California Road Trip 2010: Joshua Tree

Once we had successfully fed ourselves and negotiated our way out of LA, our first stop was Joshua Tree National Park.  I am a bit embarrassed to admit this but I had never actually seen a picture of a Joshua tree until we came upon them in the park.  They’re totally fascinating and strange and wonderous, even the babies:

And when they grow up, they are, simply put, Seussian:

The Yucca brevifolia species belongs to the genus Yucca in the Agavacae family. It is tree-like, reflected in its common names: Joshua tree, Yucca palm, Tree yucca, and Palm tree yucca.  It is native to southwestern North America in California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, where is is confined to the Mojave Desert between 300 and 1800 metres.

Being in the park is very otherworldly – it’s like being in a Dr Seuss book.  Everything looks vaguely fake, it’s *so* unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

(no, he’s not sitting in the tree but it’s kind of a cool photo that makes him look like he is!)

According to Wikipedia: The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Bible story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.

The park is also dotted with strange rock formations.  Formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the earth’s surface and erosion from groundwater, these gigantic spheres again look like they belong on another planet.

We spent a fascinating day tootling around the park, taking in the sights from the car and also on foot – there are a number of short hikes (perfect for the 100F+ temperatures) and it was truly unlike anything I have ever experienced.

But what about the EATS, I hear you ask!!!

Well on our first night, we arrived around 8.30pm after a LONG day’s driving and negotiating LA traffic and literally a stone’s throw from our motel was this:

Hard to resist, huh? 😉

On closer inspection, we realised it was, in fact, a “saloon” (a word which for people born in Australia conjured up images of gun-slinging cowboys busting through the swinging doors of a bar in some crappy Western movie on a Sunday afternoon). The Joshua Tree Saloon.

A bonus for those of us starving from hours on the road –  this saloon serves food!

In true saloon style, upon entering we were faced with a row of men sitting at the bar, all of whose heads turned to look at us when we entered (though, I am sad to say, not through swinging saloon doors!). It was like something out of a (crappy Western) film!  But most definitely not a place to take photos of the food.  There are some places where you have to sit and soak up the atmosphere instead of focusing on the food photography and this was most definitely one of them.  We ate passable grilled cheese, grilled chicken and southwestern sandwiches and a burger -all of which were inhaled in about two seconds. Oh and there was beer. A lot of it. Driving/ navigating/ being a backseat driver – it’s all very thirsty work.

We were fortunate enough to be there on a Friday night – “DJ and Dancing”.  And even more fortunate to find ourselves in the company of some lovely “laydeez” (in this case, it can *only* be spelled like that) out for some good timez, some tunez and some mooves (sic).  To say it was a spectacle is a gross understatement.  All I will say is that the website’s promise of “Great Food, Cool Libations and Dancing/Fun” is one they keep.  It might just be “the best little watering hole in the desert”.  After the fact, I checked out some online reviews – these made me laugh!

Joshua Tree Saloon
61835 29 Palms Hwy
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
(760) 366-2250

Joshua Tree Saloon on Urbanspoon

The next morning, before heading out to the park, we went to the visitor’s centre to orient ourselves and plan our day.  Right next door, we spotted the whimsically (yet dubiously) named “Park Rock Café” where we figured we might as well chance our luck with breakfast.

A chance worth taking, it turns out – look at these awesome breakfasts:

Breakfast sandwich with bacon, eggs and cheese served with fruit salad; Granola with almonds, yoghurt, honey and fresh fruit; Veggie breakfast sandwich with tomato, cheese, eggs and avocado.

Served with amazing coffees, this was a treat where we were least expecting it.  Around $10/person will set you up with a freshly-prepared breakfast and you will be ready for a day of adventures.

Park Rock Café
6554 Park Blvd
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
(760) 366-3622

Park Rock Cafe on Urbanspoon

After a day in the park, a nap and a swim, we headed out to find something other than “saloon fare”.  We scored some authentic Indian food at “Sam’s Pizza” (because what else would you name your Indian restaurant in the middle of Joshua Tree?), as recommended by our Indian born and bred hotel manager.  A small, family run restaurant, Sam’s serves what can only be called an eclectic selection of food: Indian, pizzas and “American” food (subs and hot sandwiches).

