Written by Samantha Rober, Photography by Jon Pierce
Joshua Tree is a beautiful desert with a long valley planted directly in the middle. This National Park offers something for everyone: backpacking, hiking, camping, bouldering, rock climbing, off-roading, climbing on rocks like a kid, or sight-seeing.
This trip was a bit different than our typical backpack/camp and plan every food detail fiasco. We joined our friends for a Thanksgiving long-weekend getaway at an Airbnb in the town of Joshua Tree. We played on boulders, hiked, went on a morning run with immaculate views, went off-roading and saw the most clear night sky with stars that lit up the night.
As predictable as Jon and I are, we drove out to Joshua Tree early, entering the park through the Cottonwood entrance (past Indio if you are coming from LA area). We headed towards the Lost Palm Oasis hike, a 7.2 mi round trip moderate hike. We somehow got a bit turned around playing on boulders (that’s what we get for going off course :P) and ended up climbing to the top of a large boulder around Cottonwood Springs. Recommend doing this, but also make it to the Lost Palm Oasis. We will be going back for this, I’ve only heard good things.
Before meeting our friends, we continued driving North towards the town of Joshua Tree, stopping to see a few popular boulders such as Skull Rock and Arch Rock and climbed/ran around the Jumbo Rocks. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of our Airbnb. It was beautiful and the perfect getaway oasis. Just minutes outside the Joshua Tree entrance in the town of Joshua Tree, this little bungalow gave way to nice rolling hills with warm sunsets and sunrises.
That evening we headed out to Pappy and Harriett’s in Pioneertown for dinner. (Note: No cell service here, plan accordingly for transportation.) A popular spot among bikers, tourists and locals with live music. They do take walk-ins, however you need to go EARLY if you plan to do this, otherwise call a month ahead to reserve a dinner spot on the weekend. We did not know this and stood behind bar seats for an hour to snag one seat to order for 7 of us. Yikes! Worth the trouble however, as the music is fantastic, food is tasty, and the atmosphere is a combination of local bar/rustic/live music space. Good Luck! Speaking of local spots, Joshua Tree Coffee Company surprised me with some solid roasted beans, I would certainly check them out!
Not to be missed, is middle of the night stargazing. If you are lucky enough to have a clear night head out to the park for pure darkness and watch the sky light up in sparkles of stars. You may even be able to catch the Milky Way! Check out Jon’s photo below:
After seeing the stars, what would be better than catching sunrise at the top of Key’s View. Sadly, due to some overnight snowfall the road was closed. Instead we headed over to Ryan Mountain Trail, a 3 mile steep round-trip hike that brings you to a beautiful overlook of the park. It is one of the highest peaks in Joshua Tree. Being November, the trail was a bit snowy and icy and still quite busy! We watched a few people take some spills! The top was well worth it with rare picturesque moments of winter in Joshua Tree.
What’s going to Joshua Tree without doing something you never do?! Our friend owns a killer 4-wheel drive Land Rover that can handle all types of terrain. Naturally, we took ‘er out for a spin in the off-roading areas in the Pleasant Valley area. Cruising along the dirt path we tackled large pot holes, and sharp rocks. Muddy and bumpy terrain felt like a rickety roller coaster in the desert with a few head bumps on the side of the car. With few other people out this way, it was a true one of a kind experience.
Not to miss a sunset, we scurried up to Key’s View which opened in the late afternoon. With views overlooking Indio Valley and Palm Springs the variety of the Joshua Tree is on display from valleys to mountains. A remarkable site. A great getaway long weekend with friends or an oasis of differentiating terrain backpacking, there is so much more to explore here!
From September to May, campgrounds fill extremely fast! Some campgrounds require reservations while others are first come-first serve. Reservations can be made 6 months in advance. During Summer, no reservations are required due to lesser amounts of traffic and some campgrounds are closed.
Black Rock Campground: Reservations Required, partial first come-first serve in Summer. Water, flush toilets, tables, fire grates and dump station available, $20 per night.
Cottonwood Campground: Reservations Required, Loop A is first-come-first serve in Summer. Water, flush toilets, tables, fire grates and dump station available, $20 per night.
Indian Cove Campground: Reservations Required, partial first come-first serve in Summer. NO water. Pit toilets, tables and fire pits available. $20 per night.
Jumbo Rocks Campground: Reservations required, first come-first serve in Summer. Note- this is a high traffic area! NO water. Pit toilets, tables and fire pits available. $15 per night.
Belle Campground: First come-first serve, closed in Summer. NO water. Pit toilets, tables and fire pits available. $15 per night
Hidden Valley Campground: First come-first serve all year. NO water. Pit toilets, tables and fire pits available. $15 per night.
Ryan Campground: First come-first serve, closed in Summer. Pit toilets, tables and fire pits available. $15 per night.
White Tank Campground: First come-first serve, closed in Summer. Pit toilets, tables and fire pits available. $15 per night.
Backcountry camping is allowed 1 mile from the road and 500 feet from trails and water sources. Be sure to register before heading out. There are 13 sites to do so.
Read more from Sam & Jon's 'Life on the Move' here.
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Hiking in winter offered me the feeling of being truly alone without feeling lonely: a feeling a lot of people can identify with right now.
Seasonal depression is real and practicing self-care is important now more than ever. Going on a hike in the winter is a great way to get endorphins flowing and get out of the house. Not to mention there’s no bugs, no crowds, and more views on trail; don’t let the winter scare you away, rather, embrace it and have a good story to tell.
Covering those four miles an hour seemed like a distant dream. I moved at a pace dictated by the desert. The quicker you moved, the more you slipped about. It could be agonizing. This was a discomfort unique to the desert, one that I knew well from previous sandy sojourns in the Mojave and White Sands. My twisted mind invited the discomfort in. Let’s tango, desert.
My pack was stocked to survive three days in the backcountry. Though there were a good amount of clouds in the sky, the sun somehow found a way to shine through. And my skin found a way to chafe in the only place the sun don’t shine. My feet felt the burning heat from the sand through my lightweight trail runners. My calves punished me for subjecting them to such a rigorous sandy workout.