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This national park in southeastern California offers hiking, rock climbing, stargazing and much more
For many U2 devotees, “Joshua Tree” is an automatic reference to the band’s fifth studio album. Music lovers, however, may be surprised to learn that Joshua Tree is an actual place – a national park in southeast California, to be exact – that offers visitors plenty to see and do.
Comprised of two deserts and nearly 800,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park is named for the odd-looking “trees” that grow nearly exclusively within its borders. It also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays in all of California, plus several surrounding towns that are as quirky as they are charming. Friendly locals, a landscape best described as “out of this world” – what’s not to love?
A trip to Joshua Tree National Park (at 74485 National Park Drive in Twentynine Palms, California) is worth it even if only to see the plants it’s named for. Yes, plants; as it turns out Joshua trees aren’t trees after all, but oversized plants that possess certain “tree-like” habits. In any case, even if you never set foot outside your vehicle, you’ll marvel at these flowering members of the Yucca genus, which look remarkably (and, at times, eerily) like outstretched hands.
Those who have read Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling book and soon-to-be movie, Wild, will know that the author kicked off her months-long solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail at Joshua Tree National Park. There are, however, many shorter hikes that show off the park’s beauty and diversity, including such visitor favourites as the Hidden Valley, Ryan Mountain, 49 Palms Oasis and Boy Scout trails.
The enormous, coloured boulders that litter Joshua Tree National Park make it one of the best rock-climbing destinations in the world. If you prefer something a little less “elevated” than full-fledged, traditional-style climbing, try scrambling or bouldering up and over some of the more manageable stones with the help of an area guide.
With dark skies largely free of southern California’s extreme light pollution, Joshua Tree National Park is a stargazer’s fantasy – its natural elevation and dry, desert air further contribute to excellent astronomical conditions year-round. Visit at night to “tour” the Milky Way with binoculars and be sure to bring along a star chart or circular planisphere to pinpoint the exact location of many celestial objects.
The Noah Purifoy Foundation maintains a 10-acre, outdoor museum in Joshua Tree showcasing the work of Noah Purifoy. Purifoy is an African-American artist who moved from Alabama to the Mojave Desert where he proceeded to construct large-scale sculptures made entirely from junked materials, including a “bandwagon,” a “carousel” and – ironically, considering its location – an “igloo.”
Easily accessed via Pioneertown Road at California State Route 62, the unincorporated Pioneertown was built in the 1940s for use as an Old West movie set. A number of westerns and TV shows were filmed in the town, including The Cisco Kid and Judge Roy Bean. Today, Pioneertown features one of the oldest bowling alleys in continuous use in California and staged gunfights on weekends.
The communities surrounding Joshua Tree boast retailers of wares you simply won’t find anywhere else. The Hoof & The Horn in Yucca Valley, for one, stocks desert-inspired fashions for cowgirls and boys while, nearby, Hoodoo! has a firm hold on the tiki- and occult-ware market. Head to Coyote Corner in Joshua Tree for far-from-tacky souvenirs – and grab a much-needed shower after a dusty day in the desert in one of the store’s two private, pay-per-use stalls.
The World Famous Crochet Museum, housed in a vintage trailer in Joshua Tree, promises to “surround you, soothe you and make you feel whole again.” From Sesame Street characters to poodles (oodles of them, actually), extraterrestrial creatures to Oreo cookies, if you can name it, museum owner and curator Shari Elf has likely crocheted or collected it.
Fans will recognize this kitschy trailer park from Sean Lowe’s season of The Bachelor. Choose from 10 themed trailers, including the space-themed “Integratrailor,” the Wild West-themed “Pioneer” – or take a trip back to the swinging ’70s in the “Sweet.” Hicksville guests also gain access to the solar-heated, saltwater pool, the BB gun range and the awesome, rooftop hot tub.
Labelled as a “fusion of art, science and magic,” the Integratron was built by artist, inventor and UFO advocate George Van Tassel at the site of what he believed was a powerful geomagnetic vortex in the Mojave Desert. Van Tassel, who based the domed, wooden building partially on telepathic directions he received from aliens, aimed it to be an electrostatic generator for the purpose of rejuvenation and time travel. Today, visitors can experience a sound bath at the Integratron, which is said to promote deep relaxation, rejuvenation and introspection (or, as the current owners call it, “naptime for grown-ups in a sound sphere”).