If you are seeking an eclectic mix of cultural and recreational opportunities, Southern California's desert communities are sure to please. From plush Palm Desert to rustic Joshua Tree, I recently discovered some of the attractions various cities in the region have to offer. I took in relaxing spa days at sought-after resorts, culturally rich festivals, and national parkland, mixed with iconic imagery of Rat Pack glitz and sixties glam.
My first destination was the town of Joshua Tree. A long, windy road - Hwy 62 - leads past wind turbines, cacti, desert scrub, unusual rocks, Kitsch-y collectable and Western-type stores.
I make my way to the Joshua Tree Inn, a ten-room hotel owned by devotees of country rock pioneer Gram Parsons. On many occasions here is where the famed musician stayed (and died of a drug overdose). His spirit is kept alive with mementos, flowers/candle shrine. Books, photos and concert posters of him and the band the Byrds or the Flying Burrito Brothers are found on the walls, and souvenir T-shirts are sold in the reception area. There is a good-size swimming pool, and many a Gram fan can be found lounging around in this what is billed as a 'cosmic American experience' hotel.
In fact the entire region boasts an impressive music past and present: U2 sought inspiration for their album The Joshua Tree, while staying at the nearby Harmony Motel. Musicians Eric Burdon of The Animals, and Johnette Napolitano of alt rock band Concrete Blonde live in the immediate area. Popular annual events include the Joshua Tree Music Festival, and the Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival.
Before heading over to the Joshua Tree National Park, I stop by the Natural Sisters Cafe to for stock up on smoothies and backpacking snacks such as cherry, chocolate, almond granola bars. Next door is a terrific health food market (don't forget the sunscreen!) Then off we go to the Joshua Tree National Park, celebrating its 85th birthday in 2021, to view expansive vistas of surreal rock formations and cholla cactus gardens.
We drive past the visitor's center approaching the park's West Entrance. At nearly 800,000 acres where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge, wide-open vistas dotted with yucca or Joshua Trees, wildflowers and rugged mountains greet us. The park is easy to navigate with plenty of picnic + rest stop areas.
Park visitors embark on hikes of various endurance, along trails to such sites as Hidden Valley or Lost Horse Mine. Ranger-guided walking tours are available to view original homesteader structures and other highlights. Others climb onto the unusual rock formations, likely where Gram and famous friends camped searching for UFOs in the moonlit skies of the late 1960s. These piles of boulders began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity, I'm told.
It's easy to see how sculptor Isamu Noguchi was
greatly influenced by Joshua Tree's rock formations. I spy many a
jackrabbit, lizards, quails, and roadrunners before leaving the park in
late afternoon. Later a surprise rainstorm and two double
illuminate the vast desert's stark colors.