Alice in Wonderland
Joshua Tree was the first national park we visited on our road trip around California. Already the first glimpse of the park made us feel like being in a chapter from Alice in Wonderland. The surrealistic Joshua trees, the oddly shaped boulders, and a desert rabbit hopping by completed the fairy-tale illusion. The park is often overlooked in guidebooks. However, it surprised us with one of the most spectacular desert sceneries we’ve ever experienced!
Joshua Tree National Park lies on the intersection of two deserts. You can observe how the landscape of low and dry Colorado changes into slightly cooler Mojave.
Early morning in the park
We explored the park in August. Thus, it got very hot during the day. To beat the heat, waking up before sunrise is essential.
Moreover, the early morning sun provides a beautiful soft light for the Joshua tree pictures.
Did you know: Joshua trees are actually palm tree yuccas. When Mormon settlers crossed the Mojave Desert in the middle of the 19th century, the branches reminded them of the Biblical prophet Joshua reaching his hands towards heaven. So, they named the plants Joshua trees.
To see the trees, visit the northern part of the park and enter either from Twentynine Palms or Joshua Tree. Take advantage of the morning light and start with the Keys View lookout. Depending on air conditions, you can admire the whole Coachella Valley and the town of Palms Springs nested beneath Southern California’s highest peaks.
You can discover the park either on wheels or hike your way through the boulder landscape. We visited in sweltering August weather, so we didn’t want to do longer hikes and instead opted for three short loop trails. (You can find an overview here: www.nps.gov/jotr)
At the Cap Rock Trail, we encountered a small desert rabbit hiding in the shadow of an Opuntia cactus.
Passing by a skull-shaped boulder at Arch Rock Nature Trail was a little spooky.
Also, walking among young cholla cactus plants on the Cholla Cactus Garden Trail was amazing. Warning signs reminded us of a strict don’t-touch-this-rule.
We exited the park through the southern passage on the Cottonwood Springs Road, joined HWY 10, and continued west.
Good to know: In Joshua Tree National Park, there are no restaurants. Bring your own picnic. You’ll find many picnic areas inside the park, mostly close to parking spots at trailheads. Also, bring plenty of water.
Afternoon in Palm Springs
After the visit to the national park of two deserts, we headed to Palm Springs for an early dinner. There, in the desert hideaway of small and big stars, we felt, the City of Angels wasn’t far anymore. The streets decorated with elegant palm trees, the designer outfits of the locals walking their Yorkies, and loud trucks passing by reminded us of the glamour Palm Springs is famous for.
We grabbed a delicious early dinner at LULU Bistro, enjoyed a walk under palm trees on the Canyon Drive, and tasted an ice-cream shake at the legendary Great Shakes. The place makes allegedly the best ice-cream shakes in the States. We don’t really have much experience to compare it to other ice-cream shops, but the shake sure tasted heavenly good! If we ever come back to Palm Springs, Great Shakes will be our first stop.
Well rested, we hit the road again. Soon, tall palm trees were replaced by heavy traffic on the way to Los Angeles.
Continue the trip with us
Part 1: From Las Vegas to Joshua Tree
Part 2: Joshua Tree National Park (You are here)
Part 3: Venice Beach
Part 4: On the Road in the Sierra Nevada
Part 5: Yosemite
Part 6: San Francisco and the Bay area