By Sara Lieberman
Friday, 12:30 pm
"So wait, is it an actual tree?" my sister asked incredulously, as we began our one-day road trip from Santa Monica to the desert.
To be honest, I wasn’t really sure.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
I’m a fan of U2’s 1987 album of the same name, but were the two even related? Was there just one tree, many, or none at all?
I could’ve Wikipedia’d "Joshua Tree," but ignorance is bliss, right?
Our destination was Hicksville Trailer Palace, a semi-secret hotel compound, eight miles from the National Park. I booked the Integratrailor, complete with a double bed, sink, fridge, heating, and stars projected onto the ceiling via a laser-light machine.
The two-year-old lodge, run by LA writer and director Morgan Higby Night, is meant to serve as a "retreat for artists of any medium to get away and have a safe place to create & collaborate."
So safe, in fact, that he asks guests not to check into the hotel via Facebook or Twitter on arriving. (We also weren’t given an address to plug into our GPS, but rather old school "make a left here and a right there" directions.)
Friday, 2:30 pm
We found the place pretty quiet, save for the jukebox, which is tuned to commercial-free Devil’s Night Radio from 10 am to 10 pm. Guests can override the divey tunes, choosing from free options that range from Hall and Oats to The Clash.
The eight trailers are known as The Fifi, The Pioneer, The Sweet, The Rex, The New World, The Pony, The Sideshow, and The Integratrailor. They form a circle around the small pool. Nearby, there’s a teepee with a fire pit, a dollhouse-sized library, archery, and a hot tub on top of a garage (where another trailer is nestled) that provides a 360-degree view of the vast, dry desert and the twinkling stars above. Repeat visitors who stay in all eight trailers get a free night and their names on the "White Trash Wall of Fame."
Friday, 6:30 pm
Completely unprepared with nothing more than a Godmother sandwich from Bay Cities (editor’s note: if you eat one sandwich in LA, make sure it’s this one) to keep us sated, we turned back around for food, drinks, and live music at Pappy & Harriets in Pioneertown, probably the most well-known of the unknown spots out in J-Tree.
While navigating the very dark, non-paved roads, we cursed ourselves for not leaving before sunset so we could see where the heck we were going. To make matters even freakier, we then saw two coyotes crossing the road. (There’s a joke here somewhere, but at the time it was all a bit American Horror Story-meets-Breaking Bad.)
Finally, lights! Civilization!
Inside Pappy’s, it was hard to distinguish the hipster-mustached Angelenos, from the bushy-mustached regulars, but all were happily dining on ribs and quesadillas. We avoided the standard $12 cover since we mostly came for grub (and to verify we weren’t alone out there in the cold desert). It’s a good thing, too, because the dark and desolate ride back loomed heavy in our minds, keeping us from staying long enough to truly enjoy the buzzy atmosphere…and the bourbon.
After licking our fingers dry from the BBQ ribs, we vowed to come back before stopping at a Vons for overnight provisions: wine, donuts, and yogurt for the morning. Of course.
Saturday, 10:30 am
The other 10 guests were congregating around the outdoor "kitchen" drinking free instant Starbucks coffee (with powdered creamer!). We joined them and jotted a quick "Hi Mom and Dad, We saw coyotes!" on the free "Greetings from Hicksville!" postcard before leaving for the National Park. With more time, we would’ve stayed longer. It’s both a romantic place for hip couples looking for an intimate, quirky space, as well a cool spot for rowdier groups (up to 23) looking to celebrate in isolation (read: bachelors or bachelorettes).
Following a quick stop at the visitor center (a must, actually), we grabbed a Subway sandwich across the road, filled up on gas (a double must), and ventured in, our curious minds wide open.
We saw them almost immediately: the half-cactus, half-palm trees, commonly known as the Joshua. (Thank you, National Park information stations.) With the sunroof open and Kings of Leon blaring, we drove on "oohing," "ahhing," and pulling over for photo opps every couple hundred feet.
Saturday, 4:30 pm
We ached to see the entire park, but were told it’d take another 2 hours, and sadly had not allotted time for that on this trip. Still, while we did not climb every boulder, avoid every snake (true story), or photograph every cactus, we had succeeded in defining Joshua. Was it a tree? Many trees? A destination? "All of the above," said my sister. And as is often the case with travel, the whole of the journey was greater than the sum of its parts.
Photo credits: Hicksville and Joshua Tree photos courtesy of Sara Lieberman; Pappy & Harrietts courtesy of Flickr/thirteenthbat