Just 140 miles east of Los Angeles, in the High Desert of California, rests Joshua Tree National Park. Nestled between the towns of Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, and naturally, Joshua Tree. The national park is celebrated for its explosive sunsets, sparkling starry night skies, obscurely beautiful plant life, and hipster-approved shops and eateries.
Due to its close proximity to the always bustling LA, this desert oasis is the quintessential back-to-basics getaway; close enough, but far enough. We often forget how crucial it is to our wellbeing–and sanity– that we take a step back from our busy schedules and make time to ground ourselves. Ditching the traffic and turning in street lights for stars to guide the way is guaranteed to reduce stress levels. If you weren’t already aware, spending time in nature has proven health benefits. More specifically, the desert provides higher air quality, less light pollution (which is helpful when you’re looking for constellations), and ample sunshine. Interestingly, the dry air in the desert also means less mold and bacteria, which is beneficial when it comes to wound-healing and respiratory problems.
Last month, I was in dire need of getaway in the great outdoors. Initially, Matt and I planned to venture up the coast to Big Sur, but stormy weather deterred us from taking the trip. As desert lovers, we settled on Joshua Tree. We packed our Mitsubishi rental with our two-person tent, not enough blankets, one pillow (which I immediately regretted), and other various necessities and set off.
After about three hours in the car, we rolled through the sleepy trio of towns before we reached the park entrance. As luck had it, there were no camping sites available. This was our fault, we should have known, but thankfully we found a groovy campsite right outside of the park. During the spring and summer months, it hosts various festivals and other creative gatherings. It was sweet. For $20 a night, we secured a spot for our tent and our trusty red Mistu.
Despite the forecasts’ call for high winds, I was hopeful it wouldn’t be the case. It was. We got our tent up and headed over to our on-the-road go-to, Walmart. I normally hate supporting big box stores like Walmart, but unfortunately, when you’re in small towns your options are limited. Matt and I stocked up on dinner for the night, salmon and veggies via firepit and pan, and drove back to our home for the night. The setting sun doesn’t wait for anyone so we started cooking right away. Matt manned the grill, and fought off the smoke like a champ, while I chopped the veggies. The end results weren’t exactly gourmet and faintly resembled that of toasted marshmallows, but we were hungry and cold, so it sufficed.
We admired the sunset, put out the fire, and retreated to the tent for the night, while the sounds of the whipping winds echoed through the valley.
We rose, we shined, and we hit Mt. Ryan for a hike. Matt and I decided we’d give the first come first served on-site campgrounds another shot, so we packed up all of our belongings before we left.
After breaking a sweat and scoring some breathtaking views, Round 2 of the campground search commenced. We were pulling out of the last site, Jumbo Rocks, with no sign of a spot, when a fine gentleman waved us down and offered up his spot, as he was pulling out. The Desert Gods were looking down and granted us the authentic J. Tree experience we were looking for.
The winds had no mercy on us and continued to howl throughout night two. The sunrise made it worth it, though. It was truly magnificent. It was difficult to decipher whether my shivers were from the morning chill or the palette of colors that painted the sky. We finished admiring the colors until our growling stomachs demanded breakfast. The wind was stubborn and was having no part of us starting a fire to cook so we settled on a diner- Carla’s Route 62 Diner. I was not-so-secretly thrilled.
Although I would have loved to check out more shops, Matt and I went to Joshua Tree strictly for the nature experience, and that’s what we got. We did, however, make time to peek into a few of the gems that lined the main road.
- The Grateful Desert Herb Shoppe & EcoMart: This spot is just what you’d picture being in Joshua Tree. The apothecary had everything from aromatherapy to chocolate to small knick-knacks. I purchased some loose-leaf chai tea, dried lavender, my cherished muslin tea bag, and an awesome logo sticker. I use the lavender for tea or sometimes I toss some into a tiny sheer bag and leave it in my purse. Smells delightful.
- Joshua Tree Health Foods: The store of my dreams. They had everything! I splurged on a lavender and blueberry dark chocolate bar. my taste buds had a dance party. If anything, check this place out!
- Natural Sisters Cafe: Matt and I stopped here on Day 2 for a coffee break. The joe was pretty tasty, but it was their pastries that caught my eye. I was doing a ‘no sugar, no carb’ weekend, so I didn’t try any, but if I go back, I will certainly stop back in.
- Unity Home Thrift Shop: Your typical small town thrift shop chock-full of hidden treasures. Matt scored a sweet 90s bathing suit here. I wasn’t committed to the cause so I didn’t get anything, but it’s worth a visit.
- Carla’s Route 62 Diner: This was where we had our last
supper breakfast. I ordered huevos rancheros and they were delicious. With that said, we didn’t do too much research and sort of rushed the decision-making process. When I’m traveling, I’m very deliberate when choosing where to eat.
Bottom line: I would recommend it, but I don’t think I would go back. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, more so because there were healthier, more interesting alternatives.
My perception of what Joshua Tree was before I went was entirely skewed. I originally thought it was just one town (not three) that was adorned with dozens of hip shops. Embarrassingly, I didn’t even know it was a national park! In reality, it’s a quiet strip that oozes desert excellence and boasts a handful of awesome mom & pop shops.
Next time I go to Joshua Tree, I’d switch it up a bit. For starters, I would write up a more thorough plan. I think I’d probably kick off the trip with primitive camping. It’s such a rewarding experience that gives you a real sense of accomplishment. From pitching your own tent to cooking your own food, it helps you grasp what life is like in the wild.
I’d finish off my stay by shacking up in a rustic meets boho mod Airbnb. The one I have in mind: Casa Joshua Tree. It’s the account that introduced me to Joshua Tree and is insanely beautiful.
When all was said and done and we hopped back in the Mitsu to head home with smiles on faces. Our adventure was a great success. It was just the medicine my body– and mind– needed to decompress. Sometimes fresh air and mountain views is all it takes. If given the opportunity, take the trip!