A Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park

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I love living and working in Los Angeles, but sometimes, the city can get so overwhelming and tiring that a getaway is much needed. So Austin and I packed our bags and some camping gear for a short weekend in Joshua Tree National Park. Here’s a small travel guide I came up with if you only have little time to spare (to be more specific, 36 hours) but want to get the most out of your visit!
DAY ONE: SATURDAY
 
6:00AM: Since Austin is a full-time student and I’m a full-time worker, we left LA just before dawn at 6AM Saturday morning in the hopes of getting there a little before opening hours at 8:00AM
8:30AM: We ended up going to Joshua Tree National Park slightly later than expected. We were greeted by Joshua Trees scattered on the sides of the street. I suggest stopping by the Visitor Center whenever you get the chance. We went before heading to the park, where a crew member gave us a map and instructions on how to get to the next available campsite.
9:30AM: After stressing about not finding a campsite, we locked in a wonderful spot in the White Tank campsite next to some gorgeous rock formations and conveniently located right next to the Arch Rock nature trail. We parked the car next to the campsite, paid for our spot ($15 per night!) and immediately set up camp.
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11:30AM: The tent was built and staked to the ground, we set aside our belongings and rested a bit before heading out to explore the campsite and the rest of the park.
– Arch Rock: This super short .5 mile trail had some gorgeous views of the flat land and the budding desert life residing in the park. The arch rock itself is a sizable arched magma rock, giving it an interesting elbow-like appearance. Joshua trees, cholla cacti, and magma rock formations were scattered in the surrounding area. We even spotted some desert lizards and cottontail rabbits in the distance.
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– Skull Rock: We stopped by after hearing about the hype, but it was mostly just a large slab of magma rock with holes.The surrounding area has some nice rocks to climb and a pathway that takes you to the larger “jumbo rocks”.
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– Key Views: This had a gorgeous view of the south side of the park and a little bit of the Salton Sea. We ate a late lunch of packed sandwiches here and enjoyed as much as we could of the views while trying not to get tossed over by the wind.
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3:30PM: NAP TIME! We utilized the hottest hour of the day to rest and refuel.
5:45PM: If you want to see the sunset at Joshua Tree Park, there’s no better way than to see it from the tallest rock you can find. Our campsite had beautiful rocks, so we did a bit of exploring and climbing and watched the sunset together.
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7:00PM: Dinner time! We brought freeze dried food from REI. We got Thai Style Chicken with Noodles, which was surprisingly delicious (and affordable). Two servings was the perfect amount for the two of us. We cooked outside with a portable gas stove and a small pot, and ate in the car to avoid all of the bugs and tiny mice that were popping up at the smell of the warm, tasty food.
8:00PM: Sky’s the Limit Observatory. A must-go for all the star lovers and astronomy nerds out there. Joshua Tree Park is the perfect place to see the billions of stars in the night sky, a feat you cannot see in large cities like LA. It is one of the most exhilarating sights to ever see, especially if you have been deprived with the sight of stars for the longest time.
The Sky’s the Limit Observatory is located just south of the northern entrance to Joshua Tree. Once you arrive, there will be people who work for the observatory that are willing to share their telescopes and as well as their expertise in the astronomy field. Stargazing was definitely on my list of things to do during my stay at Joshua Tree National Park and Sky’s the Limit Observatory made it that much more enlightening and entertaining. Austin and I stayed for about two hours admiring the stars, taking a piece of the stars’ history with us.

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DAY TWO: SUNDAY
9:30AM: After a cool windy night of sleep, we took some time to pack up our belongings to head over to Cholla Cactus Garden.
10:00AM: Cholla Cactus Garden lives up to its name. WARNING: Although beautiful, their pesky thorns can pierce your skin. I was an unfortunate culprit of their spiky needles while hiking in the backwoods section of Arch Rock. Although easy to remove, they do hurt once pierced, so beware of where you step!
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11:00AM: We ended our trip with a spur-in-the-moment decision to take the Cottonwood Spring’s Mastodon Peak Trail, which is a 4 mile hike loop, which is supposed to lead you to the peak and the Mastodon mines. There were plenty of beautiful views and wildlife for sight seeing and photo ops. However we couldn’t find the actual Mastodon Peak due to terrible sign directions when we reached the last stretch of the trail. Unfortunately we had to turn back after attempts to find the rest of the rail. If you ever decide to take this trail, make sure to bring a more detailed map with you. Although the maps we received at the Visitor Center were helpful for pinpointing landmarks and entrances, they were incapable of showing us small scale hiking directions.
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1:00PM: After our semi-successful hike, we had to say goodbye to the desert of joshua trees, cacti, rock formations and animal life.
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Overall it was a very different yet refreshing experience. Living and working in Los Angeles takes up a lot of mental energy, so it was nice to finally get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and use the national park as a place to relax and enjoy the simple things in life. I definitely would love to come back again for the beautiful hikes and the sublime stars.