joshua tree a magical desert getaway

This is a place where the photos can say it all. Don't come here if you want a 5 star hotel, upscale restaurants and a spa day...come here if you want to explore nature, stargaze, camp, hike, rock climb then finish the day at a local saloon.

Everyone knows Joshua Tree because that's the name of the National Park and also the town, but the surrounding desert towns also have a lot to offer. During our nights in the desert, we stayed in Pioneertown and Yucca Valley. Let's start with...


I can't get over how fake the motel looks! It's too perfect. Every simplistic detail of the Pioneertown Motel comes together in the best way to give it an authentic desert feel. I love that behind the motel the desert just goes on for days while in front, just one parking lot over, is Pappy + Harriet's! Pappy + Harriet's is the spot for good food, awesome live music and great atmosphere. It is always packed! Then there's the "town" of Pioneertown, which is basically just an old set for a Western movie, so for me it was just a playground for taking photos. 😍 It really is back to basics here so there's tons of time for relaxation and it's nice and quiet out here in the desert. πŸ‘ŒπŸΌ


Yucca Valley has lots more going on than Pioneertown, i.e. a grocery store and a shop or two. 😝 The desert is an escape! Like I said, it's not for fancy dinners and shopping. However, the shops are really cool, our favorite was High Desert Home for the vibes and Hoof and the Horn for some awesome clothes and accessories. I got the cutest cactus ring there. πŸ™ŒπŸΌπŸŒ΅

bracelet: @birdandstone

Frontier is the local coffee shop and it's the perfect spot to post up for a while. They've got coffee, breakfast & lunch, beer and live music occasionally. We actually ended up spending lots of time in our Yucca Valley airbnb because it was such perfection and had views for days.


Obviously the best part of Joshua Tree is the national park. You pay $25 to have a pass on your car for 7 days and you can come and go all hours of the day and night. The park is SO beautiful!! There are so many trails throughout and a lot of them have their own unique attraction. Our first stop was Cholla Cactus Gardens during golden hour. You're driving through the park and you'll see joshua trees all around...then it turns to rocks...then all of a sudden there's thousands of cholla cacti! It's so cool to see the landscapes and vegetation change.

My best advice; head into the park at sunrise. I think this was the highlight of our trip. We got into the park just before 6am and drove through as the sun was rising. We would pull over at random stops just to watch the sky change color and climb some rocks. It was so peaceful at this hour, the only other people out there also had huge cameras and were just enjoying the lack of crowds and the perfect light. As I was setting up my tripod on the side of the road, we heard a coyote howl. Just a few minutes after we heard squeaking and a group of cute howls and realized there were little coyote babies nearby!!! It was so awesome, I looked around and in the distance I could see some tiny little pups running around. It was the best. We also saw some rabbits and a kit fox! Definitely worth waking up for.

The map they give you at the entrance to the national park is actually really helpful. We checked out Barker Dam and Wall Street Mill, both easy 1-2 mile trails. Barker Dam was super cool because you're walking through the dry desert and all of a sudden there's a watering hole surrounded by rocks. It would actually be a sweet place to post up and lay in the sun all day. πŸŒ΅β˜€οΈ

We also checked out Skull Rock which was cool but we missed out on Arch Rock and Keys View, which I would do next time for sure.

skull rock

I could go on for days about the park so basically if you're in Joshua Tree just spend all day out there because there's so much to see! And just know that when you get tired, the Joshua Tree Saloon is right at the entrance of the park with some good food (really good ribs) and cold beers to re-energize you! πŸ˜†

other noteworthy spots in Joshua Tree

  • Joshua Tree Coffee Company
  • Crossroads Cafe
  • Pie for the People
  • Natural Sister's Cafe

Last but not least, THE STARS! ✨🌌 Seriously stay up and see the stars because it's so dark out there and they are extra bright! We got super lucky and were there during a new moon so literally there wasn't even moonlight in the sky, so you can imagine how dark it was. It was perfect for me because one of my goals this trip was to try some night photography and capture the night sky. I think I did alright. πŸ™ƒ

That's about it! It was such an awesome experience and the perfect getaway from LA (crazy that it's only two hours away!) I'll leave ya with the overload of photos I still have yet to share... πŸ“ΈπŸ€™πŸΌ

created by @emilymentes. to see more of my photography (and my other travel guides!), visit emilyelisabeth.net or check out @emilyelisabethphotography on Instagram.

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