Joshua Tree Escape
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
Three nights in Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree is having its moment. Coachella‘s growing popularity put a different lens on this unique and beautiful National Park. Boho hipsters flock to get a photo next to the iconic Joshua Tree. But it is impossible to cross the border into this park and not feel its magic. I have seen the singular images of the Joshua Tree countless times but what was never captured in photos was the magnitude of these cactus. There are truly miles and miles of trees, as far as the eye can see. And I fear I my photos did not capture them just as no other image has for me. There are some things that are just meant to be experienced that just won‘t transfer to a photo or phone in your hand.
Park Overview- There are 3 entrances to the park. The West entrance, near the town of Joshua Tree was by far the most dynamic. You are immediately greeted by the forest of these trees and can say nothing but “Wow” over and over again as you drive through the winding paved road of the park. The road from the West entrance to the North exit takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes without stopping. There are many spots you will want to pull off the road for- short hikes, picnic areas and photo opportunities that you just can’t resist but that helps give you a time reference as you look at the map. The South entrance, closer to Palm Springs is the lower Colorado Desert and does not have the same vegetation and plants as the higher elevation Mohave Desert. You will eventually come into the higher elevation but if you want a ”WOW!” start to your visit, plan your trip around entering the West Entrance. The $30 park entrance fee per vehicle is valid for 7 days. So if your arrival into the area is in the late afternoon or evening, you can still catch a sunset!
We purchased an app that gave us an audio tour of the park which I highly recommend. You plug it into your USB port in your car and every 5-10 minutes or so it shares interesting information about the park. Facts about the trees, the animals, how the impressive boulder structures were formed, mining history, etc. We really enjoyed it and it added interest to the journey. You can play your music as you drive along and the app will speak over it when information is being shared. There is no cell service in the park so it is also nice that the app provides you with a map and uses GPS as you move through the park. We used the app called Just Ahead but there are many available. One tip I would share is to download the app on the phone you don’t plan to take as many pictures with. I had downloaded it on mine and had to keep unplugging it to snap photos and wished we had put it on my husbands phone instead. My phone is newer and I take more pictures. Shocking, right?
We visited the park on 3 separate days. Day one was a late afternoon visit so we grabbed a charcuterie plate, some wine and snacks and caught the sunset at Keys View. This is the most popular sunset spot but we still had plenty of privacy. Once the sun had set, we followed the rangers advice and drove back up the road to star gaze at Cap Rock. It was a nice flat parking area with giant boulders towering behind it. Laying on our car and watching the stars was one of the most magical experiences of the trip. The millions and millions of stars and the Milky Way were breathtaking. We exited the park and grabbed dinner at Sam’s Indian Food. If you like Indian food, you need to go here. It was fantastic!
Day two was a full day at the Park. We chose to hike around Hidden Valley which is a depression surrounded by the crazy honey colored granite boulders you see all across the park. It was a short 1 mile hike and was a nice diversion. Hidden Valley also had a campground that looked so beautiful. All of the sites were nestled next to the giant boulders. It would be such a memorable experience, minus the critters scurrying around, which definitely crossed my mind. It was very warm so I actually took my hat off and carried a parasol with me. I looked like Mary Poppins but the shade was a great relief from the warm sun. Our AirBnB rental had a cold plunge pool and as we were staying in Joshua Tree, so we left the park to take a dip, grab lunch and to cool off a bit before returning for more exploring and a sunset dinner.
There are so many AirBnB rentals in Joshua Tree. They are reasonable to rent and have great amenities and features. Many of the rentals had hot tubs and fire pits for evening star gazing. I had a really hard time choosing one but ended up selecting The Coyote Hole because it had a cold plunge pool. It was beautiful, spacious and was a great base for our adventures. Joshua Tree is a small town and the close and convenient access to the park is something we really appreciated.
We returned to the park for our last night. I met a great ranger at the Visitors Center who suggested Jumbo Rock campground to view the sunset. I was so grateful for his suggestion. We walked up one of the large boulders and laid out a blanket and some pillows. We had picked up dinner and some cocktail ingredients and had an unforgettable evening. There was a light breeze up on the boulder and the sky turned from rainbow shades of ombre to a neon pink explosion. It was extremely romantic. That was until these little mice started to run out from the cracks in the boulders. They are called kangaroo rats and they would scurry out and I would scream and they would scurry back in. Then repeat. At one point they were on both sides of us. I’m sure people in the surrounding campground thought someone was getting murdered on a boulder. It was still an unforgettable experience. Minus the kangaroo rats.
They say all good things must come to an end and so did our Joshua Tree adventure. We chose to drive through the park one last time on our way home to Phoenix. It’s just crazy, strange and beautiful. It calls you back. If you haven’t been to Joshua Tree National Park, I hope you become inspired. It’s a spark I would be thrilled to pass on. Bye for now, great beauty...