Joshua tree was quite different from all the national parks we've been to. We're used to mountains and lakes. This was our first time visiting the desert. We have always heard good things about Joshua tree and the reviews didn't disappoint. Joshua tree is full of rare vegetation with its cholla cactus, Joshua trees and lava rocks.
We only had one day at Joshua tree and this is the schedule we accomplished:
7:00am: We woke up at 5am, got ready and left Los Angeles to drive to Joshua tree. It's about a 2.5-hour drive and we barely encountered any traffic. It went by pretty fast too. As you exit towards Joshua tree, you'll see tons of windmills, which was pretty cool since you really don't see those everyday.
9:30am: We arrived at the Joshua Tree West Entrance Station. We paid a $20 entrance fee, which is good for 5 days. We received a map, but it wasn't very detailed compared to the other national parks we've been to. We tried to find Arch Rock first, but ended up at the North entrance after driving 30 minutes. Luckily, Joshua Tree isn't as large as the other National Parks we've been to, so it wasn't a huge loss of time when we had to backtrack. We realized that we had to turn on Pinto Basin Road towards Cottonwood. Again, there were no signs telling us that was the way to Arch Rock or anything else. All we had was the map and didn't have any cell reception to use our phone's GPS. On our second attempt to find Arch Rock, we actually saw a tarantula on the road! We pulled over and Candy hopped out to take a quick photo.
10:30am: We stopped by Arch Rock first, which is located at White Tank Campground. Parking is reserved for campers, so you'll have to park on the side of the road. It's not a far walk at all. You walk for about 10 minutes and you'll quickly come upon Arch Rock. Pretty cool site to see in real life after seeing all the pictures. We climbed around the rocks and did some exploring. To our surprise, these rocks were super easy to climb. We didn't have any hiking gear on and did just fine with our tall boots. I'm sure you can get a lot further if you had hiking shoes or rock climbing shoes tho. We had a good time climbing from one rock to the next like we were on American Ninja Warrior. Felt pretty bad-ass. We liked this location a lot because it wasn't that crowded with tourists.
1:00pm: Our next stop was the Cholla Cactus Garden. This is an amazing site to see because there are literally hundreds of cacti lined up in the middle of the desert with the grand mountains behind them. I don't see cactus very often, but these were the most beautiful cacti I have ever seen. Great photo opportunity here too! *TIP* Be careful not to touch the cactus. If you even brush up on them, they will attach to you and you will need pliers to take them off. I've heard it's really painful. You don't want to end up like this guy: Attack of the Teddybear Cholla Cactus.
2:00pm: We were getting hungry, so we headed out of the park to Twentynine Palms to eat lunch and check in to our hotel. Unfortunately, our choices of restaurants right outside the park were very limited. We looked at a handful of Yelp reviews and we came across a diner that had pretty nice reviews. We found the cafe, but was a bit surprised to find that it was located inside a gas station. We weren't in the mood to eat there, so we decided to eat something quick and opted for McDonald's. Then we checked in to our hotel at Holiday Inn Express (probably the nicest hotel there). We ate, rested a bit and recharged all our batteries for our cameras.
3:30pm: We headed back out to the park to visit Skull Rock so we could catch the sunset around there. This was another fun area to jump and climb on rocks. Definitely more crowded than Arch Rock, but you're still able to take photos without anyone else being in them. We had a great time taking some fun and beautiful photos.
6:00pm: We returned to the hotel to charge our batteries one last time and then went out to dinner. We found that Palm Kabob House had some really good reviews, so we decided to eat there. We waited for awhile on our food. Average food and average service. I am glad we tried something different besides burgers and fries tho. *TIP: Try their Turkish coffee. It's a really dark coffee and tastes different from American coffee, but I liked it.
8:30pm: The day isn't over yet! We went back to Arch Rock to do some star gazing and astro photography. One huge tip, if you want to take pictures and climb rocks hands-free, wear a head light. We bought ours on Amazon and it was a HUGE help. The weather was a bit cooler at this point and got down to 45ºF, so make sure you dress warm if you decide to do this. We wanted to take pictures at Arch Rock, but the area was already occupied with another photographer who was using a distracting red light effect on the rock, so we had to switch locations. Not too far off, we found a spot that was perfect where we could see the Milky Way. I'm always amazed when we're away from the city lights and surrounded by complete darkness because the stars are amazingly bright and you're just consumed by so many of them! They are truly stunning and you can stare up at the sky for hours.
10:30pm: We wanted to do more astro photography at another location, so we went back to Skull Rock since we were already familiar with the location. We got a couple good shots here, but I think I liked the Arch Rock area better.
11:59pm: We didn't expect to stay out this late, but setting up night photography takes some time! We were so tired by the time we headed back to the hotel, but it was all so worth it. We literally utilized the entire day.
5:15am: Since we didn't get to view the sunrise on Saturday, we had to wake up early on Sunday before we left. Once again, we went back to Arch Rock. We heard Beaver Dam is a great area to view the sunrise as well, but it seemed really flat and a little boring in pictures. We were happy with our decision to head back to the jumbo rocks.
8:30am: We had our delicious free breakfast at the Holiday Inn, showered, and headed back to Los Angeles.
Joshua Tree has a lot more to offer with hikes and rock climbing, but I think we hit the most popular areas where we didn't have to venture out too far and everything was still incredible and unique to see. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, their campgrounds were clean and close to other campers. Those L.A. folks are super lucky that they have Joshua Tree nearby. I would visit all the time! Well, except for the summer months, of course.
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