell service is pretty spotty, so I wouldn’t necessarily rely on your phone’s GPS applications to keep you from getting lost.
After our fact finding mission we drove up to Pioneertown. The town was built for filming early westerns. The town was a lot smaller than I would have imagined but it is worth the drive if you are a movie buff or just like old things. The buildings are nearly all facades built out to scale but you can still interact with them and there are a million places to take pictures. There is also a hotel and a saloon you can eat at. Sadly for us we managed to be there the one day of the week the Pappy & Harriets is closed. But I have heard they have some of the best food in the area and have live music nightly. Next time we head up that way we will certainly plan better.
On Christmas Day we woke up early and made our way back up to the park again. The drive through the park is amazing, and even though I don’t love desert-scapes as much as other natural areas I was in awe the entire time.
We had chosen to hike the Lost Horse Mine trail which is a four mile loop out in open desert. The hike wasn’t hard but it certainly wore us out. Being fully exposed to sun for that number of hours is draining, but the views were worth every minute. We took our first break at the mine itself, spending extra time hiking around the area and taking pictures. We continued on the trail to the spectacular views of the park and past the old home site. Then on the easy part of the trail, which was mostly sand and gravel. So while flat it was actually fairly hard to hike through.
It was a good thing we had gotten there early, by the time we got back to the parking lot people were having to park out along the road and hike up to the trail head. We took a few minutes to use the restroom and have a snack and then high tailed it out of there so that people could have our parking spot.
We ended out the day driving around the park a bit and taking a peek at some of the interpretive areas. We got pretty hungry toward the end of the day, cheese and cracker snacks don’t last forever! So we took the long drive back to our rental house and had a nice Christmas dinner. Aside from our trip to Barcelona this was probably my favorite Christmas to date.
Things to Remember when heading into Joshua Tree National Park:
- As with all national parks, the lands and wildlife in them are protected for a reason. Be kind and respectful, don’t leave trash, damage plants or walk off trail.
- Wildlife here isn’t always nice: cactus, scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes and other large game make their home here. Be safe.
- Always back more food and water than you need. It is the desert and it is a high desert meaning you are loosing more water than you realize and can easily become dehydrated with very little exertion.
- Cover your head and wear sun screen. Many people think “I tan well” so you don’t need to protect yourself but sun stroke is very common and covering your head well is just about the only thing you can do to prevent it.
Have you ever been to Joshua Tree? What was your favorite part about it? Or if you haven’t been what is your favorite California Park?