A family wedding in Temecula this spring was the most perfect excuse to go somewhere we had not been: the desert! Joshua Tree National Park was only a short (2ish hour) drive from Temecula, so we decided to head there for 2 nights and enjoy the sights and some hiking.
We had so much fun in Joshua Tree; here are a few hints on how to make the most of a short visit to this renowned National Park.
1. Consider alternate airports. There is not an airport super close to Joshua Tree, so prepare to rent a car unless you own a private jet and can fly into Palm Springs. Heh. We flew in to Ontario, which I would highly recommend as an alternative for both Temecula and Joshua Tree. The traffic wasn’t bad, and it is a very, very straight and easy shot down I-10 east to get to Joshua Tree. Much better than either John Wayne or LAX…on both the arriving and the departing.
2. Take advantage of partial days. The great thing about Joshua Tree is how accessible it is regardless of how much time you have. You could easily spend 4-5 days exploring; but you can also see a ton in just an afternoon. When you arrive, drive right in! Your entrance fee is good for a week, so there is no point in not enjoying the time you have in the area. And, frankly, there isn’t a ton to see outside of the park itself without going to Palm Spring/Palm Desert.
3. Be prepared. Joshua Tree is a wilderness area. It was busy but not crowded when we visited (April); however, there are long stretches of road where you may not see any other people. Because it is a desert, the most critical item here is to bring water. Lots of water. More water than you think you will need. There is water available at the park entrance, but there aren’t that many locations with water throughout the park. Don’t be an idiot and hike without water. It’s dumb and irresponsible. We may return to this soapbox later…
4. Ask a ranger. I know government employees get a bad rap, but most of the National Park Service employees truly love Joshua Tree and it shows. In addition to being able to tell you what you can see in X amount of time, they also know if there are animals hanging out in certain locations, where the best foliage is for the time of year, etc. Stop at the visitor center and ask (or, since I love chatting with people, send your husband in to ask…).
5. Plan your visit but enjoy the unexpected. There were certain things that “seemed” highly recommended, like skeleton rock. But when we drove up and saw literally 50 children scaling the rock….we just kept on driving. And then we found a very large and very close chuckwalla and spent a long time watching him and taking photos. You don’t have to see things just because others say you should or must; there is so much to explore–find what interests you! Note: Hey you roadrunners, you avoided us the entire trip and we searched for you long and hard. We’ll be baccckkkk.
We’ve been traveling more internationally than in the United States as of late (I accidentally typed Untied States and then it took everything I had not to make a joke about that…); there are so many lovely national parks here (including Yellowstone, of course, in my home state). April was a beautiful time to go; the cactus was in bloom, the weather was hot but cooled off nicely at night, and the park was not incredibly crowded. Note, though, if you are going to camp, make reservations FAR in advance! All the campgrounds were totally full while we were there. Joshua Tree is beautiful, and like nowhere we had ever been before.