A U2-Inspired Playlist for Joshua Tree National Park
It’s hard to believe it’s been three decades since Irish rock group U2 released The Joshua Tree album! On the heels of this anniversary, Joshua Tree National Park has seen record visitors come through its gates. In fact, the headcount was up 24% last year! So, if your vacation plans include a musical pilgrimage to the park, here are a few places my family suggests you check out along with a suggested album track for each stop, and some tips for an enjoyable visit.
Best Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park with Kids
1. Choose the right route when driving through Joshua Tree
We entered the park through the south entrance at Cottonwood Spring and exited into Twenty Nine Palms. This proved to be a smart move as there were very few cars in Cottonwood. In Twenty Nine Palms however, 75 cars were held at the gate and slowly released into the park.
Because we came through an entrance that wasn’t particularly busy, our first few stops weren’t crowded with other park goers. A ranger at the visitor center told us that this is actually a pretty regular occurrence. Everybody seems to want to come in through Twenty Nine Palms!
Suggested Track: In God’s Country
This is the 7th track on The Joshua Tree album. Just surveying Cottonwood Spring, one of the best birding spots in the park, will have you singing, “Desert sky, dream beneath the desert sky. The rivers run but soon run dry. We need new dreams tonight.”
2. Cholla Cactus Garden
Located on Pinto Basin Road, not far from Cottonwood Spring, the Cholla Cactus Garden consists of around 100 plants. They’re quite a sight, stretched across the arid landscape at the foot of the mountains. Be careful as you walk through them though, they are nicknamed “the jumping Cholla,” and with good reason: the stems easily detach when they are touched.
Suggested Track: With or Without You
My family joked that this was the perfect selection for this attraction given how many pieces of the jumping Cholla found their way into our car, in our clothing, and on our shoes no matter how many attempts we made to shake them off. These plants were determined that once we were with them, we weren’t leaving without them!
3. Skull Rock
It’s not your imagination that rock formation along the main east-park road looks like a skull. While the hollowed eyes and bony cheeks of Skull Rock are from years and years of erosion, the results are all at once a fascinating, eerie, and beautiful sight. Grab a parking spot alongside the road and take the short walk to the face of the skull to get a closer look! Just know that face will stay with you!
Suggested Track: Bullet to Blue Sky
The fourth track on the album puts an edgy sound and dark imagery into the air waves, kind of fitting for this skull-shaped rock formation on the side of the road. But in the end, the song draws a message of resilience, kind of like the unexpected discovery of plant life flourishing on the dry desert floor despite the odds.
4. Keys View
This was my favorite stop on our drive through the park. Keys View is Joshua Tree’s highest viewpoint. From the top, look for Southern California’s largest summits, Mount San Jacinto and Mount Gorgonio, and get a view into the Coachella Valley as well as the the Salton Sea, if you’re lucky.
Suggested Track: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
If you walk up the trail to this spot, then you have “climbed the highest mountains” and potentially “held the hand of the devil.” Hopefully the sweeping view will aid in helping you find what you’re looking for.
5. Joshua Tree Visitor Center
With images of a Red Hill Mining Town and places where The Streets Have No Name moving through our car stereo system, we pulled into the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, outside the park gate in Twenty Nine Palms. There’s a nice little museum with an overview of the area’s geological as well as human history, which includes a mention of U2’s The Joshua Tree album. One of Edge’s guitars is even on display!
Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park
Pack Your Patience
You will need to be patient because crowds always seem to bring challenges.
Joshua Tree Parking
- During busy periods, parking will get tricky in some places. You may be leaving your car on the side of the road rather than in a parking lot.
- Use caution crossing streets. We were surprised by how many drivers raced through crowded areas seemingly unaware so many people were out and about.
- Take the first available spot you find, even if you have to hike.
- Be mindful of nature, if you are parking on the side of the road.
- In areas like Keys View, you’ll likely wait for a few minutes before a spot opens up .
Things to Bring With You, Make No Mistake These are Must Haves
- Water, Sunscreen, and Snacks
- The Joshua Tree album by U2 as your road trip soundtrack (VERY IMPORTANT!)
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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…