Nov 02 2012
When we began planning our California trip, we asked our children for ideas of places they wanted to visit. We weren’t surprised to hear “Disneyland!” “Legoland!” or even “Hollywood Sign!,” but the request of our youngest took us a bit off guard. “I want to see the desert,” she said.
So, as plans were made to see the ocean and the mouse and many other popular California attractions, I looked for ways to incorporate a desert into our trip.
It turns out that it wasn’t so hard. Joshua Tree National Park, just northwest of Palm Springs, is a beautiful desert to visit, and it was just two hours from our hotel in Anaheim, making for a nice day trip out of the city to see a different side of California.
We got our first taste of desert air as the morning quickly warmed up at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Palm Desert. After an early lunch, we headed up California state road 62 to Joshua Tree. Along the way, we commented at the curious-looking “cactus trees” alongside the road, and as we neared the national park, we finally figured out that these were the park’s namesake Joshua Trees.
Our first stop was the visitor center in Joshua Tree, where we paid our entrance fee, picked up junior ranger booklets, and watched a brief movie about the park and its wildlife. Then we hit the park road and drove into the park.
Whereas we had seen a few Joshua Trees along the state highway, we saw more and more of them as we neared the park boundaries.
Once inside the park, there were many turnouts for cars to park, as well as picnic areas with restrooms, so we picked a spot and got out to explore. Besides the Joshua Trees, there were many piles of rocks.
They were impressive from the road, but seemed even larger when my family started climbing on them.
I, with a fear of both heights and snakes, kept my feet firmly planted on the ground and proceeded to take about a thousand pictures of these things that we would never see at home in Minnesota.
After everyone had conquered the rock pile, we got back in the car and worked our way around the park loop.
My original intent had been to go out the south entrance, but we realized that we might run out of time before the visitor center closed, and we needed to get the junior ranger badges on the way out.
The kids kept working on their junior ranger booklets as we drove, peeking out the windows to find many of the things asked for in the guides. As we wound our way back to the Oasis visitor center, the sun was already starting to get lower in the sky.
We turned in the junior ranger booklets to Park Ranger Pat Pilcher, who was one of the nicest national park rangers we’ve encountered, and left the building with newly-earned badges in our hands and memories of the desert in our heads.
If you go:
- A brief drive-through with a stop or two can be done in an afternoon. If you want to take more time to explore, or drive on some of the side roads to Keys Lookout or other popular areas, you’ll want to plan more time.
- Plan meals and snacks carefully–you’ll need to eat outside the park or bring a picnic meal.
- The visitor center at Joshua Tree is loud and the video can be hard to hear due to voices echoing in the building. The Oasis visitor center is much more calm and you can find some shade from the palm trees if you walk the path through the oasis.
- If you begin at the Joshua Tree visitor center, it will be a 45-60 minute drive to get to the “crossroads” where you can choose to exit the park at the north or south. From this crossroads, it’s about a 60-minute drive to the south exit, and 15 minutes to the north.
- Though there are 25 types of snakes living in the park, I needn’t have been so worried. Ranger Pilcher explained that when we visited in February, they’d still be underground unless it was a 70+ degree day and they were out sunning themselves. If I return, I will certainly go in the winter when the snakes are underground.
- When we turned in the junior ranger booklets, our family was also given a copy of a children’s book called A Tree Named Lily, which we were asked to share. This book is also available online for children who might want to learn about Joshua Tree but are unable to visit the park.
- We visited Joshua Tree on a day trip from Anaheim. We arrived in time for the first tour of the day at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, visited Joshua Tree, and then went up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway at dusk, returning to Anaheim by 8 p.m. This was a very workable day trip with plenty of variety in it.
Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? What was your favorite part?