How to have an annual summit
Our family trip to San Juan Capistrano

Our family trip to Joshua Tree National Park

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Hello, friends! We arrived back home after a nine day family trip that included two nights at Joshua Tree National Park and six nights in San Juan Capistrano, both in California. I'll give you a recap today of our trip to Joshua Tree National Park and later this week our trip to San Juan Capistrano.

240325_JoshuaTree_drivingMaeve doing the "cool" hand signs like her brothers!

Remote desert beauty

To drive to Joshua Tree National Park from Arizona you first drive through hours of open desert. There are long stretches without even a gas station in sight. At one point we could see the road stretch out ahead of us for as far as we could see into the low desert mountains. I felt a deep sense of the vast, remote land combined and the extreme environment. The desert conveys a particular kind of unique, stark beauty and over the years I've enjoyed finding more appreciation for it, even if it's not my favorite kind of environment.


Where we stayed, what we ate

We stayed in the small city of Joshua Tree, California (population 7,700) at an AirBnb that was cute, comfortable, and well-located. The house had a hot tub and pool table which I knew the boys would love – and they did! We ended up mostly eating at home but we did get decent takeout pizza from Sam's Indian Food and Pizza (what a combo!) in Joshua Tree (and highly recommend the takeout; the restaurant is small and perhaps not the most desirable dining-in experience). If we'd had more time we would have tried Crossroads Cafe and nearby Pie for the People, or Sky High Pie. On our way out of town I wanted to grab coffee at the hip Joshua Tree Coffee Company...but so did a long line of many other people. Instead we stopped for a drip coffee and delicious pastries at Luna Bakery as we headed out of town.

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Spectacular sights and low expectations

We had one full day to explore Joshua Tree National Park. This is our third national park to visit as a family and my approach with young kids in tow is to consider these tasting trips: as long as we do enough to get a taste of the park then I'm happy. To start our day we drove east to the the nearby small city of Twentynine Palms where we stopped at the Joshua Tree National Park Visitors Center. I always love getting a stamp and sticker for my national park passport and the kids helped me stamp the three stamps into our book.

Our day's itinerary was to enter from the north park entrance in Twentynine Palms, drive a loop in the park, and exit through the west entrance closer to our AirBnB in Joshua Tree. It was the perfect loop and amount of time for us.

The area surrounding Joshua Tree National Park is scrub desert and, at least in my opinion, not particularly beautiful. But once in Joshua Tree the landscape starts to change: small mountains that appear made of piled smooth boulders rise up and soon the twisty Joshua trees (which are actually a yucca) are abundant. The combination of huge boulders and Suess-like Joshua trees is stunning and unlike any other landscape I've seen.


We first drove south to the Cholla (pronounced: choy-ya) Cactus Garden where all of a sudden we were in the middle of a huge swath of spiny cholla cacti. The sun glows through their pale yellow spines making the cacti look almost fuzzy but they are definitely not to be touched!

At first none of the kids even wanted to get out of the car and instead wanted to watch their iPads. Which could have felt like a fail but I went into the trip with an attitude of rolling with whatever came up. See above: low expectations! So Chris and I hopped out for a short walk. Then, by the time we headed back the boys wanted to check out the cacti, and after a while so did Maeve. So we ended up all getting to experience the sight together and even had a great family photo taken.

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For the rest of our time in the park we drove the loop and stopped occasionally to climb on huge boulders. Cedric especially loved climbing and wanted to do it all day. Kids enjoying nature: another parenting win! It was quite windy when we visited and a bit chilly which made long bouts of climbing less enjoyable for Chris and myself, but we fit in as much as we could.

We had planned to stop and walk by the iconic Skull Rock but it's one of the most popular sights and the parking lot was packed. I think we saw it as we drove by though? We had already climbed at a few great spots so we weren't too disappointed. I stopped at a couple more spots on our drive to take photos, and we made the kids look up from their screens to take in the scenery. But otherwise that was our low-key, one-day trip through another of our country's magnificent national parks!


Quirky Joshua Tree

After leaving the park we were back in Joshua Tree, which is quite a quirky place, and we made a stop at the World Famous Crochet Museum. The museum is housed in a remodeled drive-thru photo processing stand (remember getting film developed??) and is stuffed with all the crochet items you can imagine. There is an artsy, quirky yard surrounding the museum that we explored for a while as well and then we were on our way back to the house.

We drove by but did not have time to stop to see Big Josh, a giant fiberglass cowboy standing sentry outside a former gas station turned gift shop. And if you're planning a trip, try to make it  to see the Transmission sculpture, about 20 minutes north of Joshua Tree. We didn't have time on this trip!


Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? Or do you have another national park to recommend, especially in the west? Yosemite is very nigh on my list and I'm hoping we can go in the next 5-ish years. But really I want to see them all!


P.S. A peek at our spring break trip last year to the Grand Canyon, Salt Lake City, and Zion National Park.