Top things to do outside of Joshua Tree National Park

Steve "Shanghai" Brown

Sure, you've wanted to go visit Joshua Tree National Park and the hipster enclave of Joshua Tree. But while you can explore the national park for the rest of your life and still not see it all, what else is there to do - outside of the park - during your visit? Plenty.

Goffs CA, Goffs Schoolhouse, Joshua Tree Retreat Center, Coyote Hole Canyon, Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center, Palms Restaurant, Pioneertown, Amboy Crater, Amboy, Camp Iron Mountain, Triangle Park, Sagebrush Press Book Store, Art Queen, Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, Old Schoolhouse Museum, 29 Palms Inn, Giant Rock CA, Gubler Orchids, Integratron, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Desert Christ Park

  • Goffs CA, United States

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  • Goffs Schoolhouse, United States

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      Goffs has the Old Schoolhouse Museum and a lot of other historical things from around the desert. Check before you go - the place is run by volunteers and is not always open to the public. They have some great events there too, especially their rendezvous in October, with a working 10-stamp ore mill, and an outdoor barbecue. Wonderful people, great history, beautiful area.

  • Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Joshua Tree, United States

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      Home to The Institute of Mentalphysics, founded by Ding Le Mei (Edwin Dingle), the Joshua Tree Retreat Center is a fascinating local attraction to explore (check in at the bookstore to make sure you're not intruding on a retreat or classes). The center's buildings were designed and built by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. While the retreat center no longer hosts large festivals (after Childish Gambino's weekend there, things kind of got out of hand for a while), there still are spiritual classes held on a regular basis, as well as spiritual retreats, and all are open for visitor participation (some require advance registration).

  • Coyote Hole Canyon in Joshua Tree, United States

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      Coyote Hole is easily accessible with a short hike from the southern boundaries of the town of Joshua Tree. That's a blessing, if you're looking for an easy hike to see the Native American petroglyphs found in the canyon; and it's a curse - its accessibility has made it vulnerable to vandalism. Nonetheless, it's great to contemplate the presence of Native American tribes here in Joshua Tree for thousands of years before hipsters even existed.

  • Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center in Twentynine Palms, United States

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      Our desert night skies are a true delight. If you're born and raised in Los Angeles, you're forgiven for believing there are only six stars in the night sky. Surprise! There are six billion stars waiting for you in the Milky Way! And Sky's the Limit Observatory offers regular weekend programs, usually free to the public, for night sky viewing with local astronomers, on the border of Joshua Tree National Park. While the night sky isn't as dark and deep as it was 50 years ago, it's still a joy to reconnect with the Milky Way and all our celestial objects.

  • Palms Restaurant in Twentynine Palms, United States

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      You may have heard about Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, the legendary adobe roadhouse in nearby Pioneertown, but whereas Pappy & Harriet's now is filled with throngs of visitors out doing the OC version of honky tonkin', The Palms is the real deal. Still far enough to not be entirely overrun with tourists, you can have the authentic desert roadhouse experience out here in Wonder Valley, on the road to Amboy. The Palms also offers an eclectic range of musical offerings, making this an awesome stop for worldly desert travelers. But beware - this remains the Wild West with a twist - shape-shifting reptilian aliens have been spotted partying hard here on weekends.

  • Pioneertown, United States

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      Planning a trip to Joshua Tree? No visit to JT should go without a stop to amble down Mane Street in Pioneertown. The town was built in the 1940s by Hollywood. That's right - it's not a "historic" Old West town. It's a real-life movie set. Pioneertown was built with real buildings though, not just facades. Hollywood once shot so many westerns here that it was not uncommon to have a movie filming on one side of Mane Street and a TV show filming on the other. Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy - you name it - they were here. Roy Rogers threw out the first ball at the Pioneertown Bowl. Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace has hosted everyone from Jewel, Cyndi Lauper, Robert Plant, Leon Russell, Eric Burdon (who was a longtime Joshua Tree resident), and Sir Paul McCartney, among many, many others. You can find beautiful handcrafted pottery at MazAmar Art Pottery, and fun trinkets and souvenirs in the shops along Mane Street. Old West re-enactments are common on weekend afternoons in season, and The Red Dog Saloon has been serving up tacos at LA prices lately. Tips: Best time to visit is high noon, of course. If you want to have a open pit mesquite grilled dinner at Pappy & Harriet's, plan on making reservations for dinner and/or shows there - they've long been "discovered" and are often booked solid. We locals don't go as often because it gets so crowded, but it's always a good time. Enjoy the margaritas in Mason jars, and buy a round for Pappy and Buzz Gamble.

