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My First Trip Down to Joshua Tree National Park

From the desert to the mountains. We spent four days exploring some of the best California has to offer.

By: Benjamin Canevari + Save to a List

Neither Nikki nor I had ever been down to Joshua Tree before. It had been a super dry winter so far, so I decided to go ahead and book a super cool little AirBnb in the desert just outside of the park.

We ended up leaving home a day early, and not having booked anywhere, we were going to cross over the Sierras near South Lake Tahoe and spend a day and night playing in the snow and sleeping in the car near some hot springs. 

It wasn't meant to be though. After checking road conditions on Caltrans, I knew I couldn't take Highway 88 all the way through the mountains. So we went up 50, turned on Waze, and when it told me to get off the freeway and go around the traffic, I checked to make sure the route wasn't taking us on any closed roads. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, maybe when we stopped for gas or food, the route changed without me noticing. I drove over two hours before I realized Waze wanted me to take 88. Which was closed...so, rather than drive another four hours to back track and barely make it to Tahoe, we decided to just take 99 South. 

We had both been up since 4am, so we couldn't keep our eyes open by the time we made it to the Grapevine. We stopped at the Lebec rest area, hopped in the back of the Jeep and slept until about 5am. We still had almost four hours of driving to get to Joshua Tree, so I hopped in the drivers seat and made my way to Pasadena because I was in desperate need of coffee (as per usual).

Nikki took this on our way in.

Honestly I don't remember the name of the café. It looked cool, but it really didn't taste all that great.

My grandparents have a place in Indio that they live at during the winter when it's too cold at home in Woodland. Since we were in the area we obviously had to make a stop and have lunch with them! We were a bit early still, so we ended up driving into Joshua Tree to explore for a couple of hours before heading to my grandparents.

I didn't realize how far away they live. Visiting them added an extra three hours in the car! But oh well, it was worth it to see them, and we had no schedule or agenda other than see as much as we possibly could in the short amount of time we had.

After visiting with my grandparents we went and checked in to the AirBnB. We were really stoked on the house, and the owner was super nice. You can check out the house here.

That evening we made our way back to the park for sunset. We wandered around until we found the climbing area. If I get to go back it's definitely going to be for a climbing trip! We got some of the classic desert colors that evening, just what we were hoping for! If only it hadn't been so cold.

Once it got dark, we went back to the house to clean up and have dinner before bed. Sunrise wasn't until seven the next day. But we still had to be up nice and early to find a good spot to watch the sun come up. 

Once again, COLD. Around 25 degrees. Somebody didn't tell the desert it's supposed to be hot. Or even warm! Despite the cold, we stuck it out and ran around the Joshua Trees for a couple of hours.

Nice thing about getting up so early, we have time to go back, make breakfast, and then decide where to go from there.

I kept hearing about the Oasis that could be found in the area. So we went and found one. It was literally a hike through the desert until you come to a big group of Palm Trees with pools of water and shade. I thought that kind of stuff was only in the movies.

Sunset that night was a bust. But we did get to explore the park some more and climb around on the rocks. It's so cool getting to be up high and look down over the valley and all the Joshua Trees. It really feels like another planet.

Next day we got up early and hit the road. Since our plans were foiled on the way down, we went up Highway 395 so we could see all the snow that had been dumping. 395 is probably my favorite area on this planet thus far. Couldn't pass up a chance to drive through. Or a chance to stop at Schat's bakery.

Over 30 hours in the car in four days. We didn't kill each other. Mission accomplished.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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