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Sundae in the Park

Joshua Tree National Park (1994-), San Bernardino and Riverside Counties - Named for its Native Joshua Trees, and the Size of Rhode Island

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we're going to head to Joshua Tree National Park for one day.

After a quick visit this Christmas, I'm reminded to tell people that there is NO FOOD available in the park! My family ("...there has to be a cafeteria or something somewhere in there.") was a bit annoyed at the outset that I kept harping about bringing everything we would want to eat/drink (though you can fill up with water at a couple BUT NOT ALL of the visitor centers), and to be prepared to stay in the main part of the park all day long once we entered ("...we'll just drive to 29 Palms and grab some food for lunch"), but were quite happy once we were there and they understood. It takes a while to drive through the park, even just the upper loop (29 Palms to Joshua Tree), so planning to drive out for a meal and come back in is really, really inefficient. So plan ahead and enjoy!

Even if you don't plan to rock-climb formally (there are tons of local outfits that will take you out for a few hours), if you like rock-scrambling, this is the park for you! The rock piles and cliffs by the Indian Cove area are phenomenal for scrambling and easy climbs (look carefully at just about every pile/face and you'll see a climber or a whole climbing class) and extremely accessible (it's only a 5-minute drive in, compared with entering the main portion of the park, so this is a part of the park you could visit briefly to climb/play/walk the nature trail and grab food somewhere on highway 62. Also, there is no pay station to enter this portion of the park.). Hidden Valley inside the park has a nice, flat, 1-mile loop that contains many tall rock piles and walls particularly begging to be climbed.

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I have run out of water thrice in my hiking career.  I hike a lot, and much of it in the desert.  The first was in Joshua tree.  Thankfully I had a friend.  I doubt I would have died or anything, but she hiked an extra 2 miles to bring me water.  The second time I was in less danger, but had sprained my ankle, and was considering if I should piss into my canteen just in case, when I came around the corner and there was the car, and some friendly campers who gave me a beer (which was a bad decision but I had a gallon of water in my car).  The third, same friend from story one brought me a gatorade, which I gulped gleefully, then vomited, walked a couple hundred yards and found the car, and puked again.

So the lesson is, bring way more water than you think you will need.

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Three things about Joshua Tree NP: (1) it is awesome; (2) bring water as stated above, no matter what time of year; (3) on your way there or back, stop by Pappy and Harriet's, the world's greatest high-desert, country/hippy/artist, bar and restaurant and music venue and general place to hang out.

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Between Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and 29 Palms, there are a few restaurants serving decent food, but only one place worth making time for: La Copine. Limited hours, so plan ahead. This was the culinary highlight of the trip. To be fair, I heard good things about 29 Palms Inn, but never got there to try it for myself. Also, Country Kitchen serves a good diner breakfast; the specials board lists a bunch of Cambodian dishes which I would have loved to try, but we never got back to town from the park in time (they close at 3).

Joshua Tree Coffee Roasters has a nice operation going, but the beans are seriously over-roasted. I found even their lightest roast hard to swallow. YMMV and all that. Bless them for being there and trying. The only drinkable coffee I had in five days was the La Colombe served at La Copine.

As others have noted, bring snacks, lunch, and plenty of water with you into the park. Lots of nice spots for a picnic lunch. The hiking is great.

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I'm heading to JTNP in a couple of weeks.  Good tips! 

We are planing one longer hike up Ryan Mountain and several of the shorter loop hikes.

looking forward to it!

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^Here's another tip: the early bird gets the worm. Stay on East Coast time, or something like it; the advantage is you'll get to your first trailhead before everyone else does, which means you'll be able to find parking. Also lines tend to form around 10am at the west entrance (north entrance less so, or so I was told), though we were there at the busiest time of year (spring break).

Don't know how much hiking you like to do but for shorter hikes we particularly enjoyed 49 Palms Oasis and Pine City. We tried to do the newish Maze loop but it was closed for a search and rescue. Not for the first time, either. Take good maps.

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We will be at JTNP on a Wednesday and Thursday, not sure if that helps with the crowds or not (I'm assuming it will help a bit). 

For the weekend we are heading to the Palm Springs area for a friends wedding.

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What a great place! 

Due to airline fuck ups with Frontier, we only got to spend Thursday in the park.  But we did spend 10 hours exploring and felt like we got to see a lot.

Much of the park infrastructure is in the North section and fairly conveniently close.  You can easily do a short trail, hop in the car, drive 5-10 minutes and hop out and do another trail.  

We were there on a Thursday during peak season (early April) and felt like the park was busy, but not crowded.  During early afternoon, some of the parking lots were full, but we didn't have any problems early morning and late afternoon.  All the camp sites were full, so if you want to camp at Joshua Tree book early.  

The North section has two main entrance points, the West entrance via the town of Joshua Tree (which is generally the busiest entry spot) and the North entrance via the town of TwentyNine Palms, which also has the park HQ.  They encourage people to use the North entrance, that said, the West entrance has the prettier views driving in/out.

Since the park actually contains two deserts, the Mojave and Arizona, the southern section is a completely different landscape.  It's also about 1,000 feet lower, so it's interesting to see how the landscape and flora change.  Note that the Joshua Trees are only in the Northern section of the park. 

We hiked/visited:

Ryan Mountain, a 1,000 foot climb to 5,400 feet and one of the highest peaks in the park.  It was about a two hour hike along a well marked out-and-back trail.

Barker Dam, usually a 1.5 mile loop trail it, part of it was closed for maintenance and therefore it was a 1 mile out-and-back trail to a reservoir which had been set up by old cattle farmers around the 1900s.    

