This past weekend Danté and I finally drove out to Joshua Tree National Park, from our new home in Los Angeles. After many near-misses over the course of my life, it was fun to finally see the National Park I’ve dreamed of visiting since I first heard the U2 album of the same name. AND on the 102nd birthday of the creation of the USA‘s National Park system!
It’s one of those places that lived on the top of my bucket list and just never left; even when places with far more star power or wow factor entered my consciousness. Speaking of stars, one of the reasons we decided to visit this weekend, was to practice astro photography. We wanted to capture the Milky Way over the unusual boulders and Joshua Trees that punctuate the park. Owing to the last minute nature of our decision to visit, we forgot to check the status of the moon. Since it was nearly full, it was way too bright to capture the Milky Way.
Instead we had fun hiking around during the day. We loved driving the long stretches of winding road. We marveled at the animals and reptiles that call the park home. It was such a true escape from the city. There’s little to no cell signal and a wide open sky untarnished by skyscrapers or apartment blocks.
About Joshua Tree
from the National Park Service website, “Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain.” I have always wanted to visit for the distinctive trees that give the park its name.
The Joshua Tree is actually a yucca. It has clusters of spiky leaves. It is native to the arid regions of southwestern North America. My understanding is that the name ‘Joshua Tree’ came from a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave in the mid-19th century. Apparently the unique shape of the tree reminded them of the bible’s Joshua, reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Entrance to the park is $30 USD. This gives you a 7-day vehicle permit, admitting the passengers of a single, non-commercial vehicle on the day of purchase and for the next six days.
We love our Annual Parks Pass that gives us access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. The cost is a low $80 USD per year.
When to Visit Joshua Tree
We always thought it was best to avoid the area during the times nearby Palm Springs is inundated with festival crowds. Basically we believed any festival crowd would make the Joshua Tree area crowded as well. I think we were right to make this assumption. A selfie-focused fashion crowd in a National Park is the opposite of the experience that we want to have.
That being said, we also found a lot of things closed on the Saturday and Sunday that we were there in August. For example, the whole of Pioneer Town (with the exception of the motel itself) was closed. Perhaps it’s best to time at a visit around when festivals occur but not on the same dates as festivals in nearby Palm Springs?!
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree
Figuring we wouldn’t be anywhere we decided to stay very long since we planned to be out much of the night doing astro photography; we used Expedia to book a budget hotel in 29 Palms. It was the wrong decision! The beds were so painful, pillows were as well and the complimentary breakfast was disgusting.
Next time we visit, we’d book an AirBnB close to the park. That would allow us to potentially do astro photography right from the property. This would also cut down on the drive time while still giving you that quintessential Joshua Tree experience. And we’d be in control of our own breakfast!
What to do in Joshua Tree
As I said, we loved just driving around the Park during the day. When we found a spot that looked nice for photos, we got out and hiked around. I would suggest not missing
- the Ryan Trail Hike
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- Skull Rock area
- Quail Springs picnic area
- Black Rock Canyon Campground, which is where we took these photos:
You should also visit nearby Pioneertown for dinner and drinks at Pappy & Harriet’s. We loved coffee and the breakfast menu at The Frontier Café on Twentynine Palms Highway in Yucca Valley. My favorite was the matcha latte.
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