Winter Escape February 15th, 2018

There are certain sacrifices you have to make when living in Chicago. From plastic covered windows to burning through about a gallon of lotion, winter here takes quite a commitment. So much so that for the last few years I’ve made sure to get the heck out of the land of salt and ice to head for warmer climates out west. With my PCT trip fast approaching as well as a pack full of some new gear, finding my way out to Joshua Tree National Park seemed like a good idea.

The Joshua Three

Leaving early on a Friday morning from LA, Geremy, Goshi Jack, and I had set the GPS due east and made our way to Yucca Valley. The weather for the day couldn’t be any better. With daytime temps in the mid-70s and lows in the evening around the mid-50s, it made for a comfy trip.

Around the afternoon we came into the park from the north entrance and made our way to the Boy Scout Trailhead from Park Blvd., with our packs scooped up from the trunk, a few last minute gear adjustments, or in Jack’s case, a tightening of the belt on his pants that couldn’t actually close. Yes, somehow Jack moved to LA and gained weight. We were headed on our way for a pretty short 2-3mi hike into dispersed camping among some billion year old rocks.

The views themselves are otherworldly out in Joshua Tree. We saw all shapes and forms of Joshua Tree and all sorts of bizarre Dr. Seuss like combinations. It’s almost out-of-place in a way how these large trees can survive in a place where the Colorado Desert and Mojave meet but there they are. Everything we saw had been adapted and able to survive out there. The air was cool and dry and the overall desert itself is eerily quiet at times. I wonder if its because most animals in this region have resorted to being completely camouflage at all costs?

Moon so bright it wakes you up

After the sun had set the temperature had dropped rapidly. In a matter of an hour, you go from shorts and a t-shirt to wearing every article of clothing you had packed. However if you can stand it, you’re rewarded with some of the darkest skies in the country.

Great spots in Joshua Tree

Here are a few locations in the park that are worth checking out:

  • If you’re short on time its best to arrive from the north. This is where most of the Joshua Tree’s actually are as well as the more popular built-up ranger station.
  • If you have time I would recommend driving the entire length of the park from Cottonwood in the south to the Joshua Tree Visitors Center in the north. Being able to see the transition on geology is really unique.
  • Hidden Valley - Great popular small loop hike that you can knock out in an hour. Its opposite of the campground that has the same name.
  • Keys View - Unless you’re camping in the backcountry, this is the best place to watch a sunset. You can usually see the Salton Sea from here as well. Parking fills up pretty quickly so don’t be shy about getting here early and bring a light jacket because its windy.
  • Cholla Cactus Garden - Down towards the south a trip through this garden really makes you watch your step.
  • Boyscout Trail - I’d highly recommend this hike for anyone looking for an overnight in the park. However if you wanted to day-hike I would say head out from Park Blvd, and when you hit the fork, head east towards pictured rocks. Be sure to bring a liter or two of water.

Great spots around Joshua Tree

  • The best breakfast (with vegan options) to be had at the north end of Joshua Tree is definitely at Crossroads Cafe & Tavern. Also it seemed that the “Mike’s mess” was pretty popular as well.
  • Joshua Tree Saloon has great bar food, burgers, fries, etc. Service is slow so settle in and order the large beer.
  • Hands down the best food out that way is to be had at Pappy + Harriet’s. BBQ, honky-tonk, and pioneer town. What more do I need to say? If you can only do one thing out in Joshua Tree, this is it.

Until next time

Being out there was a great escape from the Chicago winter and it was an awesome opportunity to hang with some old friends and test out some gear. I look forward to passing that area again later on this year.

Until then.