A guide to Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Image of Joshua Tree park
Paloma Torres/Staff

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California is home to Joshua Tree National Park, the namesake of the 1987 U2 album and one of my favorite places in the whole world. To the naive eye, it’s a seemingly boundless desert of large rocks, but to the keen observer, Joshua Tree is an eclectic, artistic and vibrant desert, where the yellows are gold and the reds are magenta. It is here where my dad and I drove together one random August afternoon after I had some sort of breakdown due to reasons that I can’t even remember anymore. We drove two hours to sit in silence, simply to feel the coolness of the rocks against our backs while the harsh sun beat down on my stressed self.

What I love most about Joshua Tree is that when you first arrive, you don’t even realize it. This isn’t because of some lack of remarkability; Joshua Tree just doesn’t boast itself. It is humble and grounded: a silent wonder. While it’s known for its national park and various hiking and climbing activities, the town itself is truly a gem. Despite its somewhat underwhelming welcome, when you look close enough, you uncover a bizarrely beautiful little haven.

Hopefully, you will see the bright pink sign that reads “Joshua Tree Coffee Company,” where a cup of coffee just feels superior to all others. Never before had I felt so unduly sophisticated than when I experienced my first sip of Joshua Tree coffee. It was far too acidic and overwhelmingly bitter (granted, I had never tasted coffee before), but I didn’t care: I was in Joshua Tree, and it felt only right to internalize its rugged energy.

To truly experience Joshua Tree for what it is, find yourself a nice big rock and sit for a while. Time moves slowly here; take advantage of that. There’s no hustle and bustle in Joshua Tree. The people who fill its streets are jacks-of-all-trades. They gather Friday nights (pre-COVID-19) in a strangely colorful warehouse to hear local bands play. My family and I were lucky enough to attend one of these concerts during one of our many escapades to this outlandish oasis. Although we so obviously stuck out from the crowd and its loose-fitting, funky and whimsical style, we were immediately welcomed into this world. It wasn’t unnatural, and it wasn’t forced — that’s just the kind of people you encounter here.

At Joshua Tree, you find the artists, the writers, the singers, the rock climbers, the troubled, the meditators, the hipsters, the travelers, the uninspired, the inspired and the father who brings his daughter to see her smile once again. 

Contact Paloma Torres at [email protected].