My stay at the Hyatt Indian Wells Resort (review here) also gave me time to head into the Joshua Tree Park. It's located just 40 minutes outside of Indian Wells or about 2 hours east of Los Angeles.
Temperatures in September hovered in the 110s in Palm Springs. The park is at an elevation of 3,000 feet which makes it a bit more bearable.
If you just do a leisurely drive and stop at most sights, expect to spend 3-4 hours. If you are interested in going for a couple of hikes, you will need to plan more time.
The ranger stations have food and water but there are no other gas stations or water supplies in the park. In an emergency, you can only hope for the help of other tourists.
Coming from the southern entrance, the park presents itself as a 'typical desert valley' and you will feel reminded of the area around the Grand Canyon or Death Valley. The wide valley is dominated by rocks and just a few scrubs. The famous Joshua tree is nowhere to be seen.
The landscape changes with the Cholla Cactus Garden. The cacti are very pretty pretty to look at but apparently they can sting even from a distance. It's a good idea to stay away from the plant and let it have its way.
Just a mile further, the rock formations change suddenly and give way to lots of obscure formations that are very pretty to look at and climb upon.
The best feature of the rock formations is the 'skull rock' which needs a bit of a imagination but is easy to see from the road.
At about 100 degrees, I wasn't in the mood for long desert hikes, but I can see how tranquil and beautiful this could be. The winter season will enable to you to take full advantage of the park. It's a good idea to spend a whole day in the park in a cooler season.
Just as I was ready to give up, the Hidden Valley opened up and there were tons of Joshua trees. The mix of the very green trees in the brown desert with the beautiful blue sky was fantastic to see.
Just a little more further is the west exit and the town of Joshua Tree (yes, it actually exists). The town is dusty but more lively than you might expect. There are two great little restaurants (one vegan, one not) that would stand their own anywhere in San Francisco. It's a good idea to get a late lunch here.
The $15 entry fee is well worth it for the Joshua Tree Park – I really enjoyed my time!