Day Trip: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a place that holds a lot of mystery and other-worldly beauty. It is home to the iconic Joshua tree, surreal boulder formations and panoramic views. Back in 1969, it was also the location of a now-infamous desert photo shoot and undoubtedly enlightening trip made by friends Keith Richards and Gram Parsons. Later, of course, Parsons would be found dead in the Joshua Tree Inn, his body becoming the subject of a truly twisted rock ‘n’ roll tale.

Checking off an item from my Bucket List, I stayed at the Joshua Tree Inn in Room 8, the very room that Gram Parsons stayed in (and where he was found when he unexpectedly passed away at the age of 27). The room has been redone and the only remaining original piece is the large oval mirror across from the bed. The walls are covered with Parsons, Byrds and Flying Burrito Bros. memorabilia, photos and posters and you can play CDs of Gram’s music (and other related artists) while flipping through a book filled with guests’ thoughts, reminiscences and even tales of ghostly visitations. A small yard out back offers a place to sit and take in the desert air and night sky.

In addition to its musical history, Joshua Tree is host to some 700 species of plant life and around 240 bird species, including the occasional pelican who makes its way over from the nearby Salton Sea. Joshua Tree is rich in Native American and California history as well and its haunting beauty is a must-see for all who visit or call southern California home.

Getting there from Orange County, head north on the 55, then east on the 91 toward Riverside for about 30 miles before reaching the 60. Head east for another 18 miles or so. You will then need to get onto I-210E for about 22 miles before reaching the 62, which will take you into the park after 43 miles or so.

If you’ve never seen them before, you may be taken aback by the wind farms on the 62. These giant white turbines make you feel as if you’re on some alien planet and they were not placed out there haphazardly. This portion of the road can get very windy, so be prepared if you’re on a lighter bike.

A second detour from the 62 is to head down Old Woman Road and check out Giant Rock, the largest free-standing boulder in the world. Nearby is the truly spacey Integratron, built in 1959 by UFO enthusiast George Van Tassel. The all-wooden 35-foot high dome is said to be an acoustically perfect structure where today you can experience a neuroacoustic sound bath or perhaps attend a UFO symposium. Several friends and I made the drive recently and met up at the Integratron where we checked out the gift shop and swung in hammocks in the desert quiet before taking a sound bath. Once inside the structure, we climbed a steep staircase to the second floor where pillows and blankets lined the curved walls. Lying down, our eyes closed, we relaxed (some even dozed) as several quartz crystal bowls were skillfully played, their eerie and calming sounds encircling the room.

Once you get inside the national park, you will likely be overcome with visual stimuli from all corners of your vision. The roads inside the park are meant for meandering and enjoying the sights, so take your time and stop often. The liquid-like rock formations and hundreds of Joshua tree sentinels are spectacular to say the least. Be sure and drive up to Key View for an incredible view from a 5,185 foot elevation. You can see Mt. San Jacinto, Cochella Valley and on a clear day, the Salton Sea from this vantage point.

When you’re finally ready to leave, simply head back to Orange County the way you came or map out a back route through Box Canyon and Mecca, down through Borrego Springs and then make your way back to CA-5 N.

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