Joshua Tree National Park has long been on my list of places to visit and during Thanksgiving weekend, I finally got to check it off the list. It did not disappoint. Yes, it was a busy weekend and a lot of others were there checking the park off their lists too but, it is still possible to enjoy it despite the crowds. Here's how we did it:
- We entered Joshua Tree from Cottonwood and exited into Twenty Nine Palms. This proved to be a smart move as there were very few cars where we went in at more than 75 cars were being held at the gate and released slowly into the park where we went out. Apparently this is a pretty regular thing during holiday weekends.
With limited time to visit, we focused on the following sites:
- The Cholla Cactus Garden
- Jumbo Rocks
- White Tank
- Skull Rock
- Keys View
We adjusted our plan, stopping at additional places if something looked interesting, taking the time to get a closer look at Joshua Trees or a moment to simply stand and take in the expansive scenery.
A few tips to follow for particularly busy holiday weekends:
PACK YOUR PATIENCE
Because we came through an entrance that wasn't particularly busy, we had our first few stops to ourselves before we hit areas that were crowded. You will need to patient because crowds always seem to bring challenges as well.
During a holiday weekend, parking will get tricky in some places. Be prepared for the fact that you may not be able to get a spot in a lot but instead on the side of the road. Be aware when this occurs, we were surprised by how many cars raced through areas despite how many people were out and about.
- Take the first available spot, even if you have to hike. Be mindful of nature, if you are parking on the side of the road.
- In areas like Keys View, you'll likely wait for a spot to open up for a few minutes.
THINGS YOU SHOULD BRING WITH YOU
-Water, Sunscreen, Snacks or even a picnic
THINGS TO BE MINDFUL OF
- When hiking in areas like White Tank, be respectful of camp sites.
- Cart your garbage out with you.
ONE LAST NOTE
There's a nice little museum in the visitor center outside the park's gate at Twenty Nine Palms. Stop by! It gives a nice little overview of the area's geological as well as human history --- including a mention of U2's Joshua Tree album and one Edge's guitars on display!
We discovered this Palm Springs holiday tradition completely by accident. We simply spotted lights --- a lot of lights --- in the distance as we passed through the Movie Colony neighborhood on our way to dinner downtown.
Walking into Robolights is like entering a parallel universe. This futuristic winter wonderland stretches over 4 acres of a residential yard. More than seven million Christmas lights, 230 robots constructed of spare parts and junkyard discoveries and crazy inflatables (like Santa Claus driving a tank). All of it is the brainchild of artist local artist Kenny Hassan Irwin, who began creating the exhibit in 1986, when he was 12 years old.
Wander the grounds --- sights you will see include; Santa's sled pulled by reindeer, which were constructed from toilets, robots riding a shopping cart rollercoaster, snowmen and women, gingerbread figures that stand about 20 feet high pointing to Christmas trees and presents. The whole thing is really quite a sight and unlike any other holiday display you'll ever see.
It's free to get in but, donations are appreciated. On the night we visited, the city had declared the very large inflatables on the roof of the house to be a safety hazard due to the winds in the area. This meant that every day Robolights was open they were in violation of the declaration and therefore were being fined. Donations help in paying for things like that. As we left, the line to get in was rather long. This is a popular tradition, one I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping will get continued community support.
I didn't know much about the Salton Sea before visiting -- I'd heard about the dead fish, the receding waters, and the high salinity. It sounded a bit like a wasteland to me but my husband wanted to see it so off we went. It certainly turned out to be a lot more fascinating than I thought it would!
The Circle of Life was on full display from the moment we arrived. Outside the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, we saw hoards of shorebirds feasting on the decaying trail of Tilapia. The fish die at times of high salinity. You can tell whether the birds have been there and moved on by the state of the skeletal remains. If you find only bones then the birds have been there.
In it's heyday, the Salton Sea was a booming resort area, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were among those who had boats there. Now while its still a favorite area among campers and sports enthusiasts, towns in the area show obvious signs of the mortgage industry meltdown.
An easy day trip from Palm Springs, this excursion elicited interesting conversation in the car about ecology, finances, resources and a surprising number of other topics with our teens.
- Pack plenty of water and snacks and trek out there with a full tank. There are a few places in the area to get all of the above but, not all were open at the time.
A Note About Timing Your Visit:
- We visited during November. I'm thinking a hotter month, should it coincide with a period of high salinity in the water, it will seriously smell out there with all of those dead fish!
Part religious pilgrimage, part quirky folk art experience, Salvation Mountain sits adjacent to the outpost of Slab City. It was a labor of love started by the late American Folk Artist Leonard Clark and continued by local residents and volunteers.
My family climbed the meandering trail that looked to us like the Yellow Brick Road. The view from the top offered a scene reminiscent of the Mad Max movies. The motor homes and campers of Slab City are quite sight!
Take time to explore the mountain. It is the most massive piece of folk art I have ever seen. Pathways reveal caves and rooms built into it. Constructed with hay bales and logs, it is an intricate, colorful work with inspirational messages designed into it. There were discoveries to be made at every turn. Tiles, designs, loving wordings, and other symbols were visible through out. My daughter was thrilled to see a small homage to Chris McCandless, the subject of the Jon Krakauer book, "Into the Wild," a book she'd read recently in English class.
Before we got back into the car, my daughter and I took in Salvation Mountain as a whole. A sudden realization came to my daughter, the sight of the place caused another book to pop into her head, "Oh the Places You'll Go!" She was right, it was reminiscent of it both graphically and otherwise. It was quite a place to go!
This is a great park with options for lots of ages. Playstructures, a skate park, enclosed dog park, and splash pad. Good restrooms and even a shower. Large shade structures are great in the summer.