Review of Joshua Tree National Park: A very unique park with tons of joshua trees!


Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Growing up on the East Coast of the United States, the state of California, all the way on the West Coast, always held a mystical and magical qualities about the place.  Maybe it was the popular culture and media that turned us on to the California mindset, from the beach culture of Venice Beach, the surfing culture ala The Beach Boys, or to the filming location for hundreds of television and movies, but whatever it was, I was certainly sold on the idea.

I mean, who could resist Disneyland, the “happiest place on Earth”, Santa Monica (or any number of famous beaches), or many wonderful, world famous national parks like Yosemite or Redwoods?  I grew up enamored of the state, just like many of my friends, who wanted to either visit or move to the state…

Joshua Tree National Park, was one of those magical and mystical places in the state of California that I always dreamed of visiting someday.   And luckily, my wife and I were able to do just that during our cross country road trip going from North Carolina to California in January 2023!

Joshua Tree National Park located where the two desert ecosystems, Colorado and Mojave meet, is a popular destination for roughly 2.8 million visitors who make the trek to this south central part of the state of California.  It is a place surrounded by serene desert landscape with striking Joshua trees that dot the park everywhere you turn.  

On the morning of January 15th, we left our hotel in Laughlin (Nevada), heading for Joshua Tree National Park.  We soon crossed over into the state of California after driving about 10 minutes.  We were finally in the “Golden State”! 

From the Nevada/California border, we got on the very familiar I-40 then headed west.  It would take another two plus hours to arrive at Joshua Tree, California.  By the time we arrived in town, it was well after noon, so we looked for a place to eat.

We looked at several options, but we settled on a Southern California Mexican restaurant chain called Castaneda’s Mexican Food.  We walked inside the no frills, casual restaurant, ordered our foods, then gulped them down after a long drive.

Food was good, but nothing to write home about.  We’ve had Mexican food at hundreds of places, and this place wouldn’t have made our top 10.  It was a filling meal for an average price these days at roughly $35 for lunch for two with soft drinks.  At least the portions were decent…

The best thing about the restaurant was the close proximity to Joshua Tree National Park visitor center, literally a quick right turn from the restaurant!  We parked at the visitor center on a busy Sunday afternoon and walked inside for a pit stop and to speak with a ranger about the park.

We knew we only had roughly 3 hours to visit the park, as we had to arrive in San Diego that same day.  We asked a friendly park ranger for recommendations on what we should see and do, and he warned us many parking lots would be filled by that time of the day.  He did let us know several points of interest should be accessible if we don’t mind parking then walking some distance.

We thanked him, then headed up to the park’s entrance station, which would take about 20 minutes via ascending, serpentine roads.  The line was already 7-8 cars long by the time we arrived at the entrance station.  But thanks to our America the Beautiful Park Pass, we breezed through the entrance gate, a special privilege for park pass holders.  

We drove on, passing the gate, then we took in the tremendous scenery of magical Joshua trees set against a backdrop of expansive desert landscape.  Joshua trees looked strange as if humans were frozen in place by some magical beast, like the Medusa, of Greek mythology…

Joshua Tree National Park, California 

After driving about 5 minutes on Park Boulevard, we encountered people gathered near gigantic rock formations on our right.  We saw people climbing up, and/or people standing at the top of the rocks.  We decided we should do that ourselves!

We parked along the side of the road like the others, and we started to walk towards the rocks.  Walking on desert landscape was a novelty for someone who grew up on the east coast of the United States.  We walked along, observing various desert plants while watching the majestic mountains in the distance.

We waited our turns to climb up as there were just as many people going up as well as down.  We chose a line up the rocks that didn’t seem to daunting, and we started our ascent.  We always get a kick out of climbing rocks, as long as it’s not too hairy or under challenging conditions like snow or ice.

We made it safely to the top of the rocks and enjoyed the impressive, panoramic views!

View from the top of the rocks

We took a moment to imprint that scenery into our minds.  During our west coast road trip, we’ve certainly seen our share of incredible things, and this was one of them.  We loved that we were finally back in California after roughly 18 years (we had spent about 9 days in Southern California to visit Disneyland, Santa Monica, and Los Angeles), and that we were finally visiting Joshua Tree National Park.

We made our descent back the same way we had come, then got back into our car for further exploration.  We got back on the Park Boulevard continuing further when we noticed every parking lot that was worthy of exploration was packed!

At one particular parking lot near Twin Tanks, we gave up waiting for a spot to free up after several minutes, as we realized there were like 7-8 cars ahead of us waiting to park.  We should’ve known visiting a popular national park on a Sunday was a bad idea…

This similar theme continued elsewhere like at Skull Rock and Cap Rock.  By that time of the day, it was getting close to 3 o’clock in the afternoon, so we decided to head out of the park, for San Diego.

Driving around along Park Boulevard, looking for parking spot…

On our way out of the park, we saw there were available parking spots at the Quail Springs, so we made a snap decision to pull over to see that area.  We saw a small band of rock climbers at the bottom of a huge boulder attempting an ascent.  We watched in fascination at their gear and at their agility making their climb.

We walked around the area amazed by the same gigantic boulder and other huge rocks nearby.  With excellent views everywhere, we took some time enjoying the scenery.

Climbers, Quail Springs area, Joshua Tree National Park 

Kind of looks like a side profile of a face

We spent not more than 5 minutes at Quail Springs, then headed out of the park.  We knew we had maybe another 3 hours of sunlight, and we knew the drive to San Diego would take roughly 3 hours.

It took roughly 20 minutes to get back to the visitor center where we had started.  From there, we took a left on CA-62 going west for San Diego.  We settled in for a 2 1/2 hour drive, against a beautiful backdrop of a partially hidden, slowly setting sun directly ahead of us.  It was as if we were modern day cowboys riding into sunset…

California sunsets are so awesome…And did I mention we love cross country road trips?

In conclusion:

Even though we got to spend only about 3 hours at Joshua Tree National Park on our way to San Diego, we were glad we got to experience the park first hand.  The Joshua trees were incredible, beautiful and unbelievably unique sitting on desert floors as if standing guard.

From a distance, trees looked like incredibly large alien beings with multiple limbs, relaxing and waiting for their marching orders.  They were something we had not seen anywhere, especially in those large numbers…

We highly recommend checking out the park, but do so on a less busy day, as weekends tend to be real busy.  We wished we had done some hiking while at the park, but I guess that’ll have to wait until our next trip out there.

We thank you for reading and keep up with us on our continuing adventures across the American West!  Happy trails!


Wandering Money Pig 

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