Neil and I ordered off the Indian menu:

Top left: Lamb vindaloo and steamed rice
Top right: Naan
Bottom left: Coconut chicken korma
Bottom right: Pilau rice

We’re pretty particular about our Indian food but this was spot on.  Of course when it’s a small family-run business, there’s a better chance that it will be the real deal and we were thrilled to find something other than burgers and pizzas in the middle of a small town in the desert.  Don’t let the name fool you!

Sam’s Pizza
61380 29 Palms Hwy Ste 13
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
(760) 366-9511

Sam's Pizza on Urbanspoon

We were sad to find the Park Rock Café not open before we needed to leave on Sunday morning so, on the advice of the lady in the Park visitor centre, we headed to the Crossroads Café and Tavern.  Serving “quality food at affordable prices in a rustic, comfortable atmosphere”, this definitely looked like the place to meet other travellers and backpackers seeking out some good eats on either side of a trip to the park.

We were excited to find wonderful coffee and breakfast dishes to rival any New York City brunch place:

Fresh fruit plate, French toast with bacon, granola with fresh fruit and yoghurt.

Highly recommended for a quick bite or a place to linger over a coffee and chat with other travellers.  Very reasonable prices and generous portions of tasty, freshly prepared food – another surprise find – a foodie oasis in the desert!

Crossroads Café and Tavern
61715 29 Palms Hwy
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
(760) 366-5414

Crossroads Cafe & Tavern on Urbanspoon

If you ever get the chance to visit Joshua Tree, do.  The scenery is stunning and magnificent. The food will surprise you and the saloon won’t disappoint.  What more could you ask for?  Stay tuned for our (foodie) adventures in Death Valley – coming soon!

51 thoughts on “California Road Trip 2010: Joshua Tree”

  1. The photos of the park are pretty nifty and very surreal. What a cool place! I love your description of the Joshua Tree Saloon. What a hoot! 🙂

  2. What a strange and interesting selection of eateries! That saloon place is hysterical – I know exactly the type of joint. And “ladeez” is the poi-fect word.

  3. Gorgeous pictures! Joshua Tree is one of the parks I’ve always wanted to go see… Love your adjective “Seussian”- sounds perfectly articulate to describe the place!

  4. We went to visit some friends who live near Joshua Tree & they both had to work one of the days so we decided to go to the park. Incredible!!! You did a great job of capturing those wonderful Joshua trees. And, yes, the food we had wasn’t too bad. I remember Edna talking about Sam’s or some place very similar to that 🙂

  5. Oh god I wish I could have joined you at the saloon (whilst also simultaneously being here for the truffle festival). Too funny! Did you see the “‘nam-vet looking guy who was missing both arms and a couple of teeth”? This would’ve gotten your people watching quota filled for the whole damn year!

  6. I live in San Diego, and I have to admit I’ve never been to Joshua Tree! Your photos are amazing, and now I have some food recommendations. Thanks so much for you post! I’m eagerly awaiting Death Valley!!

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  8. Mardi,
    I can’t figure out what is more bizarre: the otherworldly joshua trees or the surprisingly tasty looking Indian food at Sam’s Pizza. I guess that goes to show you sometimes you never know what to expect. It looks like you had an awesome trip. Great pictures too.

  9. Joshua Tree is one of my boyfriends favorite places in the world! I have yet to have to honor of going though.. the pictures are so cool looking and knowing there are good places to eat totally make me want to go even more!

  10. Sooooooo disappointed Mr Neil wasn’t really in the tree!! Would have loved to have done a session at the salooooon with you both…sounds like a hoot.

    Alas I was on my own little holiday and alternative session……….returned home to Mount Isa for the first time in 16 years…….too long between drinks and many to catch up on could have meant rehab if it was longer than the 5 days I stayed.

  11. Oh Tami, this would SO MUCH have been a party if you (or Conor) were with us, methinks.

    Mardi neglected to mention my foray across the dance floor to the “deejay” to make requests. (Only lucky on try #3, a predictable Clash number.)

    I was ready for a night of more pints, but sensibility after the long day won out.


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