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Weekend Getaway: Joshua Tree

stargazing in joshua tree

With the weather cooling off a bit in the coming weeks, we’re starting to plan escapes to the desert. A favorite desert getaway is Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree is easy to get to (about two and a half hours from North County San Diego) and is always an adventure. If you’ve never been, you might think it’s just a desert with funny trees that you saw on an album once. But regular visitors to the high desert will be quick to correct you. Not only is it one of the best places in the world to see a spectacular showing of the Milky Way, there’s a lot of other cool things to discover in Joshua Tree.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

Pappy and Harriet’s is the perfect storm of barbecue, live music and dancing. Since 1982, this desert institution has been the place to grab a cold one on a former Western movie set or randomly catch a major band playing a set. From Leon Russell to Vampire Weekend, many talented musicians have graced the stage. You never know who might show up next!

High Desert Test Sites

Founded and administered by the High Desert art community’s high priestess, Andrea Zittel, HDTS is a series of open-desert locations where visiting resident artists create experimental installations exploring themes of “contemporary art and life at large.” To check out the art, you’ll need to stop in at the High Desert Test Sites headquarters in downtown Joshua Tree for driving maps to the sites, and don’t miss our personal favorite: a trail registry by L.A.’s own Scout Regalia.


If you’re feeling the stress of life and your aura has taken a beating, there’s no better cure than a sound bath at the Integraton. If magnetic vortexes and alien activity aren’t your cup of tea, at the very least you’ll get to check out this one-of-a-kind building, described as a “resonant tabernacle and energy machine.” Acoustically resonant and mentally relaxing, it’s like chilling out in a giant cello.

Mojave Sands Hotel

Looking to luxuriate in the desert? Stay at the boutiquiest hotel out there! Every last detail of the Mojave Sands has been thoughtfully rendered, mulled-over, and handmade. Owner and proprietor Blake Simpson renovated nearly every aspect of the five-room motel himself, an undertaking that lasted nine years. The result is a comfortable, hip spot just a few paces from the entrance to the park.

Camping in Joshua Tree National Park

Travelers to the high desert can stay at motels and inns near the park, but nighttime in Joshua Tree is special. The sky is almost always clear, so being outside gets you an amazing star show, particularly in the campgrounds farthest away from the glow of city lights: Belle, White Tank, and Cottonwood Spring. And no matter where you camp, sunset and sunrise are almost always dramatic. You’re likely to hear coyotes howling at night and wake up to a cacophony of singing birds.

There are no bad campgrounds in Joshua Tree, but it helps to know about your options. For example, only two campgrounds have water and flush toilets (Black Rock and Cottonwood). The others have pit toilets only, and you have to bring your own water. Most campsites have picnic tables and fire grates, but you have to provide your own firewood.

Most camping in the park is first-come, first-served, though sites at Black Rock and Indian Cove can be reserved from October through May: online at, or by calling 877-444-6777. Campgrounds tend to fill up October through May, so make sure to call ahead!

Safe travels!

Sugar Jones: Sugar Jones has been blogging about life since 2008. She has contributed to various local news stations for lifestyle segments, speaking about tech, social media, travel, food, and family.