Palm Springs and other Low Desert towns can draw a crowd with their kidney-shaped pools, flipped-hip hotels, music festivals, modernism, and technicolor golf greens, but we'd prefer to make a left turn from Los Angeles onto Twentynine Palms Highway into the mountains to visit The High Desert for a rugged, less-traveled, adventure. California's High Desert is loosely defined by its elevation and geography, and while those metrics can help us understand where the High Desert is, it can't explain what it feels like to be in this otherworldly "gorgeous wasteland" favored by artists, astronomers, cowboys, and conservationists—just two hours east of Los Angeles.  

Click here for The Reed's map of The High Desert.

>> A Walk In The Park with Jeff Thrope

Our friend Jeff Thrope takes off for Joshua Tree more than anyone else we know. If we didn't know he still lived in L.A., his beautiful Instagram feed would have made us think he's left the city permanently for the desert life. Thrope would be the first to tell you that the High Desert's beloved cultural beacons like Pappy & Harriet's barbecue and a sound bath at the Integratron may have drawn some of us to the Yucca Valley recently, but the otherworldly 1200 square miles of Joshua Tree National Park has been the magnet attracting birders, photographers, campers, hikers, Gram Parsons fans, and stargazers for some time. Here's his expert advice on how to take a walk in the park.

JT: In the introduction to Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey famously wrote, "In the first place you can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe."

While that quote can be applied to just about any natural landscape, it couldn’t be more relevant to good ol’ Joshua Tree. Most folks “see” the national park by driving through on Park Blvd, stopping once or twice to snap a picture of the gigantic rocks and the cartoon yuccas that gives the place its name. 

The best way to really understand and experience Joshua Tree is to simply walk all the way across it. Start in Yucca Valley at the Black Rock Campground and walk 37 miles east on the Colorado Riding and Hiking Trail to the park’s entrance in 29 Palms. It sounds like a lot (plan for it taking at least 36 hours), but it’s very well marked and relatively flat for most of the way. You pass through several different landscapes, all in some of the most remote parts of the park's 800,000 acres. Plan ahead and cache water at the easily accessible backcountry boards located right off the trail. After a trip like that, you’ll definitely see the park in a new light. Maybe. 

So ditch the car and cut up those pretty little knees of yours.  An ice cold beer and a Hell Burger at Crossroads will never taste as good as it does after you’ve walked across a national park. 

Check out more from Jeff's feed @coldsplinters
[Guide created June 2015]