We’re back from a magical week in the California desert and I’m having a hard time facing reality. I’ve been to lots of places all over the world — and I’ve loved so many of them — but I have never felt about a place like I feel about Joshua Tree and the surrounding area. I can’t begin to put into words why I think it’s so special or why the trip was so amazing, so I’m going to turn to pictures to help. You might as well settle in for a nice long read, because if a picture is worth a thousand words, you’re gonna be here til next week.
The first thing you need to do when you go to Joshua Tree is secure an amazing homestead. We stayed at Rancho Morongo and I loved it so much I wrote an entire post about it, which you can read . Be sure to check that out so you can experience the full magic of this desert oasis. here
But in the meantime here’s a sneak peak. This is where I liked to sit after a day of hiking and exploring to read or catch up on Fleabag, which is my new favorite t.v. indulgence.
When you’re in the desert you should rise with the sun because you really, really, really don’t want to miss a thing.
No need to rush though–hang around a little because you ARE on vacation and you don’t want to over exert yourself. This is a good spot for coffee and morning reflection.
But don’t linger TOO long. Put on your favorite “I look cute in the desert” outfit and head out. Joshua Tree awaits!
Before you enter the park, if you’re coming from the town of Joshua Tree, stop here for supplies. Because as the sign indicates, you can get supplies here. You can also get LOTS of other useless crap that you don’t need like ceramic cactuses, rubber rattle snakes, tie-dyed bandanas and dream catchers. But for the sake of this post, let’s pretend it’s just an old fashioned supply store with real supplies like beef jerky and solar powered flashlights. It’s better that way.
Here’s a small sampling of what you’ll see when you get to the park.
Also this. There’s an entire cactus garden somewhere in Joshua Tree but we didn’t make it there. This is a mini cactus garden and I’m ok with just seeing that. Are you ok with just seeing that?
Rocks on rocks on rocks, with crazy trees on rocks, and sand and rocks and crazy trees. And rocks. It sounds weird but it’s not. Ok, it is weird. But in a wonderful way. Wonderfully weird.
Long story short, these rocks were formed millions of years ago by huge pools of magma that pushed sedentary rock layers up against each other that later cooled and eroded. Whenever I say the word “magma” I see Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. Does this happen to anyone else or is it just me?
Magma, baby. Magma.
It’s hot in the desert, even in February. Seek shade when you can. Joshua trees are amazing to look at but not so great for protecting you from scorching rays. But it’s ok- form over function is kind of my thing.
And what a form it is! If we want to get all existential we can say these trees are a pretty good representation of life in general. That is to say beautifully flawed.
And guess what? If you’re feeling like your beauty is flawed, you can get a makeover in the town of Joshua Tree. My grandmother had one of these hair dryers in her basement. I’m not telling you why or what my cousins and I did with it.
This place really is funky town, and I mean that in the best way possible.
It’s very Mad Max, but also cheerful.
You can hang here with some really cool cats. Just make sure to keep your head about you…
We just chillin’ and waitin’ for Coachella and Burning Man to happen.
While you wait, you can visit the world famous crochet museum. It’s definitely world famous. It says so right on the sign.
This museum is the kind of museum that makes you happy just by existing.
I mean, come on. How cute is this?
I don’t even know why I took a picture of this so I have nothing to say about it. But it does add a certain je ne sais quoi doesn’t? I don’t know…
But I know why I took a picture of this and that’s because there are a lot of people I’d like to sit right down in that chair until their soul has a chance to find them again. I won’t get too political but ya’ll know who I’m talking about and all of them have some ‘splainin’ to do.
Phew! A saloon. No dusty cowboy town is complete without a watering hole that serves cold beer (and/or mimosas?) I’m gonna be honest right here and tell you we didn’t have much luck in the food department on this trip, but that’s because we are terrible at planning in advance and didn’t make reservations anywhere on what we didn’t know was one of the busiest weeks of the year. We waited a lot. But lucky for us everyone in these parts serves beer and/or mimosas. The beers here were extra tall, extra cold and tasted extra good.
Hey- that’s our gang and that’s a pretty cool bus conversion. But don’t worry we didn’t buy it. We didn’t have THAT many beers. Also it wasn’t for sale (phew).
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…I really wanted to take a bath in this but it never happened.
I did spend a lot of time with these guys though. Our favorite hour together was just before sunset.
