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Joshua Tree National Park is located in southern California, just two hours east of Los Angeles. It’s made up of two different deserts, the Mojave and Colorado. The deserts have their own distinct ecosystems and an assortment of vegetation and wildlife that is native to each. The park is named after the many Joshua trees that line the landscape of the Mojave side. It is a beautiful park and in addition to its natural surroundings, the area hosts some unexpected as well. The small towns surrounding Joshua Tree National Park are full of character. There are many quirky attractions tucked away and you never know what you might find. For this reason, I find myself returning time and time again. 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 dedicated the last fifteen years of his life to creating The Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum. His museum sits on ten acres of land in the Mojave desert and consists of over 100 large sculptures that are made of found objects or junk. Noah had limited funds and collected his materials from anywhere he could. He incorporated 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 everything is very intentional and has meaning. Noah’s “junk art” communicates a variety of messages, many of which are political. The decision to build in the desert was deliberate as well. He believed that the decay from the desert elements would enhance his art over time. The Noah Purifoy Foundation currently maintains the property and offers tours but the museum can easily be visited on your own. It is open to the public every day from sunup to sundown and is free of charge.
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 rainwater accumulating and eroding the rock. Skull Rock is located next to the main road that runs east/west through the park. There is usually plenty of space to park roadside. It can be a quick stop but I recommend spending some time exploring the area. There are some great trails nearby. The Skull Rock Nature Loop is an easy 1.7 miles and will take you through a maze of massive rock formations. The trailhead is located across from the entrance to Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Desert Christ Park
Desert Christ Park is a sculpture garden that occupies 3.5 acres of land overlooking the Yucca Valley. The plot of land was originally owned by Reverend Eddie Garver, a preacher who lived in the area with his family and established the Yucca Valley Community Church in the late 1940s. He was introduced to Frank Antone Martin, a sculptor from Los Angeles, CA and they found that they shared a similar vision. WWII had recently come to an end and Garver wanted to build a Christian-themed park that would serve as a statement of peace. Antone Martin had dreamt of placing a giant Christ on the rim of the Grand Canyon, also as a symbol of peace rather than religion, but the state would not allow it.
Garver offered him the land high up on the hillside and he eventually took him up on the offer. The first sculpture, a giant “resurrected Christ” was the first to be built and brought to the desert from Los Angeles in 1951. The statue is ten feet tall and is made up of three tons of steel-reinforced concrete. Over the next ten years, more than thirty-five biblical figures were placed throughout the hillside. Included are the Twelve Apostles, Mary, and 125-ton facade of “The Last Supper”. In 1992, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 shook the area and damaged many of the statues. As a result, many of them are missing limbs and/or heads. Desert Christ Park Foundation, a non-profit has since taken over and renovated the park. It operates on donations and is open daily until dusk.
56200 Sunnyslope Dr, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
Pioneertown is a tiny unincorporated town just outside of Joshua Tree. It was built as an old western movie-set in 1946 and has a fun history. The original investors were a group of Hollywood actors that included Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. They envisioned a set that people could actually visit and soon created a street lined with 1880s-style facades. Mane Street (not a typo) was built and provided visitors with an interactive experience. More than fifty films and television shows were shot here during the 1940s and 1950s, including Annie Oakley and The Cisco Kid.
Mane Street is home to a stable, jail and saloon facades, as well as a functioning motel and bowling alley. The bowling alley is currently under renovation with plans to reopen sometime in 2020. There’s not a lot to do in Pioneertown nowadays, but Mane Street is still worth a visit and has some great photo opportunities. Pioneertown is open 365 days a year but is most lively on the weekends. If you visit on a weekday, it’s likely nothing will be open but there’s also a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself.
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 desert. Pappy & Harriet’s was once one of the many facades of Pioneertown in 1946. Back then, it was a “cantina” that appeared in the background of numerous western films. In 1972, it was bought and turned into an actual functioning cantina that was popular with bikers in the area. It wasn’t until ten years later, in 1982, that the location reopened as Pappy & Harriet’s. Pappy and Harriet’s, named after its owners, became a family-friendly 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 an incredible 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 weekly house band, 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 played its stage.
If you’re planning a trip to Joshua Tree, 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.
53688 Pioneertown Road · Pioneertown, CA 92268
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree
The Pioneertown Motel is probably Joshua Tree’s most instagrammable place to stay. The recently renovated motel is a fun little spot and is conveniently located. It’s about a 20-minute drive to Joshua Tree National Park and is adjacent to Mane Street. The motel was built in 1946 as part of Pioneertown and many of the Western movie stars stayed here. The cute rooms are outfitted with books, card games, and cacti.
Sacred Sands is one of Joshua Tree’s more upscale properties and is located just one mile from Joshua Tree’s West Entrance. The boho-chic guesthouse is made up of just two rooms. Each has a large indoor shower, outdoor shower, and outdoor soaking tubs. The rooms have other nice touches, such as a record player and records and the patios have great mountain views.
Adobe in the Palms
Adobe in the Palms is a historic home dating back to 1937. The adobe-style building is perfect for families and large groups. It is situated on 25 private acres and has 2 bedrooms, a full kitchen, and 2 bathrooms. The rustic home is filled with period furniture and western movie memorabilia fire. It also has a fire pit and patio that is perfect for watching the desert sunsets.
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 easily be spent exploring, just make sure you have a route properly planned before going too far out in the desert. Phone service is spotty at best. I hope you love Joshua Tree as much as I do.
Have you been to Joshua Tree? I would love to hear about your favorite weird things to do in Joshua Tree. If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or share using the social media buttons below. Planning a road trip through the desert? You won’t want to miss Salvation Mountain. Learn more about this fun stop in my post, “The Ultimate Guide to Salvation Mountain.”