This time, we ventured to Palm Springs/Desert to visit Joshua Tree National Park. The drive took us a bit longer than expected, around 11 hours, including a few breaks, one of which was at Harris Ranch. The busy Christmas season added to our travel time.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Palm Desert. My decision was partly influenced by my new Hilton Surpass card, as I'm keen on collecting Hilton points. The hotel met our expectations, maintaining the reliable quality of Hampton Inn. The staff were friendly, and the pool area was quite pleasant. Despite it being December, the pool water was comfortably warm for some afternoon swimming, though it did feel too cool for night-time swims.
During our visit to Joshua Tree National Park, we explored all its entrances: entering from the north and exiting from the west on our first day, and entering from the south and exiting from the west on the second day. On the first day, we also stopped by Pioneertown, which is conveniently located near the Park's northwest gate. The town was smaller than we expected, yet it was fascinating to see its Western-style buildings. It's still used as a production studio, though we didn't get to see any filming taking place.
As for Joshua Tree National Park itself, I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed. This might be due to my previous experiences visiting other renowned National Parks like Arches, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Death Valley. Many of the popular spots in Joshua Tree seemed to be less impressive or somewhat similar to those I had seen in other parks.
Yet, there were two highlights that really captured my attention. First was the Joshua Tree itself. Interestingly, I discovered it's not actually a tree but a type of yucca. I had previously seen Joshua Trees on my way to the Grand Canyon, but the sight of numerous Joshua Trees dotting the expansive, barren landscapes here was truly captivating.
The other remarkable spot was the Cholla Cactus Garden. The scene there was unlike anything I've ever encountered. It's astonishing how picturesque the cacti appeared. Approaching the dense collection of cacti felt almost magical; although there was no music, it was as if an alluring Siren's call surrounded me.
What I was most looking forward to at Joshua Tree National Park was astrophotography – I had envisioned capturing the Milky Way alongside the iconic trees. Unfortunately, the timing coincided with an almost full moon, which cast too much light and created shadows at night, which was not ideal for my intended shot. Nevertheless, I managed to take some incredible night photographs. It's astounding how well a modern smartphone camera, like my new iPhone 15 Pro Max, can perform in night photography.
I had often heard that Palm Springs is a quintessential resort town in the greater Los Angeles area, and my visit confirmed this. The streets were immaculately clean and well-maintained, and the array of shops and restaurants was impressive. One standout experience was the Palm Springs Air Museum – it far exceeded my expectations, offering a fascinating glimpse into aviation history.
This trip added another 1,300 miles to our year-end road adventures. As for my bumper sticker collection, it has now found a new home on the side windows of my car. Reflecting on this journey, it's clear that each mile traveled and each new experience adds not just to our physical journey but also to our family's tapestry of memories. These road trips have become more than just vacations; they're a way for us to connect, explore, and create stories that we'll cherish for years to come.