The trees of Joshua Tree National Park reminded us of our trip… their branches twisting and turning in many unexpected directions.
Days 74 – 76
October 15 – October 17, 2014
Miles 8286 – 8597
We took Route 10 from LA to Joshua Tree. Erin and Adam travel route 10 often and gave us some recommendations, so we stopped near San Bernardino to grab a drink at the Hangar 24 Brewery. Hangar 24 is located across the street from an airport in an old small hanger. It was around noon on a Wednesday, but they still had a half dozen people already there. They serve half pints which is a nice way to sample the beers, but they don’t serve food. After having a drink, we got sandwiches at Heskas Sugar Shack. The Sugar Shack was in a neat old house with seating areas scattered in different rooms. We both got Mongolian Beef and it was good.
We followed Route 10 past Joshua Tree (town) and the west park entrance to the north park entrance like our guidebook suggested. The north park entrance has a visitors center and a short hike though the Mara Oasis.
Joshua Tree National Park spans across parts of two American deserts; the Mojave and the Colorado. The Mojave desert is home to the park’s namesake Joshua Trees called such by Mormons who viewed the tree’s branches as outstretched arms. Although the park is a desert, there were a lot of small bushes, yuccas, and cacti across a rocky landscape.
From the Mara we drove straight to Jumbo Rocks to pick out a campsite for the night. Jumbo Rocks was recommended to us and had good reviews on Trip Adviser. There is no water available at any of the interior campgrounds (including Jumbo Rocks). Regardless of not having water, we really liked the Jumbo Rocks campground. This was our first time camping in a desert, but the large rocks isolated the campsites more than trees in the forest sometimes do.
At the Jumbo Rocks campsite is a 0.5 mile hike to Skull Rock, which we walked as soon as our tent was set up. It was sunset by then and Jon literally raced the dying light to take some photographs of Joshua Trees during our hike.
Back at camp we played cards by lantern light until we got hungry. Dinner was a can of chili we had leftover from previous camping trips. At night in Joshua Tree the sky is typically very clear and stars shine bright, so we sat around star watching and trying to take photographs of the night sky. We each saw several shooting stars.
For the first time, we did not put our rain fly on the tent, but left it open to the sky. The clear weather and mild temperatures (above 50) allowed us to stay comfortable without the rainfly.
In the morning, Jon and I were both eager to take photographs of our campsite from atop of the surrounding rocks. We spent quite a while scrambling up and down the rock formations trying to get on the rocks next to our campsite. When we climbed back down we were hungry and made oatmeal for breakfast, then we packed up our campsite. We headed west on Park Boulevard as far as Hidden Valley taking pictures. At Hidden Valley we stopped to do a 1.25 mile loop around the ‘hidden valley’, a bowl of land between rocky hills where legend has it cattle thieves used to hide out.
Our next stop for the day was Key’s View. Key’s View is a viewpoint accessible by car and overlooking Coachelle Valley.
Trying to beat the heat we continued on and went south on Pinto Basin Road to White Tanks Campground for a 0.5 mile walk to Arch Rock. We had a lot of fun scrambling around Arch Rock to take photographs.
The main road south continues through Wilson Canyon where the two deserts meet. In the Colorado Desert we stopped at the Cholla Garden for a walk in a patch of cacti. These cacti are unique in that they have microscopic needles and if you touch them, the whole section of the cactus detaches and sticks to you. We decided not to touch them. The road south ends at the Cottenwood Visitor Center, but the hikes near the visitors center (like the hike to Lost Oasis) were closed so we left the park.
In addition to our hikes, the remains of mines and ranches are still in Joshua Tree and can be hiked to.
We didn’t have any plans for the night, so we decided to drive to Palm Springs. A quick Kayak.com search found lots of hotel options for under $100 (after all it was a weeknight). We decided to stay at the Saguaro Resort. The resort is a colorful mod-style resort (but be careful they tack on resort fees not shown online). At the resort we decided to go to the pool for a while. I loved that their pool was over 9 feet deep. We had fun and got a good workout hitting around a beach ball in the deep waters.
We cleaned up and drove to downtown for dinner and to check out a street festival the hotel front desk had mentioned. Every Thursday night downtown Palm Springs has the Villagefest. Villagefest reminded me of a night market with booths by local artisans, produce sellers, and food stands. We talked about getting dinner at Ruben and Ozzy’s Oyster Bar until we walked past the booth for CV BBQ which had a huge line. CV BBQ seems to specialize in catering but for Villagefest they had a large grill set up on the street and were cooking tri-tip sandwiches which we each got.
We ate and then finished walking the length of the street fair. Still a little hungry we went to the Fishermans Market for some appetizers. Walking into Fisherman’s Market was a bit confusing because two restaurants with similar but different menus share the same space. At the front Market Restaurant you place your order at a counter. We decided to try Shanghai Red’s the back restaurant which is sit down and had a musician playing. The menu mentioned Anthony Bourdain’s rave review of the Baja Fish Tacos, so we ordered those. They were good, but we both prefer our own homemade fish tacos. Back at the hotel we watched TV and fell asleep.
Friday morning we woke up early to take advantage of the hotel amenities. Jon went to the gym while Alexis went to her first ever yoga class. We were surprised that the hotel cost and resort fee did not include breakfast, so we drove to Elmer’s. Elmer’s is known for their German Pancakes (aka Dutch Babies), but otherwise the restaurant is similar to other breakfast diners. The rest of the morning was spent relaxing at the pool until it was time for us to leave for our next destination, San Diego.