  • Amboy Crater, United States

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      Volcanoes in the Mojave? You bet! Here at the Amboy Crater, you can hike into a volcanic crater, and even walk along the rim (great views!). Watch for rattlesnakes - they like the warmth of the volcanic lava flows. But also watch for desert iguanas and chuckwallas - fun characters who are almost as curious about you as you may be about them. A great picnic spot, and there's good train watching nearby too. Wildflowers can be nice in spring, but do NOT attempt to hike here in summer. It takes a long time sometimes to find the bodies.

  • Amboy, United States

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      Get your kicks on Route 66! Come out to the Mojave Trails National Monument to explore America's Mother Road. Stop at Roy's for a snack and to get a photo of their famous sign (which now lights up at night again!). This is where Mad Mike made some of his famous rocketship launches funded by the Flat Earth Society, and you've seen Amboy in some of your favorite Hollywood films too. In an emergency, you can gas up here too - the prices are even higher than in LA!

  • Camp Iron Mountain in Twentynine Palms, United States

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      When World War II began, General George Patton brought US Army troops out to the California deserts to train for the planned invasion of North Africa. The far-flung network of bases that trained tens of thousands of troops became known as the Desert Training Center. Here you can still visit the remnants of Camp Iron Mountain. Look for the chapel wall and Patton's flagpole, and listen for the sound of Willy's Jeeps, halftracks, and Sherman tanks. You're now exploring the Mojave Trails National Monument!

  • Triangle Park in Yucca Valley, United States

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      Just a brief stop if you'd like to grab a selfie with a sabretooth tiger. Proof that you never know what you'll find in the hi-desert if you look. Have a fun adventure!

  • Sagebrush Press Book Store in Yucca Valley, United States

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      Like books? Looking for adventure? Look no further. Sagebrush Press Book Store offers giant canyons of books to explore with fun, knowledgeable owners. Look for hard to find desert titles, or past copies of Desert magazine - or......?

  • Art Queen in Joshua Tree, United States

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      When you're visiting Joshua Tree, make sure to include the blocks east of the intersection of Park Boulevard along Route 62, the Twentynine Palms Highway. Here you'll find the Art Queen complex, with artist Shari Elf's studio, installation art from Randy Polumbo, exhibits at Art Queen, La Matadora Gallery, the World Famous Crochet Museum, and the Beauty Bubble Hair Salon and Museum. After you've explored the Art Queen, check out the shops nearby, visit The Station, and grab a bite to eat and libtations to wash it down with at the Joshua Tree Saloon.

  • Pioneertown Mountains Preserve in Pioneertown, United States

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      A great place for a hike up Pipes Canyon, where the Mojave meets the mountains. There's a whole different kind of habitat here along the creekbed and some great wildflower viewing in spring. Look for Native American petroglyphs and picnic at the old stone cottage. The Pioneertown Mountains Preserve is a private preserve, run by The Wildlands Conservancy.

  • Old Schoolhouse Museum in Twentynine Palms, United States

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      The Old Schoolhouse Museum is a great place to dive into the world of early hi-desert life, from prospectors in the Old Dale and New Dale mining districts, to the early homesteaders of Twentynine Palms. The museum hosts great lecture series and special events, including the annual Weed Show - a true desert classic.

  • 29 Palms Inn in Twentynine Palms, United States

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      While the nearby Oasis Visitor Center for Joshua Tree National Park offers a nature trail through the park's portion of the Oasis of Mara, the best place to experience the oasis is on the grounds of the historic 29 Palms Inn, which has been operated by the same family since 1928. Here, you can see the last remaining pond at the Oasis of Mara, which once hosted Native American settlements (see the nearby Chemehuevi Indian Cemetery), prospectors, and homesteaders. You can walk the Inn's Faultline Gardens, where they grow produce for their restaurant guests, enjoy a mural, watch the turtles and occasional wildlife that comes to the pond, and enjoy a lunch, dinner, or just cocktails poolside, at this classic desert inn.

