Tips for the best experience: Plan to spend an entire day exploring. Bring a lunch to enjoy while hiking or in one of the many picnic areas. Keep your eye on the weather and dress for the occasion. Visit during the week, if possible, to avoid crowds. Bring your BAM card in case of emergencies!
On a Sunday morning in late June, I set out due East from Riverside, California, for Joshua Tree National Park. Getting there was half the fun, as highway 62 climbs in elevation through the Colorado and Mojave Deserts into the Little San Bernadino Mountains. The rolling hills and cliffs are chock full of wind turbines in every direction before giving way to a twisted narrow canyon, which spits me out into the towns of Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley and finally Joshua Tree.
A right turn off Twenty Nine Palms highway sent me directly towards the West entrance station of Joshua Tree National Park. As I snaked through sprawling residential properties on a winding road, I wondered if I was actually heading towards the Park or if I had made a wrong turn. I knew I was on the right track when several roadside signs were posted, warning me to use the East entrance to avoid delays. Of course, I rebelled and chose to continue instead. By the time I got to the Park, the heat had become noticeable. Luckily, I didn’t experience much traffic or waiting in line at the entrance, just a few minutes with my engine off and I was on my way.
Piles of Boulders at Joshua Tree
I made it into the Park at 10:00 am, with a strict plan to leave by 2:00 pm – I wanted to make it to my hotel in Death Valley before sunset. I knew from my Southern California Butler Map that the main paved roads through the park were rated orange and red, which meant they were spectacular choices for motorcycles. The map the Park staff gave me at the entrance also showed several dirt roads for those with a more adventurous spirit. My goal was to ride every inch of those roads as possible in order to experience the entire park from the seat of my 2019 Yamaha MT-09. I managed to traverse the entire park on every paved road and about half of the dirt roads over the course of three hours, only stopping for an occasional photo when the surroundings were too beautiful not to share.
Joshua Tree National Park is home to some of the most interesting rock formations in the world. I would best describe them as large piles of boulders as if a giant child had haphazardly left them thereafter playing in the dirt. Other areas of the park are home to towers of smooth golden rock faces with cracks and crevices that beg to be explored. The peaks and valleys throughout the park make it visually interesting in every direction. The “4×4” dirt roads are the most fun to explore if you’ve got the means to get through, but even the paved roads make for a fun adventure that does not disappoint. There are ample opportunities for hiking, picnicking, or just pulling over for a few minutes to enjoy the silence and scenery.
Cracks And Crevices
After three hours of sightseeing through my handlebars, I spotted a large rock formation just off the edge of the main road that provided a cool shaded nook for a heat-soaked traveler like myself. I decided it was a great place to take a break, let my bike cool down, and plan my route out of the park and onto my next adventure. I climbed into the shade created by the rock looming overhead; I was alone in the high desert with only the sound of the wind as my companion. I couldn’t help but imagine how many before me had taken a much-needed summer nap in that exact spot. It was a glorious respite from the heat and the perfect way to end my ride through Joshua Tree National Park.
Things I would do differently:
I skipped all the visitor centers in exchange for some exploring off the beaten path, so I certainly didn’t get a full education on the park’s history or offerings. If I had planned more than a half-day trip, I could have gone hiking on any of the highly recommended trails in the park. I’ll have to save that for next time. Of course, June was a bold choice of time to visit. I’d love to return in winter and spend an entire day hiking, picnicking and riding around the park without fear of heat exhaustion. An overnight camping trip would also be on the top of the “to-do-next-time” list.