Joshua Tree National Park, The Integraton and PioneertownNovember 8, 2010 1 Comment
Located not far from Palm Springs, CA in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park offers an awesome escape and an other-worldly look that will be sure to fascinate children of all ages. From the trees themselves with their up-reaching, arm like branches to the ochre rocks in mysterious shapes scattered throughout the desert, the scenery is an experience no one will forget. Giant boulders that look like they fell from the moon, wild flowers in season, palm oasis, and a view of climbers sprawled spider like across the rocks, all make for a great visit.
When our children were very small, we enjoyed simply driving through the park pointing out the strangely shaped rocks and the groves of unique trees. Pull over to the side of the road, roll down the windows, and enjoy the silence and the desert heat for a few minutes. Watch the stars pop out in a deep aqua sky just after sunset. But from the moment our kids could sit up in their strollers we began to take them along the twelve short nature trails, many of them paved, to see all the scenery up close. As in most National Parks, the visitor center can provide a Junior Ranger booklet which is great fun for slightly older children. A good place to start for all ages is the quarter mile Skull Rock Loop. This easy trail provides wonderful views of rock formations. Nearby, Split Rock has a pleasant picnic area and more interesting rock views. Another brief and easy trail is the Keys View Trail which offers an expansive look at the desert floor and Coachella valley and the Salton Sea below. While sunset views are spectacular from this point, mid-afternoon the view can be hazy. A half mile walk takes you to the Desert Queen Ranch, homesteaded by immigrant William Keys in the early nineteen hundreds. The ranch, school and store he built are intact; you can explore the area in a ninety minute, easy and interesting ranger-led walking tour. Make reservations at the visitor’s center. Our kids were fascinated by this living history. The Cholla Cactus Garden in the south-eastern end of the park is also a wonderful ramble, filled with interesting plants. Closer to the town of Twenty Nine Palms, The Oasis of Mara is behind the Oasis Visitor Center. Here a paved half mile loop trail is stroller friendly, and features signage that describes history and scenery in the area.
Hungry for lunch? Stop in the town of Joshua Tree and check out the Crossroads Cafe for salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. Casual and cozy, you can also get lunch to go.
Outside the park boundries, The Integratron continues the otherworldly feeling the park inspires. This dome structure offers thirty-minute “sound baths” on many weekends, during which dome preservationist strike crystal bowls to create a peaceful wash of sound in the acoustically perfected dome. Our toddlers loved lying on the floor on a mat inside the structure listening to pleasant but alien sounds. The structure was built by an aerospace engineer reputedly following instructions communicated by visitors from Venus in 1953; and the result does look like something blue-printed on another planet. It’s a memorable desert sight even if you don’t take a sound bath.
Just across the road from the Integraton is the Gubler Orchid Farm, a large, fragrant and visitor- friendly orchid farm open Monday through Saturday for tours. The flowers are lovely and families are welcomed to learn about the different types of orchids and growing conditions as well as simply being allowed to smell the flowers.
Just north of Highway 62 and the town of Yucca Valley, you’ll find Pioneertown. Built as a Hollywood Western movie set in 1946, to accommodate stars of the time like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Bud Abbott (of Abbott and Costello fame). While Mane Street is private property, it’s always open to visitors to explore the dusty store fake store fronts; on weekends spring through fall, mock gunfights are staged here. Pioneertown also includes a small motel, not elegant but comfortable and furnished with kitschy antiques. It’s inexpensive and many rooms have small, spotless kitchenettes. Across the “corral” from the motel is Pappy and Harriet’s, a well known restaurant and entertainment venue with blues bands, folk singers, and country acts the dominant stylists. Kids are more than welcome at the long plank tables, and their french fries are awesome.
We saw many a babe-in-arms dancing in their parents’ arms to the afternoon band on a sunny Sunday. The restaurant looks like an expansive miner’s cabin with its rough wooden walls and uneven floors. Tri-tip, burgers and fish are grilled outdoors.
Our favorite entertainment venue however is the Pioneertown Bowl, built to entertain those Western movie stars back in the ‘40′s. Open only on the weekends, you’ll love the four antique bowling lanes and old fashioned pinball machines. On the wall artist Wallace Roland Stark painted some fantastic cowboy murals. The owners say Roy Rogers himself christened the lanes, rolling the first ball down lane number one, wearing cowboy boots. Beautifully preserved, it’s a slice of life from another era, and a truly enjoyable one at that.
If the Stark murals have inspired you to take a look at some more art, check out the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum near the town of Joshua Tree. This seven plus acre outdoor site features more than sixty unusual assemblage sculptures created by this desert loving artist. You can find other examples of Purifoy’s work in art museums across the country; here they embrace the desert landscape. Kids will enjoy the treasure-hunt-like viewing aspect of the pieces and the pleasure of viewing art in the open air.
From man-made art to the nature sculptured pinnacles and boulders of Joshua Tree National Park, your family will love spending time in the visual wonderland of this desert community.