Palm Springs is known to a lot of people for their beautiful golf resorts and for Coachella, the yearly music festival. However, we went to Palm Springs with a different plan: exploring Joshua Tree and the Wild West. Joshua Tree National Park, just an hour from Palm Springs, is unique as it is a place where two deserts meet and an oasis of flora and fauna. In addition to the famous Joshua tree it’s named after, there are a lot of other plants and trees, like the exotic Cholla cactus and the Yucca tree. During our trip, we also visited Pioneertown and went horseback riding in the Indian Canyons. Both made us feel like we were part of an old Wild West movie.
When our trip to Myanmar got canceled due to Corona virus, we had a back up plan and went on a road trip to Palm Springs. After checking into our hotel in Palm Springs, we get directions from the concierge to the north entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. This is the closest entrance to Palm Springs, and as a result this is were most people enter the park. We however decide to start our explorations from the South entrance at the Cottonwood gate. We are ready to start exploring Joshua Tree and the Wild West.
Cholla Cactus Garden
First we get our map at the visitor center, before we make our first stop at the Cholla Cactus Garden. It’s still quiet as we wander through this surreal cactus forest. There are hundreds of big and little cacti. They are pieces of art that look both unapproachable but yet so vulnerable. Today is a beautiful spring day, with blue skies and the air is starting to warm up. A couple more weeks and the plants that are only starting to show flower buds will be in full bloom. We would have loved to see that.
Arch Rock Trail
Another place we wanted to visit was Arch Rock Trail, but we don’t see it anywhere on our map. However, after a stop to see the first Joshua trees, we stop at a busy parking lot. From the amount of cars, we figure there must be something special here. And as a matter of fact, we see a sign for Arch Rock trail. Although the map didn’t show it, we found it. It is a nice and easy hike. Although we are not particularly impressed with the Arch – we have seen more impressive ones in Arches- we do like the scenery and rock formations.
After Arch rock, we do another hike through Hidden Valley. It is a nice loop of about a mile. But we have to hurry back to the car as dark clouds are starting to move in and we don’t want to get caught in a rain storm. On our way out, make a stop to see one of the oasis mentioned on the map. This oasis is called “The Oasis of Mara” and it is right next to the visitors center. To us it feels a bit manufactured and we are disappointed, not what we expected of an oasis.
Next stop is Pioneertown. Pioneertown is a cute little settlement with a population of 420. It was originally built as motion-picture set and today they still make movies and music videos here. We stroll through main street and peak into the stores and buildings. We picture the town in times of the goldrush and we can see ourselves being part of an old John Wayne movie. Our plan was to have drinks and dinner at Pappy’s and Harriet’s, a local and popular restautant in Pioneertown. But when we try to put our name down for a table, we are told that they are full. Surprising as half the restaurant is empty. Maybe they don’t like strangers like us. So this is where our dream of being part of a movie set ends, at least for today.
Horseback ride in the Indian Canyons
One of the highlights of this trip is our horseback ride in the Indian Canyons. We arrive at Smoke Tree Stables early, as the rides are first come, first serve. After paying for the tour, we watch as they load the horses in the trailer. The ride is in Indian Canyons, which is part of 31,500 acres of Indian reservation land, inhabited by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Our guides unload the horses and assign them to the 6 people on the tour. Our horses are Shorty and Dusty. Shorty and Dusty take us on an unforgettable trip through the 3 canyons: the Andreas, Murray and Palm canyons. They take us up the mountains, through little streams and rivers and finally through a real oasis. This one doesn’t disappoint us and I feel like Lil Nas X or Billy Ray Cyrus in ‘Up town Road”
The attraction of the desert and Palm Springs
From this trip and my past experience, Palm Springs is a great destination in winter and spring. Be prepared when you go in summer: it gets hot. Palm Springs has a charming down town with cute shops and a wide variety of restaurants, from American, to Mexican, Italian and Thai. We tried a variety of food with dinners at Lulu, Kaiser Grill and Tacquila . We had great food and experiences in all three. And if you like Italian ice cream Granucci is a must. Fun fact, the original owner Luigi moved from Italy to the Netherlands and opened his first “ijssalon” in Tilburg in 1929. In conclusion, exploring Joshua Tree and the Wild West was a great trip.
All photo credits Mariel van Tatenhove and Amanda Mena