Joshua Tree National Park
|Joshua Tree National Park (Robert Glusic/Photodisc/Getty)|
Two different deserts meet in the national park: the Mojave and the Colorado division of the Great Sonoran. The drive from the town of Joshua Tree to Highway 10 explores this transition in sixty-five miles of transcendent scenery.
Along the way you'll pass through Hidden Valley, Little San Bernardino Mountains, Lost Horse Valley, Queens Valley, Cottonwood Springs-areas as evocative as their names. You can stay on the paved road through the park, or head down one of the dirt roads to try a less-beaten path...
Don't forget that you're sharing these byways with bikers, hikers, and horses. The paved roads are often narrow, and those beautiful rock formations can obstruct your view of oncoming traffic.
Also, pay attention to warnings about dirt road access. If a sign says you need four-wheel drive, you'd be wise to heed the advice. Getting stuck in the sand is a sure way to ruin your trip to the desert, not to mention your car.
The Best Unpaved Roads
Pinkham Canyon Road - This rough, 20-mile road begins at Cottonwood Visitor Center, travels along Smoke Tree Wash, and then cuts down Pinkham Canyon. Sections of the road run through soft sand and rocky flood plains. It connects to a service road next to Interstate 10.
Black Eagle Mine Road - Beginning 6.5 miles north of Cottonwood Visitor Center, this dead-end dirt road runs along the edge of Pinto Basin, crosses several dry washes, and then winds up through canyons in the Eagle Mountains. The first nine miles of the road are within the park boundary. Beyond that point is the Bureau of Land Management land and a number of side roads. Several old mines are located near these roads but may be dangerous to approach.
Old Dale Road - This 23-mile road starts at the same point as the Black Eagle Road. For the first 11 miles, it runs across the Pinto Basin, a flat, sandy dry lake bed. Shortly after leaving the basin, the road climbs up a steep hill, then crosses the park boundary. Near that point a number of side roads veer off toward old mines and private residences. If you stay on the main road you will come out on Highway 62, 15 miles cast of Twentynine Palms.
Geology Tour Road - The road turns south from the paved road two miles west of Jumbo Rocks. The distance from the junction to Squaw Tank is 5.4 miles. This section is mostly downhill, but is bumpy and sandy. Starting at Squaw Tank, a six-mile circular route can be taken that explores Pleasant Valley. A guide is available at the beginning of the road.
Covington Flats - The dirt roads in Covington Flats offer access to some of the park's largest Joshua trees, as well as to junipers, piqon pines, and some of the most lush vegetation in the high desert. A nice trip is from the Covington Flats picnic area to Eureka Peak, 3.8 miles one way. The dirt road is steep near the end, but the top offers views of Palm Springs, the surrounding mountains, and the Morongo Basin. Your trip will be 6.5 miles longer if you ride over to the backcountry board, a starting point for excellent hiking.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication