The 200-mile trip from Bakersfield to Joshua Tree is best made by traveling east and then south. This kept me as far as possible from Los Angeles traffic and, as a bonus, took me through the historic city of Barstow, California. A tiny city of around 25,000 residents, Barstow has been a small but significant thoroughfare for transportation, first for gold mining, then the railway, then the interstate highway system. This route also helpfully dropped me right onto Route 62, which is the best way to enter Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park is an iconic desert getaway, beloved by Californians and tourists alike. The park is absolutely massive. At nearly 800,000 acres, it's larger than the state of Rhode Island! The rugged landscape is littered with Joshua trees, a species of yucca that is confined almost entirely to the Mojave Desert.
There are odd rock formations and, surrounding them, other species of cactuses thrive. I especially love the prickly pear cactus - look at those fuschia flowers!
From a distance, it looks like an organic polka dot pattern with the tan desert ground and scattered green bushes in every direction.
The park features a maze of trails available from the many stopping points along the Park Boulevard loop from the North Entrance Station in Twentynine Palms to the West Entrance Station below Joshua Tree, CA. Some of the most popular sights are Skull Rock, which is easily accessible being right off the main road, and Desert Queen Mine, which is less than a mile from its trailhead. Keys View is only an extra ten minutes off Park Boulevard and has gorgeous panoramic views of the valley.
If you only visit for a short while as I did, I would recommend the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, which is a relaxing one-mile loop in and around some unique geological features. This trail showcases some of the incredibly unique microclimates that bring all these varieties of plants together. This quick hike is a great option for experiencing much of the beauty of Joshua Tree in one place and getting a good feel for what makes it such a popular destination.