Just a couple hours from Los Angeles and a short drive from Palm Springs is Joshua Tree National Park. The park is named after the obscure “Joshua Tree”, which looks straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. The trees were apparently named by Mormon pilgrims, who felt the trees looked like the biblical prophet “Joshua”, with their outstretched branches pointing up towards heaven.
However, not everyone felt so positively about them, as it is also said that a western explorer in the 1800s described these as “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.” Ouch.
But this odd looking plant is just what we came to Joshua Tree National Park for. These funny trees appear to stand quite bravely in the harsh desert landscape, some even donning blooming flowers at their tips. And we figured since we were already in the area visiting Palm Springs, seeing Joshua Tree would be the perfect way to spend a day.
Thankfully we got lucky with our car rental and got to cruise through the park with the top down in our shiny new Volkswagen Beetle convertible:
Despite ordering the cheapest compact car available, and rejecting every push by the rental agent to upgrade, this was the car sitting in the stall we were assigned to. We had an IKEA “start the car!” moment where we figured we needed to rush out of the lot before someone realized their mistake and traded our car for something a little less plush.
Regardless of the reason, it was a real pleasure driving through the park with the top down, completely surrounded by these quirky little trees. The warm 30 degree sun helped a little too!
Depending how much you want to do, one day can be enough to get a sense of the park. We arrived for sunrise to get most of our activity in during the morning hours, given that the desert heat can be intolerable in the afternoon.
We hiked just as the sun came over the horizon, and were back in the car before lunch. The rest of the afternoon we spent enjoying the vistas from the car, with plenty of stops along the way to take photos.
Joshua Tree National Park is actually at the junction of two desserts: the Mojave and Colorado desserts. We stayed mostly in the western side (the Mojave) where Joshua trees are widespread and the landscape is varied between large plains and big stacks of sandy boulders. We were told the flatter Colorado side was less inspiring, so we skipped it given our limited time frame. But if you had a fair amount of time, it would be great to see it all!