  • Giant Rock CA, United States

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      If you want to go to Giant Rock, it is advisable that you drive a high clearance vehicle, preferably 4WD (not always necessary, but it can come in handy). Giant Rock, one of the world's largest free-standing boulders, was once home (under the rock) to George Van Tassel, who lived here with his family. Hollywood legends would fly out and land on the dry lake bed nearby to enjoy a slice of pie made by George's wife, and to talk alien technology with George. Howard Hughes is reputed to have brought George some of Nikola Tesla's journals as a gift. Van Tassel was a UFO contactee (evidently the aliens hadn't begun abducting people in the 1950s), and built the nearby Integratron with technology provided by the Venutians. He held the Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention from 1953 to 1978, with as many as 10,000 people attending each year. In 2000, a part of Giant Rock split off, leading many new age folks to claim that was part of a prophecy for the millennium to come. It was actually more likely to have happened as the result of campers building a large bonfire under that side of the rock on a freezing winter's night. Today, Giant Rock is a base for off-roaders and campers and there are ongoing problems with trash, graffiti, and vandalism. But it's a fun stop for local hi-desert history.

  • Gubler Orchids, United States

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      A long-standing family business growing orchids and carnivorous plants in greenhouses. Home to the annual Orchid Festival, and a great place to take a tour, see the orchids that are shipped all over the world, and maybe bring home an orchid or Venus flytrap.

  • Integratron, United States

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      The hi-desert has a lot of UFO connections, and this dome-shaped building exemplifies one of the more famous. Created by George Van Tassel (remember this name - it will come up a lot out here), the Integratron was designed - by Venutians - to act as a large negative ionization chamber that would rejuvenate one's cellular structure to keep you perpetually young. Unfortunately, the Venutians did not give George any funding to build the project, so it took him years to get it ready for operation. Then, he mysteriously died, and men in black dismantled and removed the technology. Today, you can schedule a crystal bowl sound bath at the Integratron, enjoying the excellent accoustics of the dome, and drift into your own state of consciousness where you may begin to receive communications from the Venutians.

  • Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, United States

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      Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is part of the Sand to Snow National Monument, and is a great place to go hiking and birdwatching. It is an unusual desert oasis, where the existence of water leads to an abundance of life. There is an oasis boardwalk here that is accessible for all and suitable for smaller children (though if you bring children, please keep an eye on them as there have been bear, cougar, bobcat, and rattlesnake sightings here).

  • Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, United States

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      Noah Purifoy, was teaching art at the Watts Tower Art Center, which he co-founded, when the Watts Riots/Uprising began in 1965. He heard a commotion outside the center and caught a glimpse of someone tossing a molotov cocktail at the police. Arts class was canceled for the day. After the uprising, Noah and Judson Powel gathered up several tons of debris from the riots and created about 50 works of assemblage art. The exhibit, 66 Signs of Neon, traveled the country. Noah's reputation as one of the country's leading African-American artists was established. In 1989, Noah was given land to work on in north Joshua Tree by artist friends who noted that his assemblage work needed more room than LA provided. Over the years, Noah created dozens of assemblage art installations on his desert acreage. In 2004, journalist Steve Brown interviewed Noah a week prior to Purifoy's death. Noah had dreams of hosting informal artist gatherings and Brown had begun inviting desert artists to begin these, when he was notified of Noah's death. Today, a foundation continues to maintain Noah's work, though preserving outdoor assemblage art created with found objects is a difficult task. Noah was always more interested in the artistic process rather than the end result. You can explore the grounds, but please be respectful to the memory of this great creative spirit. Look for signs of social justice and racism that are addressed in some of his works. A great spot for photographers, especially at dawn and sunset.

  • Desert Christ Park in Yucca Valley, United States

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      Desert Christ Park was created as a park dedicated to world peace. It began in 1951 when Reverend Eddie Garver, the "desert parson," heard about a five-ton statue of Jesus, created by Antone Martin. Martin had wanted to place his statue of Christ on the rim of the Grand Canyon, but the National Park Service declined. The story of the "unwanted Christ" got out, and Garver offered five acres in Yucca Valley as a home. The story of the unwanted Christ's installation on the hills of Yucca Valley was picked up by Life Magazine that year, and Desert Christ Park was dedicated on Easter Sunday, 1951. Over the next decade, Martin filled the acres with biblical scenes. After his death in 1961, the park has had a rather biblical history of its own, as a cultural treasure that was shunned by town government (the ACLU had threatened to sue the Town of Yucca Valley over it's ownership of a religious park), then it has endured earthquakes, vandalism, and the neglect of the community it helped put on the map. Now, a dedicated nonprofit organization supports the ongoing maintenance and restoration of Desert Christ Park, which continues to greet visitors from around the globe. It's a great spot for photographers, especially at dawn and dusk.