Joshua Tree National Park: Sunset

From the beginning, the framework for our quick trip to Joshua Tree had been to watch the sunset in the Mohave Desert and sunrise in the Sonoran. We finished our walk through Hidden Valley at about 4pm, so we had a couple of hours to drive out to our motel, check in, and drive to Keys View in the Little San Bernardino Mountains before the sun set at 6:21pm.

Back in Joshua Tree, we turned east onto the Twentynine Palms Highway. About ten minutes later, we pulled into the Harmony Motel on the western outskirts of Twentynine Palms, California.

The motel’s tiny office is filled with U2 memorabilia since the band stayed at the Harmony while they were working on their 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. The motel’s current owner is Ash Maharaj, originally from South Africa, who purchased the motel seven years ago. In February 2011, she completed the restoration of the Harmony’s original sign, and her stated intention is to restore the entire motel.

As she showed us to our room, she warned us to be sure and shut the door behind us right away because it opened literally into the desert.

The Harmony Motel’s pool area.
The southeasterly view from our room at the Harmony Motel toward Joshua Tree National Park.

After we dumped our bags in the room, we hopped back into the car and headed toward the park’s Twentynine Palms entrance, then along Park Boulevard toward Keys View.

Winding through forests of Joshua Trees and around massive jumbles of rocks, Park Boulevard is the main paved artery through the Mohave Desert portion of the park. Unfortunately, we were only able to stop a few times if we were to make it to the overlook before the sun was down. We did, however, manage to see Skull Rock and spot a coyote out for a stroll.

Image: Sean M. Santos
A coyote crossed the road in front of us and then ambled away.

Even as we zipped along, I was already recalculating our plans for Friday morning, hoping that we’d be able to return to at least a few of the various pullouts, scenic overlooks, exhibits, and nature trails we were ignoring as we chased the sunset into the mountains. Near Hidden Valley, we turned south, and the road began climbing.

We arrived at Keys View with only a few minutes to spare. The overlook offers a vista across the Coachella Valley from Indio to Palm Springs and the San Jacinto Mountains beyond. The sun was setting behind the San Bernardino Mountains to the west. And the moon had risen from the southeast.

Image: Sean M. Santos

After the sun dipped behind the San Bernardinos, we waited until everyone else had left the overlook so we could have a few moments alone in the quickly deepening dusk. Then, we headed back down to Park Boulevard, and by the time we reached the Joshua Tree entrance station, it was completely dark.

We continued down into town and decided to return to Crossroads Cafe for dinner. Our waiter, who would easily have looked at home at an indie music show back home in Chicago, encouraged us to stay for the roots music fest that weekend.

Between the brightness of the moon, some cloud cover, and our exhaustion, we decided to forego stargazing and headed back down the long, straight highway to the Harmony. We celebrated with a glass of wine from a bottle Aunt Judy had sent with us, and then fell asleep.

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