Just beyond the billowing smog and myriad freeways of the Los Angeles region, you’ll find a peaceful surprise in Yucca Valley, home of the incomparably odd Joshua trees and J-Tree National Park, as well as the kitschy, quaint wild west wilderness of the high desert. You’ll encounter the mix of military from the Marine base in nearby Twentynine Palms, musical free-spirits, hippies, cowboys and solitary spiritualists at the incomparable Pappy and Harriet’s roadhouse, on the edge of 1950s-movie-set-turned-homage, Pioneertown. Not weird enough? Experience the sonic geomagnetic vortex that is the Integratron to turn it up a notch.
Visit Joshua Tree National Park
Early morning is the perfect time for exploring and rock climbing. Enter through the West Entrance at Park Drive and tie off at Hidden Valley or Ryan Mountain for some climbing. The easy trail at Barker Dam is a popular one-mile loop with off-route bouldering and climbing to add some more excitement. Don’t miss the cholla cactus garden when you drive through the park towards the Cottonwood Visitor Center at the south end.
For an evening visit, enter at Indian Cove Camp Grounds and climb a nearby jumble of boulders, admiring the setting sun over an alien landscape before you settle down for some star-gazing under the endlessly clear skies. For the intrepid night-hiker, wind your way in and out of the caves made from the boulders. It’s dark and claustrophobic, just adding to the atmosphere.
Catch the good, the bad and the ugly in Pioneertown
Spend your afternoon 10 miles outside the north entrance of the park in Pioneertown. A walk down “Mane Street” will seem oddly familiar. The street was created as an out-of-town back lot for studio cowboy movies in the 1950s. The hollow shells lining the dirt road have become another desert attraction, especially with gunslinger shows on the weekends. Buy a leather saddle or a bespoke belt from the vendors at the Old General Store, or create your own narrative inside the town’s jail. The sheriff’s position is up for grabs, as long as you bring your own badge!
Across from Mane Street, spend your evening at the incomparable roadhouse, Pappy and Harriet’s for some back-country barbecue and top-shelf tequila. LA-based musicians and world-famous rockers swing by for epic nightly performances. Rock, country, bluegrass, folk, jazz and blues draw a diverse crowd of all ages and creeds. In the fall and spring, the Joshua Tree Music Festival brings even more music lovers to the peace and love of the desert.
Clear your mind and focus your energy
Head to the vortex of mystical energies at the Integratron to complete your wild journey. Gravitational pull draws oddballs to the Integratron, a structure in Landers, 20 miles north of the park. It is a large, wooden dome built to amplify the magnetic field of the earth and transport sonic waves for enhanced time travel and contact with UFOs - you read that right. The dome’s designer cites Nicola Tesla, biblical temple architects and direct instruction from extraterrestrials as co-architects of the structure. Today, desert mystics and curious tourists can arrange a “sound bath” with crystal bowls played inside the resonant chamber.
Special events, usually involving acrobatics, glow-sticks and invisible energy, are common on the weekends. Check the website for details.
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The desert keeps kooks alive
Like many great sources of spiritual awakening, the desert is a great place to connect with the ancient and escape the everyday. From the exotic, alien natural structures in Joshua Tree to the outdated facades in Pioneertown and the climax of nature and technology at the Integratron, there’s something for everyone in Joshua Tree.
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