White Tank Campground, contains a short trail containing well known/photographed rock arch. 

Key's View, drive to an 5,500 foot overlook for views of the Palm Springs area.

Cholla Cactus Garden, located in the transition zone between the North/South sections, a wonderland of cholla cactus.  Seriously, kinda blew our minds (or maybe that was the dehydration kicking in!)

Cap Rock, one of several short nature trails with markers about the desert flora.

Even though we covered a lot of ground in one day, there was still plenty of things we didn't visit and we didn't really get down to the Southern section of the park (which admittedly has a lot less stuff to do/infrastructure)

As mentioned above, having enough water is no joke.  We had three water bottles with us as well as a gallon water jug in the car and we drank it all.  There is no water nor food in the park, so plan accordingly.  Temps were in the high 80s to low 90s and due to the landscape there isn't much cover either.  Hats, layers, sun glasses, and sun screen are all important. 

Food and drink outside the park

We had an Air B&B so we made breakfasts and packed lunches.  The town of Yucca Valley has a Stater Bros (kinda like a beach town Food Lion) and a Vons.  There is also a Stater Bros between Joshua Tree and TwentyNine Palms.  There are also several convenience store places dotted along the highway.

Pie for the People:  Town of Joshua Tree.  Surprisingly good pizza.  Thin crust NY-style, but it reminded me more of Pete's Apizza in DC. 

Sam's Market:  Town of Joshua Tree.  Convenience store meets beer/wine/liquor.  Surprisingly good beer selection.  The fridge case had pretty much what one would expect from a well stocked DC beer store, plus some smaller California craft beers.  The adjacent aisle had an interesting selection of larger single bottles.  Stop here if you want something better than Budweiser!

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1 hour ago, Tweaked said:

What a great place!

......We hiked/visited:

Ryan Mountain, a 1,000 foot climb to 5,400 feet and one of the highest peaks in the park.  It was about a two hour hike along a well marked out-and-back trail.

Barker Dam, usually a 1.5 mile loop trail it, part of it was closed for maintenance and therefore it was a 1 mile out-and-back trail to a reservoir which had been set up by old cattle farmers around the 1900s.    

White Tank Campground, contains a short trail containing well known/photographed rock arch. 

Key's View, drive to an 5,500 foot overlook for views of the Palm Springs area.

Cholla Cactus Garden, located in the transition zone between the North/South sections, a wonderland of cholla cactus.  Seriously, kinda blew our minds (or maybe that was the dehydration kicking in!)

Cap Rock, one of several short nature trails with markers about the desert flora.

Even though we covered a lot of ground in one day, there was still plenty of things we didn't visit and we didn't really get down to the Southern section of the park (which admittedly has a lot less stuff to do/infrastructure)

As mentioned above, having enough water is no joke.  We had three water bottles with us as well as a gallon water jug in the car and we drank it all.  There is no water nor food in the park, so plan accordingly.  Temps were in the high 80s to low 90s and due to the landscape there isn't much cover either.  Hats, layers, sun glasses, and sun screen are all important. 

Nice description.  Thank you.  Never been there.  Due to close family I've visited Tucson quite a bit and hiked desert areas a fair amount though Tucson is higher altitude and possibly less dehyrating.  It also requires water, but possibly less as higher altitudes in Tucson render it somewhat less hot.  Scenery and plant life in those areas is certainly worth experiencing.  

But boy I grew to dislike lugging a lot of water in those dry areas.

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Joshua TreeDR.jpg

Yes, I think JTNP is all about the landscape...so alien for an East coaster.  There's no singular landmark feature in the park, just Joshua Trees and boulders and stark landscape.  But with a surprising amount of vegetation.

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10 hours ago, Tweaked said:

Yes, I think JTNP is all about the landscape...so alien for an East coaster.  There's no singular landmark feature in the park, just Joshua Trees and boulders and stark landscape.  But with a surprising amount of vegetation.

The high desert is such a strange but arresting landscape, though it helps in advance to know what these Joshua Trees look like so you can appreciate them when you see them! It's a bit of a letdown after a week spent driving around the area for work, then arriving at the park at the end, only to find that the famous Joshua Trees were the weird cacti you've been seeing everywhere. Though their profusion in the park itself is impressive, regardless.

JTNP is one of the more popular and well-known national parks, which is probably why it landed on the list of national parks proposed for significant raises in entrance fees (apparently tabled for the time being).

It sounds like you got to do a tons of things for your limited time, but probably didn't get to spend a night in or near the park. JTNP is now an international Dark Sky Park and has some of the best stargazing opportunities in the country. It's why it can be hard to get a camp site on weekends and popular weeks, but is definitely worth doing if you have the chance!

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Unfortunately due to the airline screw ups we didn't get to go into the park at night.  We got in some decent stargazing at the Airbnb, but not what I was hoping for.  Apparently the Eastern side of the park is the best for Dark Sky purposes, next major source of light is Phoenix, 250 miles away.

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The national parks have been hit particularly hard by this shutdown.  Local communities and park concessions have been trying to help out with volunteer cleanup crews and donations but have been overwhelmed.  This is a popular time at Joshua Tree with the winter rock climbing season, and were fortunate to be open over the holiday season when the campgrounds were full.  But tour companies and other local community businesses are going to really start feeling the pinch if this goes on for much longer.     

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So they didn't have to quite shut down as feared, though some areas were briefly inaccessible, but all parts of the park are back open today. Unfortunately, is sounds like some parts of the park were and are being damaged, mostly because some people can't help being jerks (off-roading, cutting down Joshua trees, trash and 💩 everywhere).  Good for local businesses (for now), but concerning for the health of the park as the shutdown continues.

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