I realized how little experience I have with National Parks when I was shocked by what I saw at Joshua Tree. We headed out there for a day trip this weekend, and what I was expecting was not what I found. When I think ‘National Park’ I think forests, mountains, trees, dirt, hiking trails, etc. This clearly indicates again, how little experience I have with them. It also reminds me why I miss the East Coast.
What I found was rocks (this part was expected considering all I’ve heard about Joshua Tree), Joshua Trees (again, expected, but I suppose I wasn’t clear on how much they resembled cacti and how little they resemble actual trees), sand (not dirt), sun, heat, dangerous animals and plants, more sun, horses, and UFOs. Okay, so we didn’t actually see any UFOs, but apparently there are more sightings here than anywhere else in the world. To give you some visuals:
BEAUTY OF THE PARK
Overall I rate the beauty of the park an 8. I will be honest and say it is not what I consider to be clasically beautiful. It’s not deciduous trees in the mountains during the fall. However, I will also be open-minded and recognize there are other types of beauty and this definitely added to my experiences and shocked me with how pretty rocks and sand can be. Many points for the pure artwork of perfectly rounded rocks, flat land that allows you to see much further than you ever could in a forest, and the oddly intriguing Dr. Seuss-like Joshua Trees. I do wish there were more colors however, which would earn it an extra point.
10. We even talked while we were there about finding perfect travel companions, and I definitely lucked out with these two. Finding folks who match your travel style, and are entertaining, is often a difficult thing to do. But the three of us somehow managed to not only have a good time, but also agree on what things we wanted to prioritize during our short day there. They loved Pioneertown as much as I did (more to come on that), put up with my techno music, and Nick even let us sleep on the way home. I’m tempted to take off .5 point for getting so car sick on the way there, but I think we decided it was because of my hunger and not Nick’s driving that did it, so I’ll leave it be at a 10.
THE DANGERS OF THE DESSERT
I’m not super comfortable with wildlife. In fact, I sometimes have irrational fears of sharks, bears, moose, and pretty much anything that might decide to attack and take one of my limbs. So needless to say it wasn’t helpful when the folks at the visitor’s center started talking about the things we should watch out for. Rattle snakes, tarantulas, scorporines, etc. When they noticed the worried look on my face, they followed it up with ‘Don’t worry about those. You actually need to be more scared of the plants.’ They then proceeded to tell me about all the dangerous plants I might accidentally run into, and all the painful, disgusting things that would happen if I did. Excellent. So pretty much you need to be scared of everything here in the desert.
Nick said it perfectly when he described it as constantly walking on eggshells, never wondering if you’ll accidentally step on a snake, find yourself looking at a scorpion, or accidentally running into a deadly bush. I rate this a 1. It kept me on my toes, that’s for sure.
Another treasure to be found at Joshua Tree is the brilliant Pioneer Town. In the 1940’s Roy Rogers, Dick Curtis and Russell Hayden were the original developers, who wanted to create a movie set for Westerns that were being created at the time. So they built a small town in the desert where from the outside it was perfect for a movie, but on the inside were actual stores, restaurants, etc. so actors could actually live in the town. It sounded cheesy, but we still decided we had to visit. What we found was a bit underwhelming until we found the Pioneer Palace Restaurant…
Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace was a restaurant built in the spirit of the rest of the town, with cheap beer (especially compared to LA!), cheap food (seriously, Jen’s meal of a large cheese quesedilla, rice and beans was $3.95) and incredible atmosphere. It was full of people, we saw two live bands, people were up and dancing, tons of cowboy boots, an open back that leads into a beer garden with benches, and pool tables. I can’t imagine a better place to spend a Saturday night. I will be coming back to Joshua Tree some day just for Pappy and Harriet. This place was the most definitive 10 of the day.
STAR GAZING: 7
After enjoying dinner there, we headed back into the desert to lay out a blanket and do some star gazing. We’d heard it was incredible, and a shuttle was supposed to be crossing the sky at 9:05. We’d also heard there are tons of UFO spottings here, so we were a little hopeful.
In the end we saw the shuttle, saw four shooting stars and several constellations, no tarantulas or scorpions (which we were warned come out at night) and no UFOs. This may actually add a point, as I’m not sure what a great ending that would be if we were abducted and taken to space… Needless to say this was a perfect end to a fabulous day at Joshua Tree.