City Escape: Palm Springs, California

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

With the suburbs of the Coachella Valley expanding in every direction, there’s one place they can’t grow: Joshua Tree National Park. The Mojave Desert’s endless sand, crimson rocks, and indigo skies combine to create an eerie solitude. Joshua trees, cholla, and desert flowers erupt from the barren soil in a triumph of nature. And the roads are great fun, too!

Length 

Approximately 187 miles

Meet-up Spot 

Aspen Mills Bakery, 555 S Sunrise Way, Palm Springs, CA, (760) 323-3123. Best croissants and muffins in town.

Lunch Stop

There’s no place to buy food in the park, so take a lunch box from Aspen Mills: sandwich to order, potato salad, kosher pickle, cookie, and after-dinner mint for $ 9.95. There are picnic tables throughout the park. Take plenty of water!

Scenery (4 out of 5)

Admire the dramatic beauty of the 4,000 wind turbines that dominate the skyline in the Morongo Valley below San Gorgonio Pass. And bathe in the dramatic light only a desert can offer: take Keys View Road to the lookout for breathtaking views over the Coachella Valley and Salton Sea.

Traffic (3 out of 5)

Interstate 10 is always busy. Though California 62 is a major highway, traffic is usually light. In the park, you may find congestion around the many attractions. Watch for cars and motorhomes making erratic stops and sudden changes of direction.

Difficulty (2 out of 5)

None of these roads offer any unusual hazards, though it’s easy to allow exuberance to overcome discretion in the many sweeping turns on Pinto Basin Road above the Cottonwood Visitor Center. 

Road Conditions (3 out of 5)

Traffic notwithstanding, the roads in the park are well engineered and maintained. But apart from the heavy flow on Interstate 10 and some rough surfaces on California 62, the other major hazard is tumbleweed.

Points of Interest

  1. Windmill Tours. Take the 90-minute bus/walk guided tour of the windmills at the San Gorgonio Pass. These turbines are capable of providing the electrical energy needs of the entire Coachella Valley. $ 49 per person, seniors $ 45, 8-18 years $ 24. www.windmilltours.com
  2. Pioneertown. Built in the 1940s, Pioneertown was originally a live-in Western movie set. Though damaged by fire in 2006, most of the buildings were saved. Stroll the “Mane Street” and check out Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a favorite among musicians. From Yucca Valley, drive four miles northwest on Pioneertown Road. 
  3. General Patton Memorial Museum. Located at Chiriaco Summit, 10 miles east of the park entrance on Interstate 10, the museum has a large collection of militaria, including tanks and historical weapons, and an exhibition of World War I trench art. www.generalpattonmuseum.com