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Healthy guide to Joshua Tree
Photos: Chieko Kato

The Glassy’s Healthy Guide to Joshua Tree

High vibes in the high desert.

by Rebecca Willa Davis | 03.04.2018

A funny thing happens when you visit Joshua Tree: Around 8 p.m., your eyelids will begin to feel heavy. Your thoughts begin to wind down. You might even experience a little bit of involuntary head bobbing.

Welcome to Desert Midnight, a phenomenon that locals swear is very real, where what’s considered early evening in most other places feels like the dead of night in this area. “It’s totally a thing, where the sun goes down and it’s only 7 o’clock and you’re so tired,” says Justin Jurgens, a climber who moved to Joshua Park in late-2016.

Healthy guide to Joshua Tree

Justin Jurgens belaying a climber in Joshua Tree National Park.

It’s par for the course in the Morongo Basin—which includes Joshua Tree proper, as well as Yucca Valley (the center of strip malls in this area, which one local jokingly referred to as “Yucky Heights”), Flamingo Heights (named after its drop-dead sunsets), Pioneertown (a onetime Old West set for Hollywood where the soundstages still stand), Landers (a true tumbleweed town), and Twentynine Palms (home to what some say is the largest marine base in America)—where mystics and conspiracy theorists, artists and athletes, military brats and people trying to escape from something converge.

If energy vortexes actually do exist, the first place you’d want to look for one would be right here in the high desert.

“The air is different out here.”

“There’s a certain thing, a certain magic or energy about this place,” says artist Mary Evans, known for her Spirit Speak tarot decks, who moved to Joshua Tree more than a year ago after logging time in Oakland, Seattle, and Nashville. “A lot of people come out here because they can feel it, and it’s so different than a lot of other places.”

“The air is different out here. It’s just…quiet,” agrees Melissa Parke Rousseau, an artist and herbalist who moved from Topanga Canyon to Joshua Tree with her partner and dogs. It’s the reason why Dan Good, a sound engineer for musicians like Todd Terje and Nick Murphy, relocated from Los Angeles a year ago with his astrologer wife Evelyn Von Zuel. “I’m around loud noises all the time, and then you come here and it’s silent.”

It explains the proliferation of wellness spaces in the area. There’s the Integratron, whose acoustically perfect construction makes for indescribably powerful sound baths (not mention iconic Instagram pics), along with the old-school Joshua Tree Retreat Center and Southern California Vipassana Center (which is so popular that even their waitlists fill up). And with the recent influx of high-vibe makers (from the likes of Evans and Von Zuel to life coach Dana Balicki, Snakeroot Apothecary herbalist Rachel Burgos, and Fire on the Mesa’s Thao Nguyen and Anthony Angelicola), newcomers like Instant Karma Yoga, Cedar + Sage, and The Bloomin Gypsy Homegrown have a created a bona fide community of 21st century pioneers looking to tap into the area’s next-level energy.

“Here the rocks are unapologetic, but they let you be yourself.”

But the area’s (dust-covered) crown jewel is of course Joshua Tree National Park, a space so jaw-dropping that not even photos can fully capture its epicness. That might be because it’s more than just sweeping views and cactus flowers at play (although timing your visit to the annual desert bloom is highly encouraged). “Here the rocks are unapologetic, but they let you be yourself,” says Aubrey Sheehan, who grew up in Twentynine Palms and picked up climbing a few years ago. “There’s no pride or ego involved, and I just really like that. I was traveling, and coming back here I was like, oh! I just get to be me.”

Healthy guide to Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park, from on high.

The one place where Joshua Tree truly feels like a desert is when it comes to food—the healthiest dinner option in the area is a salad at Pappy & Harriet’s (a onetime biker bar in Pioneertown that’s now best known for its barbecue ribs and performances by Angel Olsen and Little Dragon), and locals lament the lack of fresh produce at the nearby supermarkets.

“The people who are actually moving out here are on the creative spectrum doing something completely different to make a living.”

But even in that, there’s hope. Take Everton Gordon, a model who serves up jerk chicken over a heaping of greens and vegetarian Trinidadian Doubles at Kitchen in the Desert, which he opened with his girlfriend Laura Gleason two years ago (first in the back of a Twentynine Palms gas station, before relocating to a circa ’47 building around the corner). “We realized, wow, there’s no food out here,” he remembers of their initial reaction upon moving out here from LA back in 2015. Instead of waiting around for something to happen, they decided to open up something themselves, with a menu featuring all of their favorite dishes.

