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Joshua Tree National Park is where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet in Southern California. Joshua trees, for which the park is named after, line the landscape, as well as an assortment of other plants and wildlife. It is a beautiful park and in addition to the natural surroundings, the area hosts some unexpected and not so natural as well. Joshua Tree is a place full of character. It is quirky and at times just downright weird. For this reason, I find myself returning time and time again. You never know what you might find. The following is a list of my favorite weird things to do in Joshua Tree:
The Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum
Noah Purifoy was a visual artist and sculptor who spent most of his life between Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. He moved to Joshua Tree in the 1980s and spent the last fifteen years of his life creating The Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum. His museum sits on ten acres of land out in the Mojave desert and consists of fifty different pieces, made out of found objects or junk. He collected his materials from anywhere he could, incorporating items such as old furniture, broken electronics and even a toilet. At first, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to his creations, but don’t be fooled, everything here is intentional and has meaning. Noah’s “junk art” communicates a variety of messages, many political and he believed the element of decay, bound to take place out in the desert, would only enhance his art.
63030 Blair Lane, Joshua Tree, California 9225
Skull Rock is located within Joshua Tree National Park and is a favorite stop for visitors. It is a giant granite rock that has taken on the shape of a skull over the years. Depressions resembling hollowed-out eye sockets have formed from rain water accumulating and eroding the rock. Skull Rock is located right off of and can actually be seen from the main road. There is plenty of space to park roadside, so you can spend some time exploring the area. There are also some great trails nearby.
Desert Christ Park
Desert Christ Park is a sculpture garden that is spread out over three and a half acres of land in Yucca Valley. Frank Antone Martin built the sculptures in the 1950s, right after WWII, as more of a statement of peace rather than religion. More than thirty-five biblical figures, made out of steel-reinforced concrete, are placed throughout the hillside. Included are The Twelve Apostles, Mary, and a ten foot tall, three-ton statue of Jesus. An earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.3 shook the area in 1992 and a result, many of the statues are missing limbs and/or heads. A non-profit has since taken over and renovated the park. It’s free and open until dusk.
56200 Sunnyslope Dr, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
Pioneertown is a tiny town just outside of Joshua Tree and was built as an old western movie-set in 1946. The original investors and developers were a group of actors that included Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. They envisioned a set that you could actually visit- a street lined with 1880s-style facades, but with things for visitors to do and see inside. Mane (not a typo) Street was created and is home to a stable, jail and saloon facades, as well as a functioning motel and a once functioning bowling alley. More than fifty films were shot here during the 1940s and 1950s. There’s not much going on in Pioneertown nowadays, but Mane Street is still worth a visit and has some great photo ops.
5040 Curtis Road, Pioneertown, CA, 92268
Pappy & Harriet’s
I guess I wouldn’t call it weird, but Pappy and Harriet’s isn’t exactly something you would expect to find out in the middle of nowhere. Pappy & Harriet’s was once one of the many facades built in Pioneertown in 1946. Back then, it was a “cantina” that appeared in the background of numerous western films and in 1972, it was bought and turned into an actual functioning cantina, which soon became popular with bikers in the area. It wasn’t until ten years later, in 1982, the location was reopened as Pappy & Harriet’s. Pappy and Harriet’s, named after its owners, became more of a family hangout, known for its food and live music.
It changed hands once again in 2003 when it was bought by two New Yorkers, who turned it into what it is today- one really great music venue. They kept the old western vibe, added some great bbq to the menu and started bringing in some really amazing musical acts. In recent years, the venue has received all kinds of press, contributing to its popularity. It was named a Top Ten Hidden Gem of the Country by Billboard Magazine and has been featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.
Pappy & Harriet’s has an open-mic night and a house band weekly, but the real draw is the big names it attracts. Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Sean Lennon, and Eagles of Death Metal are just a few that have graced the stage. If planning a trip to the Joshua Tree area, I highly recommend checking the calendar on their website and purchasing tickets well in advance if there’s a show that interests you. They tend to sell out quickly. And, if there isn’t anything on the calendar, visit anyway. The food and atmosphere alone are worth it. A reservation for dinner is recommended, although not required.
These are just a few of the interesting and weird things to do in Joshua Tree. It’s certainly not limited to these. A day can be easily be spent exploring, just make sure you have a route properly planned before going too far out in the desert. Cell service is spotty at best. To book a fun place to stay, check out the Pioneertown Motel. Hope you love Joshua Tree as much as I do. Enjoy!
To learn more about another of my favorite national parks, read my post, “The Best of Yellowstone National Park.”