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You can find art — and yourself — in Joshua Tree. Here’s where to look

Joshua Tree's Hidden Valley Campground
Joshua Tree’s Hidden Valley Campground
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, fellow Escapists. Clarity, self-reflection and revival — the stuff of New Year’s resolutions — are often sought in the California desert. These themes appear throughout The Times’ latest edition of Image magazine, dedicated to the desert and those who seek meaning there. “Every person brings something with them to give, and the desert is full of offerings. Some are buried. Some move with the wind. All are left to be found,” editor Ian Blair writes in the edition’s introduction.

As January begins, and the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread, the desert feels especially inviting. Cool temperatures, wide open spaces and the opportunity to expand one’s perception — all can be found simply by venturing a few hours east of L.A.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll learn about a few ways you can find art — and perhaps yourself — in Joshua Tree. Where’s your favorite place in the desert? Let me know, so I can pass your recommendation along in a future edition.

Find inspiration at the Outdoor Museum

Bicycles teetering on a wooden structure, daring gravity to pull them down to the desert floor. Rusty metal folding chairs, arranged in rows on a cart with wheels, seemingly waiting for an audience that will never come. Something that looks like a larger-than-life Newton’s cradle — in the last place you’d expect to see even the semblance of a desk toy.

Welcome to the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, created between 1989 and 2004.

The sprawling 10-acre museum is the culmination of Purifoy’s lengthy career, which saw him become a well-known and influential visual artist and sculptor, co-found the Watts Towers Arts Center and bring arts programming into the state prison system.

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Purifoy spent the last 15 years of his life using found and junked materials to create the museum, which continues to stun, mystify and inspire travelers to this day.

“He taught me to pay attention to detritus,” writes Ismail Muhammad, a story editor at the New York Times Magazine, in the second edition of Image. “If I did, I could see how wreckage was also a sign of life: What had been classified as ‘junk’ was just art waiting to be shaped by the force of the imaginative act, waiting to be connected with other elements that would illuminate junk’s latent worth.”

The museum is free and open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Behind a Joshua tree, a bicycle is balanced on a long piece of wood at a sloping angle atop a small shed.
A bicycle appears ready to ride into the sunset at Noah Purifoy’s museum in Joshua Tree.
(Tyrone Beason / Los Angeles Times)

Find ‘oneness’ at the Retreat Center

“Renewal looks like a 200-acre piece of land off Twentynine Palms Highway,” Times features reporter Julissa James writes in a recent article describing why so many people head to Joshua Tree to take magic mushrooms.

She’s talking about the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, also known as the Institute of Mentalphysics.

According to the institute, its buildings were designed by founder Edwin John Dingle, Frank Lloyd Wright and Wright’s son Lloyd Wright. Its location was chosen “because it sat on 19 vortices, believed to be powerful, swirling energy centers in the Earth,” James explains. “It was an ideal setting for teaching a practice like Mentalphysics — which promised a new way of thinking through ‘an experiential method of self-realization that teaches the oneness of life embodied in all substance, energy and thought.’”

What does the search for “the oneness of life” look like at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center? To find out, you can book a personal retreat at the center; basic rooms start at $100 per night.

Visitors can also stop by for classes that teach yoga, breathwork, meditation and more. Check the center’s calendar for timing and details.

Illustration of a person in summery clothing sitting beneath a Joshua tree and alongside grapes and mushrooms.
(Lilian Martinez)

Find whimsy, craftsmanship at the Crochet Museum

It can get pretty chilly in the Mojave Desert during January. For extra cozy — and colorful — desert vibes, don’t leave town before stopping at the Crochet Museum. Located in a repurposed Fotomat kiosk, the lime-green museum is a pint-sized homage to craft, color and creativity.

Though it certainly won’t take you long to poke your head inside the museum and get a sense of the place, it’s worth slowing down during your visit and taking in the dozens of detailed crocheted animals lining the walls, collected by artist Shari Elf.

Elf makes clear that although she is an avid collector and appreciator of crochet work, she is not responsible for the animals’ creation. “She would like to thank all of the anonymous folks (well, mostly old ladies — you know who you are — and we think you are goddesses who must be worshipped!) who went to all the trouble to make these lovely creations,” the museum’s website explains.

As you explore the property, make sure to look toward the horizon — during the winter, you might catch a glimpse of the San Jacinto Mountains in the distance, blanketed in snow.

According to its website, the Crochet Museum is free and always open, even when no one is on-site.

Animated illustration of crochet needles and yarn
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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Where to stay in Joshua Tree

Accommodations have a way of coloring one’s experience, especially if you’re visiting a place for the first time. It’s not always the priciest place that leaves an impression but the feeling you get when you’re there: how well it fosters a feeling of warmth or fun or adventure, whatever you happen to be searching for in a particular trip.

Fortunately, Joshua Tree has no shortage of memorable places to stay, whether you’re seeking deeper meaning within the desert or just a quirky place to party.

Here are a few options:

  • Airbnb is a treasure trove of Joshua Tree stays that exude all the desert vibes you could dream of. This stargazing tent and this “green house” are just a few of the options.
  • The Joshua Tree Inn: a historic hotel with classic, well-appointed rooms. Plus, you might run into the ghost of Gram Parsons. Rooms start at $138.
  • Hicksville Trailer Palace: funky, themed trailers clustered around a saltwater pool. Plus, it’s 420-friendly (there’s a vaporizer in the lifeguard tower). Bookings start at $100.
  • CCBC Resort Hotel: OK, this is actually in Cathedral City, not Joshua Tree, about a 50-minute drive. But I had to include it on the list — the latest edition of Image includes stunning photographs of the clothing-optional gay resort (captured by Times contributor JJ Geiger). Rooms start at around $240.
  • Camping: With the designated campsites in Joshua Tree National Park and Bureau of Land Management land outside the park’s borders, this is probably your most cost-effective option. If you decide to camp, check weather conditions and follow all restrictions.
Two people play with a ball outside a tent backed by desert plants and mountain crags.
Campers at Joshua Tree National Park’s Hidden Valley Campground
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

What I’m reading

  • Planning a trip with your dog? Times digital editor Jessica Martinez explains how to make it stress-free for both of you.
  • Some encouraging news: “Airlines have a recipe to reach zero emissions by 2050,” writes Times business reporter Hugo Martín. The key ingredient? Cooking oil.
  • Some scary news: A record number of guns were found in U.S. airports in 2021, reports Martín.
  • A 600-mile recreational trail is coming to the West’s Sierra Nevada. At Afar, Anna Fiorentino explains how the Lost Sierra Route will connect 15 mountain towns.
  • The little-known Three Passes route to Everest Base Camp makes hiking Mt. Whitney “seem like a cakewalk.” Tarcy Connors reports in the San Diego Union-Tribute about her 15-day trek in the Himalayas.
A dog lies on a pad outside an open van.
Millie chews on a bone at a campground in Moab, Utah.
(Jessica Martinez / Los Angeles Times)

Photo of the week

A seated climber looks tiny atop massive boulders.
A climber rests in the Jumbo Rocks area of Joshua Tree National Park in March 2019.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Road song

Song: “Joshua Tree by Cautious Clay

Favorite lyric: “Lived good true Hollywood story, highways chasing washed up glory”

Where to listen: driving on California 62 on your way into Joshua Tree

Illustration of polaroid of a highway in Joshua Tree
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)


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