“The people who are actually moving out here are on the creative spectrum doing something completely different to make a living—that’s maybe the best part about being in the desert,” he says. Gordon’s already got plans to open up a brunch spot in Pioneertown this summer, and is working with friends on creating a pool-and-patio event space in Yucca Valley (in addition to a small-scale Burning Man-esque festival). As he puts it, “In two or three years this place is going to be completely different—it isn’t going to look the same.”

With nearly three million visitors to the park in 2017, there’s little doubt that things are changing. But whether that sense of quiet, solitude, and wide-open space (not to mention Desert Midnight) remains? You’ll just have to visit to find out.

The Glassy Blackbook: Joshua Tree

Vibe: High vibes in the high desert, where you’re either pushing yourself to the extreme on the face of a rock—or chilling through a sound bath in the center of an energy vortex.

Pack: Layers—unless you’re there in the summer, you’ll inevitably get cold at night—a hat, and the biggest water bottle you own. Tie-dye not required, but encouraged. And don’t forget to bring a lip balm and ultra-hydrating moisturizer; if the desert’s dry air doesn’t get you, the sun will.

Drop-ins: You’ll need to book your blanket at the Integratron or SCVC months in advance—but for everything else, reservations are definitely optional. (In fact, many of the newer studios don’t even have advance sign-ups.)

Walkability: Unless you’ve booked yourself an Airbnb next to The Natural Sisters Café, this is still Southern California—meaning you won’t get far without a car.

Runability: A handful of trails in the National Park are runner-friendly (in particular: Cap Rock Trail). Though you could probably meander through the side streets that dot the towns in the Morongo Basin, be warned that there are many residents who moved to the area intentionally to be left alone and might not look kindly upon uninvited guests jogging across their property.

Cycleability: In the National Park you can only bike on roads—meaning you’ll be sharing the lane with cars, trucks, and trailers (often without much of a shoulder). If that sounds stress-y (and if puttering along Route 62, where the speed limit reaches 65 MPH), head instead to Section 6, a square-mile of bike trails created in the Desert View Conservation Area by the crew at Joshua Tree Bike Shop.

Clean eats: Beyond the Del Tacos (there are two alone in Yucca Valley) and strip mall fast-food spots, there aren’t a ton of appetizing food options—healthy or otherwise. In particular, dinner options are limited. If you’re a stickler about eating organic or gluten-free, your best bet is to BYO and prepare your own meals.

Supermarket run: Joshua Tree Health Foods is small, but does the trick if you’re after fresh produce, pantry supplies, herbal remedies, trail snacks, or gut-friendly beverages (they brew their own kombucha). If you’re in town on Saturday, stop by the Joshua Tree farmers’ market for dates, citrus fruits, and tables of greens. Locals lament the lack of a decent, massive supermarket, so if aisles-and-aisles of options is more your style, you’ll have to drive all the way to Palm Springs for the nearest Whole Foods.

Water Situ: There have been recent issues with the local water supply, leading the Joshua Basin Water District to advise residents to boil all drinking and cooking water—so unless you’ve gotten assurances that your Airbnb’s water is filtered, pick up a couple big containers of water on your drive in.

Toiletry pick-up: Joshua Tree Health Foods for the essentials (think TK toothpaste or Acure shampoo), Shop on the Mesa for something a bit more elevated (think Wary Meyers, Poppy & Someday, Sachajuan, and local brand June Botanicals).

Make your base: Although a handful of motels and inns exist, the desert is teeming with Airbnbs—search Instagram to find the standouts (which include the Joshua Tree House, Joshua Tree Cabin, Casa Joshua Tree, and Dome in the Desert), or search by area (Joshua Tree proper if you want to be the first in the park every morning, Yucca Valley if you want to be a bit more centrally located, Twentynine Palms if truly-off-the-beaten-path is your vibe).

Top souvenirs: Creosote bush smudge bundles by June Botanicals, Snakeroot Apothecary Chill Vibes tonic, Joshua Tree Health Foods

If you eat at one place: Bright and charming Kitchen in the Desert offers up something for everyone—including their mouthwatering, gluten-free, vegetarian Trinidadian Doubles—in portions that will actually satisfy after a day of hiking under the desert sun.

If you work out at one place: Spend some time climbing in the park. There are a handful of climbing guides you can book through, but Stone Adventures is our favorite.

If you relax at one place: The Integratron lives up to the hype—prepare for a true desert high.

Check out the complete Glassy Guide to Joshua Tree.

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