Joshua Tree Day Tripping

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Joshua Tree National Park is one of the places I’m frequented since moving to Los Angeles.  It’s only two hours away and home to the iconic Joshua trees, awe-inspiring boulders, and, a  favorite of many of my friends, the J-Tree Music Festival.   As a resident of Los Angeles, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the park on multiple occasions and can afford the time just to visit the park on a day trip, but I think the best way to experience the park is a weekend of camping. The sunrises and the sunsets are absolutely epic and you’ll be amazed by the dazzling clarity of the millions of stars you’ll be able to see. The portal to the park is the tiny and adorable Joshua Tree town, with its old-time, quaint buildings like the Trading Post and pricey souvenir shops.  Most the time people hang out here long enough to eat at one of the restaurants either before or after their park visit.  Personally I’ve eaten at the Crossroads Cafe, which has delicious and large burgers suitable even for vegetarians/vegans, and the Thai restaurant.  There’s also places to pick up a beer if you like to enjoy one at the top of a hill you just climbed;)  Best times to visit are in the fall or the spring, in that sweet spot where it’s not too hot during the day and not so cold at night.  If you come at the right time you can even catch some amazing wild flower blooms around March and April.  During holidays the park is, naturally, a bit busier, but you can also get in for free instead ofpaying the $5-15 entry fee.  Once you’re inside the park you can choose from a number of designated hiking trails or you can just pick a spot that looks cool and walk around.  Be careful about what you’re doing and where you choose to go if you decide to wander like this though… it’s a desert so you’ll want to have plenty of water, snacks, and a sense of where you are going.

Most the times when I’ve visited it’s been on camping trips so we pick a spot and hang out around there, walking around, climbing boulders, taking photos.  Many people will also tell you, Joshua Tree is a prime location for recreational drug use, particularly mushroom trips (there’s even an Entourage episode about this), given all the magnificently trippy scenery.   My most recent excursion to Joshua Tree, however, was decidedly drug free and we spent the day exploring several locations in the park I’d never taken the time to before.  We were feeling somewhat ambitious in the early part of the day so we decided to tackle the somewhat strenuous 5,461 ft ascent up Ryan Mountain.  It’s only three miles going up, but it offers some amazing views of the surrounding area, including Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant Valleys.  I’d say the views were definitely worth the hike, which took us about an hour roundtrip with a nice long break at the top. Some other hikes you may want to consider are 49 Palms Oasis, Lost Horse Mine/Mtn. where you can check out some long lost buildings, Lost Palms Oasis, and Mastodon Peak where you can see the distant Salton Sea from.  You can check out trail information on the park website.  Bring some food with you and you can enjoy a picnic on any of the many boulders, which we did on several occasions — pita, hummus, avocado, peanut butter, and fruit:)

Even though it was a twenty minute drive we decided to go all the way to the cactus garden in the far flung corner of the park.  You won’t see too many varieties of cactus if you go there, but you’ll get more than enough of the cholla cactus in the, roughly, 1 mile loop.  They look  sort of like tiny Joshua Trees, very cute, but don’t let them fool you.  Whatever you do don’t touch them and be careful where you walk because the little thorny balls that fall of can actually attack you!  There I was, taking photos and minding my own business when one of the little guys blew into my leg.  I thought it was going to be a bit like a burr and pretty easily removable, but I was completely wrong.  Some of the thorns had little hooks on them and by the time my friend Gabe had pulled it off my leg both of us were bleeding.

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As the day was starting to wane we decided to pick the coolest group of relatively unpopulated boulders we could find and settle down for the night.   Aside from the Joshua Trees themselves, the striking boulders are probably the most distinctive feature of the park.  If you’re into bouldering/climbing the park is the perfect place to play and I have several friends who would attest to the fact, just like the enthusiasts from around the world that frequent the over 400 formations and 8,000 climbing routes.  You don’t need to be doing any serious climbing to enjoy them either.  We just picked a spot and explored the area until the sun went down at which point in time we admired the dazzling night sky.  Joshua Tree is a great place for photos in general, but if you want to catch the best displays of the nigh make sure you bring a tripod.  Unfortunately, for the purposes of star gazing, our expedition coincided with the full moon so our views were drowned out by the intense light of the moon.  It always amazes me how bright that ball actually is when you leave the confines of the city.  Better luck next time… Lastly, I believe that I could destroy Stephen Colbert in Lord of the Rings trivia.

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