Whether you’re hooked on beavertail cactuses and desert iguanas or intrigued by the dozens of galleries and outdoor sculpture studios nestled among the byways that straddle Highway 62 en route to Joshua Tree National Park, one thing is certain: You’re going to find more than one worthy detour.
“That’s how my love affair with the High Desert took off,” says David Parker, founder of The Body Deli, a Palm Desert–based skin care company. “The High Desert is elusive and you never know where the unpaved roads will take you. It could be to a secret entrance to Joshua Tree National Park’s 49 Palms Oasis, privy to its own access road, with no ranger station. Or an amazing restaurant.”
Parker is dishing on his newfound High Desert high as he takes the last bite of a tartine topped with house cured salmon, caper cream cheese at La Copine, tucked away in Yucca Valley’s Flamingo Heights area. “I was actually looking for the Joshua Hookah Lounge in Yucca Valley, for their stuffed grape leaves, lentil soup, and mint tea,” he explains. “I made what I thought was a wrong turn, ending up at La Copine. Exploring the High Desert is more of a magical mystery tour for me.”
He’s not alone. This brunch café and supper club has packed the patrons in since it opened as a pop-up kitchen in 2012. Its owners, chef Nikki Hill and singer-songwriter Claire Wadsworth, both migrated to the High Desert from Philadelphia.
PHOTO BY TIMMY WOODS
La Copine has packed the patrons in since it opened as a pop-up kitchen in 2012.
Guests return often for specialties such as the Royal Crumpet (veggie or pork sausage with a fried egg and hollandaise on flax-and-whey English muffins). The Lavish Lavosh is aptly titled, generously piled with roasted cauliflower and za’atar spiced garbanzo. Another favorite is the Rhubarbra Streisand, a dessert with fresh berries in all the right places.
Parker’s taste buds are as taken by the High Desert’s largely unsung charms as are his eyes. The sights seriously seduce: countless winding roads, many unpaved yet well-signed; bristly, twisted Joshua trees; seas of chuparosa bushes; flashy zebra-tail lizards; and those deeply dark, radiantly starlit High Desert night skies.
Where else would you find the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, a very busy beauty salon on Highway 29 with its own museum of salon memorabilia?
A portable periwinkle Schick hair dryer from 1967 is in the kitschy mix. Jeff Hafler, Beauty Bubble owner, explains this contraption predates blow dryers and once was the hottest hair dryer in the U.S. In some ways, the High Desert is a blast to the past.
PHOTOS BY CLEA BENSON
The Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum on Highway 29, owned by Jeff Hafler (at left).
More discovery awaits at the Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center in Twentynine Palms, near the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. The 15-acre site opened in 2007 and features events year round.
Visit May 9 for a special daytime event as Mercury transits across the face of the sun; visitors can view this through the solar telescope from sunrise until 11:30 a.m. On your way there, grab a cup of joe from the Joshua Tree Coffee Company, which opens at 6 a.m. The coffee is hand-roasted onsite.
PHOTOS BY CIERA ANNE
Skys the Limit Observatory and Nature Center take advantage of the wide open spaces to view the stars.
Then there are the cactuses. Once you dig up your first cactus for 59 cents at the Cactus Mart in Morongo, off Highway 62, you may start taking a more kindly shine to these spiky desert denizens. The place is a game changer for those considering drought resistant gardening. If you’re still soft on flowers, however, there’s Gubler Orchids, a tropical paradise in Landers, opened in 1954 by a Swiss family of world-renowned orchid growers. The Gubler parking lot fills up with tourists from around the world who come for the orchid sales and free year-round greenhouse tours.
PHOTO BY DAVID PARKER
A visit to the Cactus Mart reveals the diversity of the desert through countless cacti and succulents.
No matter what kind of escape you are looking for, the high desert will envelope your senses and give you an escape to the desert’s beauty.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
848 Old Woman Springs Road
Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum
61855 Twentynine Palms Highway
Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center
9697 Utah Trail
Joshua Tree Coffee Company
61738 Twentynine Palms Highway