What is it about the golden hour? It’s seriously magic no matter where you are, but especially in spots like this. The danger of finding a really great place to stay on your vacation is that you might be temped to spend all your time there.
But then you’d miss out on so much…
Like Pioneer Town! This is an old movie set turned “real” town. Well, it’s supposedly a real town but we were kind of skeptical.
I mean for one, this wasn’t a bank and that wasn’t a bath house. Like, I didn’t see one single person walking around in a towel.
Also all of the stores seemed to be selling things like decorative soap and magnets and t-shirts. Which is kind of a red flag but ok, let’s pretend for the sake of pretending. My daughter who is maybe a teeny bit cynical from time to time pointed out that it felt like we were at Disney World or Universal Studios. Which actually it did. So maybe she’s not cynical, just observant. And also, it WAS a movie set. Which reminds me to ask- did you guys see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and if so do you think it was filmed here? I kept expecting to run into Leo or Brad, but sadly that didn’t happen.
The best thing about Pioneer Town is that it’s home to Pappy and Harriet’s which is THE place to go for music and spirits and food in the high desert. Except that if you want food you might have to wait 3 hours because not only is it THE place to go, it is apparently THE ONLY place to go (except this really great hole in the wall Mexican place in Yucca Valley which I didn’t take pictures of and don’t remember the name but highly recommend). I think every single person in the Mojave desert was at Pappy and Harriet’s when we were. We gave up waiting to eat after 2 1/2 hours, but luckily it wasn’t wasted time.
Because there was live music and cold beer and do you really need anything else in life?
Um yeah you do. You need cactuses (cacti?)
Luckily there’s Cactus Mart for all your cactus needs.
Mamas don’t let your cacti grow up to be pricks.
Gav, stand here, hold this and pretend your mom isn’t wicked immature.
Where we gonna go next? The moon seems possible. Anything seems possible after a few days of totally disconnecting from all the crazy shit happening in the world.
I tell you what though. We weren’t going anywhere without first buying a few cactuses (cacti?) to bring home. We got these lil guys because parting with the desert is such sweet sorrow. They’re now sitting on my kitchen window sill and they’re still alive! I don’t think you can kill a cactus very easily, but if you can I’ll probably be the one to do it. I try so hard to have a green thumb, but I’m so much better with cut flowers. Probably because they’re already dead.
Even if you spend way too much time embarrassing your kids at Cactus Mart, you can’t forget to leave time for a sunset hike. And Eureka Peak is a perfect place to do that.
Here it really is just is you and your shadow…
And shadowy trees.
Another golden hour, same golden boy.
But these ARE the days we dream about, when sunlight paints us gold.
I honestly cannot describe in words the beauty of this place and the magic you feel as you watch the sun drop down behind the distant mountains….
everything awash in this really pretty light…
and then the sky turns all shades of brilliant orange and pink and well, honestly it’s an image — and a feeling — that will stay with me always. Because this isn’t an ordinary place….
Even after the sun sets, the desert brings the magic.
The sound of silence…
and the overwhelming beauty of an unspoiled star filled sky. Obviously, it’s nice to have somewhere cozy to retreat to, but I’d totally sleep outside with nothing between me and the stars except a sleeping bag. Actually that’s a lie because now that I think about it: rattle snakes. I don’t think I’d like getting bit by a rattler or eaten by a coyote. Plus I do like a comfy bed and the beds at Rancho Morongo are EXTRA comfy so would be a shame really to not take advantage of that.
As temping as it is to spend every waking and (indoor) sleeping moment in the desert, the lush green allure of nearby Palm Springs and its own special kind of magic is too compelling to ignore. Especially because the special kind of magic you find there is mid century modern magic, which is an extra good kind of magic. You can read about our mod Palm Springs adventure here.
That was fun! Now follow me to Palm Springs
This was the type of trip that stays with you long after all the suitcases are put away and the laundry is done. It’s the type of trip your mind drifts back to during your Monday afternoon team meeting, and when you’re stuck in Wednesday morning traffic. It’s the type of trip you wish you could relive over and over, but know you probably won’t. So what you need to do is appreciate the fact that you got to live the experience in the first place and hold on to the memories deep in your heart forever. Also, print out some of those pictures and put them on your fridge and tell yourself you ARE going back someday, because dreaming is good and you should never stop dreaming.