Almost as soon as we arrived home from Isle Royale in August, we had to begin thinking about Joshua Tree National Park, which straddles the Mohave and Sonoran Deserts in southern California. Sean and I were invited to my youngest cousin’s wedding in Orange County in early October. My aunt and uncle’s house was only a two and a half-hour drive from Twentynine Palms, the gateway to Joshua Tree.
Although the wedding festivities would happen over the weekend we decided to fly out to Orange County on Wednesday evening, so that we could spend Thursday afternoon through Friday morning at the park.
With only roughly 24 hours to see it, we’d have to pick a few things at Joshua Tree that we definitely didn’t want to miss, and then create a secondary list of possibilities. Although we knew that we’d spend quite a lot of time in the car, we also wanted to save some time for a hike if it wasn’t too hot.
We booked a room for Thursday night at the Harmony Motel, not because it’s where U2 stayed when they were in the region working on The Joshua Tree, but because it had a good review on Lonely Planet, and the price was right: $78.
I tried to get my parents to join us for the trip out to the park, since they’d also be in California for the wedding. But after a trip out to Williamsburg, Virginia in September, my dad had had is fill of parks for the moment.
I picked up a copy of Joshua Tree, The Complete Guide by James Kaiser, which proved invaluable. His style is disarmingly personable, and he captured most of the images in the book himself. It helped to focus my thinking about what might be feasible for our short trip.
The other huge assist in deciding what to see was a flood that on September 13 washed out Pinto Basin Road, cutting off the southeastern section of the park. The entire Sonoran Desert area, one of the three visitor centers, two oases, and several cactus gardens were now unreachable.
So…we’d be focusing our time on the Mohave Desert in the northwestern part of Joshua Tree.
Then, on September 30, the park service reopened a section of Pinto Basin Road so that visitors could access Cholla Cactus Garden and Ocotillo Patch. The rest of the road was closed all the way to I-10.
Sean preferred to focus on natural areas, so we decided to forego a tour of Keys Ranch and to ignore the park’s many abandoned mines.
By the time our flight landed at John Wayne Airport, I had a plan of attack:
- On Thursday, drive out and have lunch in Joshua Tree (the town).
- Explore Hidden Valley
- Check into the Harmony Motel
- Take Park Boulevard past some of the major rock formations on the way to Keys View for the sunset.
- Stargazing after dinner.
- Friday we’d get up early and watch the sunrise from the newly reopened Cholla Cactus Garden, then hit Arch Rock Nature Trail on the way back out to Twentynine Palms.
- After breakfast and checkout, we’d do the 3-mile hike to 49 Palms Oasis if we had time.
- Then back to Orange County.