How to make the most of joshua tree on your visit gas 87 89 93

The area’s namesake is the Joshua tree, which isn’t technically a tree, but a member of the agave family. The plant was first named by Mormon trekkers who said the outstretched limbs reminded them of Joshua reaching his hands to the sky in prayer.

The park is split into two distinct desert ecosystems. The western portion is occupied by the Mojave Desert, and that’s where you’ll find Joshua trees, teetering stacks of sand-colored boulders and the occasional rattlesnake. The Mojave is known as the high desert, with elevations above 3,000 feet.

The entire park is larger than Rhode Island, and you could fill up an entire week hiking every trail and climbing every rock. But these days a trip to Joshua Tree also means chasing art, music, food and the occasional sound bath (don’t worry, we’ll explain) through the neighboring towns of Yucca Valley, Pioneertown and Twentynine Palms.

The west entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, located just off of Highway 62 near "downtown" Joshua Tree, is the most popular gateway to the park, and with good reason. This part of the park is littered with 20-foot tall Joshua trees, massive boulders and enough photo opportunities to fill an afternoon.

When you turn off Highway 62, make a pit stop at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center to pick up maps, chat with park rangers about their favorite hikes, purchase a field guide on desert wildflowers or learn a few Joshua Tree tidbits. One fun fact: millions of years ago this parched desert landscape resembled a lush African savannah inhabited by camels, mammoths and giant land sloths.

Further along the Park Boulevard loop, you’ll pass one of the park’s most photographed boulders, Skull Rock. If you are willing to take a half-hour detour, you can dip south on Pinto Basin Road and follow signs for the Cholla Cactus Garden. It’s a glorious place to be at sunset when the furry cacti glow in the golden light.

From October to May, the park’s boulders are crawling with rock climbers from around the world, who flock to Joshua Tree‘s vertical playground. That’s partly for the thousands of climbing routes and boulder problems and partly for the mild winter temperatures and stunning scenery.

If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, sign up for one of the Desert Institute’s field classes. Programs include night sky photography workshops, wildflower wanderings and "How To" classes on surviving in a desert landscape. They tend to book up quickly, so be sure to book in advance.

Spend five minutes in Joshua Tree and you’ll find yourself reaching for your camera. Despite all its harshness, the desert landscape is intoxicatingly beautiful, and for decades artists have flocked here for inspirational vistas and quiet solitude.

Fans of contemporary art might also be interested in High Desert Test Sites, a non-profit co-founded by artist Andrea Zittel. She offers monthly tours of A-Z West (email for information), the 70-acre site on the edge of Joshua Tree where she investigates alternative methods on how to live.

If it’s indoor museums you seek, the best one in town is the pint-sized World Famous Crochet Museum, a lime-green, one-hour photo booth repurposed to house a collection of hundreds of crochet stuffed animals. It’s free and open 24/7, so visitors can stop by anytime.

If you want to fully immerse yourself in Joshua Tree‘s quirky side, plan ahead and book a "Sound Bath" at the Integratron. Billed as "60 minute sonic healings," visitors recline in the dome shaped wooden room and are "bathed" in the smell of burning palo santo and the harmonic sounds of quartz crystal bowls. If it sounds far out, that’s because it is.

Partially funded by Howard Hughes, the two-story dome was built as a time machine. But decades after Van Tassel died, the Integratron was purchased by three sisters who declared the all-wood interior acoustically perfect and began hosting Sound Baths in the early 2000s.

The Old West facades are fun to explore, but the main reason to visit this speck of a town is Pappy + Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, which is both the best restaurant for miles and a world-class music venue. Paul McCartney, Future Islands, Robert Plant and more have performed on this tiny saloon stage.

If a late lunch of baby kale and roasted beets or a pork belly banh m- sounds more up your alley, then head to La Copine, a desert-chic, afternoon-only restaurant on Old Woman Springs Road that has become a de rigueur stop for weekend hipsters traveling through town. Helmed by Claire Wadsworth and Nikki Hill, La Copine is the antidote to the greasy spoons nearby.

For Santa Maria tri-tip or a rib eye grilled over an outdoor mesquite fire, head straight to Pappy + Harriet’s in Pioneertown. A long menu of burgers, dogs and Tex Mex is available for lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday, and dinner only on Mondays. Dinner reservations are recommended on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Pioneertown Motel is popular with the LA and San Diego crowds on weekends. Situated just behind Pappy + Harriet’s, it is the perfect place to roll into bed after a rowdy night in Pioneertown’s greatest bar. By design there are no phones or televisions, but no one seems to mind.

If you’re traveling with a group, or even as a couple, renting a house is one of the best options in Joshua Tree. Some of the more popular Airbnb listings are Wakanda Ranch and the High Desert House. Architecture fans will want to look into Pretty Vacant Properties (email, two unique desert homes designed by architect Robert Stone.

There are taxi services in Joshua Tree and the surrounding towns and a shuttle service inside the park, but renting a car is practically a necessity. Do not rely on GPS. Cell phone service in the park and in remote areas is spotty at best, so be sure to pick up a map and always travel with water and sun protection.