After a year of limited travel due to Covid-19, my road dawg, Miller, and I were ready for our next adventure. We planned this trip in Spring 2021, in the midst of mass vaccination, so things were still pretty uncertain. We figured our safest best was to go somewhere in the States and somewhere we could spend a lot of time outdoors. A national park trip seemed like the obvious choice.
Initially, we planned a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons only to realize towards the tail end of planning that a one week rental car would cost us a ridiculous $7k. Back to the drawing board. That ultimately led us to an epic trip to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. Everything truly does happen for a reason because it was the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation and was exactly what we needed after a grueling year. We’ll get to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons some day!
Anyway, we flew from Philadelphia airport to Palm Springs airport. From there, we rented a car and drove about 45 minutes to Joshua Tree. A car is an absolute must for this leg of the journey. While we could have gotten away with not having a car in Palm Springs, everything is spaced pretty far apart and we were happy to have it. With that being said, we took Ubers a handful of times and they were readily available.
Total disclaimer: we took this trip in July and it was hot, but not unbearable. As long as you lather on the SPF, stay hydrated, and stick to shorter hikes, you’ll be fine. An upside to visiting Joshua Tree and Palm Springs this time of year is limited crowds and awesome lodging deals. Joshua Tree has no shortage of bohemian-inspired Airbnbs while Palm Springs has countless boutique hotels.
En route from the airport to our Airbnb we stopped at Wine & Rock Shop. This store offers just that – a beautifully curated booze and crystal selection, as well as local goods. With the help of its extremely helpful staff, we picked up some unique bottles of wine to enjoy throughout our journey.
Afterward, we hit up Joshua Tree Saloon for some much needed grub. The food and drinks were meh, but it did the job. With that being said, the vibe is cool and it offers live music most nights of the week. I have no doubt that it’s a very fun late night spot for locals and tourists alike.
We squeezed a ton into our first full day. After a restful night’s sleep, we woke up bright and early and headed to Joshua Tree National Park. Of course, there were plenty of Joshua Trees after which the park was named. However, the park was much more vast and diverse than I imagined it would be. It turns out that the park is home to two distinct desert ecosystems – the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert.
First, we took the Arch Rock Nature Trail to none other than Arch Rock. It’s an easy 1.2 mile out-and-back trail. Next, we headed to the Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail. It’s a short and sweet 0.2 mile loop that allows you to get up close and personal with the park’s cholla cacti. Interestingly, the Mojave Desert region of the park is home to the Joshua tree while the Colorado Desert region of the park is home to the cholla cactus. Both plants are must-sees as they are distinctly quirky and wonderful.
Later that afternoon, we headed to the Integratron for a sound bath meditation. Located on a powerful geomagnetic vortex, the Integratron is said to aid in spiritual healing. The overall experience was a little too woo-woo, even for me, but when in Rome! If nothing else you will have an entirely unique experience that will have you feeling like you’re floating in the clouds by the time the sound bath is complete.
Afterward, we headed to Pioneertown, the cinematic backdrop of hundreds of Westerns and early television shows. It’s up there with one of the more touristy things that I’ve done, but it was a cool experience nonetheless. We then walked over to neighboring Pappy and Harriet’s for dinner and drinks. I was prepared for it to be a total tourist trap, but I absolutely loved this place! The food, drinks, and live music were great, and the overall vibes were fantastic. I guess there’s a reason why this place comes so highly recommended.
We started our day at Joshua Tree Coffee Company. I snagged a cold brew for the road and a bag of beans for home. We then headed back to the park for another day of hiking. The first trail we hit up was Skull Rock Nature Trail, a 1.7 mile loop trail. If you’re going to see just one rock formation while visiting Joshua Tree, this is the one. If you’re crunched for time, you can also drive directly to Skull Rock.
We had planned on making our next hike Spit Rock Loop Trail, but being that it’s a 1.9 mile loop and we were pretty short on time, we decided to drive up to Split Rock instead. This is also a super cool rock formation worth checking out.
We ended our day of hiking with the Barker Dam Nature Trail, a 1.3 mile loop. Not at all surpising given the intense heat, the dam was completely dry. Admittedly, this hike is probably best experienced after a rare desert rainfall so that it can be experienced in all its glory.
Later that evening, we went to dinner at Kitchen in the Desert, a solid recommendation by my friend Adria. The menu is described as New American with Caribbean influence, and that it is. It was here that I got to try Trinidadian doubles for the first time, a dish from home that my Caribbean boyfriend raves about often. Delish, as was the rest of the food and drinks!
After dinner, we headed back to the park. Seeing the Joshua trees during golden hour and sunset are an absolute must; viewing their silhouettes against the colorful sky allowed me to appreciate them on a whole new level. Plus, the park was surprisingly peaceful during this time. Soon after, we ended the day by popping some bubbly and taking advantage of our Airbnb’s hot tub.
Before we headed out of Joshua Tree, we went to Natural Sisters Cafe to grab some food. This is the perfect spot for healthy eats. My hearty salad, fresh green juice, and iced dirty chai were to die for.
Prior to heading back to Palm Springs, we took a detour to Salvation Mountain. If you’re unfamiliar, Salvation Mountain is a religious art structure located in the middle of the California desert. Although I don’t consider myself religious, the structure’s philosophy was built around the Sinner’s Prayer and that speaks to me. Despite being super Instagrammable, I ultimately don’t think I’d recommend this stop. The drive through Slab City, a squatter commune, was a bit sketch. Plus, it was a 2.5 hour drive from Joshua Tree and another 1.5 hours back to Palm Springs. Lesson learned!
…Next stop, Palm Springs!