We took a few day trips out of LA, one of which was to the Joshua Tree National Park which was recommended to us due to stunning views of the deserts; this is a point where the Mojave & Colorado deserts meet and there are two distinct ecosystems. The Park is located 175 Km or so from LA and took us 2.5hrs to drive to. The park covers over 800,000 acres so it is pretty darn big; our issue was where to start!
We decided to head to the Joshua Tree Park visitors centre as our first port of call where we looked at some maps and decided where to visit. The one thing that really shocked us when we got out of the nice air conditioned car was the intense heat of the desert – frantically applying copious amounts of sunscreen and getting our hats on quick we headed for Oasis of Mara where there was a very short walk; ideal for the heat of the day.
Walk completed and we were wondering what to do next- it was too hot to go on a hike without putting ourselves at risk. Luckily we had downloaded the recommended NPS app and found the perfect solution – a scenic driving route around the highlights of the National Park! According to the app, driving Park Boulevard is a great way to see the park in a couple of hours and there are several short stops on the way where you can get out and take in the landscape. Perfect!
There are two entrances, the North entrance near 29 Palms or the West entrance by the Joshua Park Visitor Centre. From our current location 29 palms was nearer so a short drive and we were at the entrance. There was a fee of $30 per car but the machine wasnt working so we agreed to pay on the way out. Our first stop was Skull Rock, which was as it sounds a rock that looked like a skull (with a little imagination).
Just as a side note; probably the most famous and slightly tenuous link to the National Park is the album by U2; Bono was said to have been inspired by a Joshua tree he saw whilst in California and that led to the title of the iconic album. Despite reading several different sites however it appears the famous album cover was not actually from the National Park itself but was taken in Death Valley. Nevertheless given the link it wouldn’t be right if we didnt play the album whilst touring the park! Onto our next stop, Ryan Mountain.
It was here that the changing ecosystem really did become apparent; we had seen the change of scenery past skull rock and we were now in the Mojave desert rather than the Colorado as told by the amount of Joshua trees we saw. Also we saw our first wild chipmunks which were super cute! Next we headed on to Cap Rock.
Cap rock has a 3 mile walking trail through the Joshua and Juniper trees but we were happy just to look from the viewing area and of course watch more of the funny chipmunks. For our next stop we took a bit of a detour but we were so glad we did as it was our highlight of the tour; we headed to Key’s View.
The views across the Coachella Valley, including the site of the USA’s Glastonbury equivalent, were absolutely amazing. We could also see Palm Springs, the home of a hundred golf courses, away in the distance across the valley. It was a little windy as can be seen by my hair in the slideshow above. This was definitely the most spectacular stop on our route. One thing to note here was that there were wasps, and a lot of them! they were lurking under all the cars in the car park so it was a case of get in quick to stop them getting in the car.
This was our last main stop; we had a brief visit to Barker Dam but again this involved a walk and we were tired by this point and time was getting on. We headed to the exit to pay our fee; luckily for us the machine was still down so we ended up paying nothing! Result for an amazing desert experience! It took us another 3 hours to get home with stops and was a long day but we were so glad we made the effort to visit. I never thought the heat haze you saw on roads in movies was actually a thing until I saw it on our drives through the deserts!
An absolutely awesome day and we would highly recommend a visit here! Bring a picnic, water, sunscreen and do a bit more planning than we clearly did and enjoy the fantastic scenery