I am sure this will seem like madness to some of you but sometimes I just need to get in the car and drive for hours. We recently had plans to fly to Phoenix, Arizona for the long weekend of President’s Day when I realized I could drive instead.
I would like to tell you that I realized that I had never been to Joshua Tree National Park (photos) and so decided to drive instead of fly, but more accurately I decided I needed to drive and then realized my route would take me right past Joshua Tree National Park… which I very much wanted to visit.
I had booked my flight on Southwest Airlines. Say what you like about their board by the numbers boarding system (which my This Week in Travel co-host Jen Leo hates), but they have the most freedom of any airline to cancel your flight for no particular reason and get a credit for a future flight.
If you have never been to California, then let me explain a bit about California geography. The shortest route from San Jose, California to Phoenix Arizona is to drive Interstate 5 through the Central Valley to Los Angeles then turn left and head along Interstate 10 through the Mojave desert to Phoenix.
When they first opened up Interstate 5 they had some problems with people falling asleep on this long straight and somewhat scenery deprived strip of highway. And the road through the Mojave is another one where you need to plan your stops in advance because there are long stretches of empty. But empty is not a bad thing for a road trip sometimes. Empty is time to think, or catch up on podcasts, and think and listen to an audiobook, and think, and …my gosh this road is rather long.
I had a free night’s hotel at a Radisson Hotel and saw that almost halfway along my route was the Radisson near the Ontario Airport east of Los Angeles. It wasn’t until I drove into the parking lot of the hotel that I realized that I had visited this hotel before. It had been the conference hotel for the Podcast and Portable Media Expo I had attended shortly after I started Amateur Traveler over 10 years ago. I met friends I still have today in that hotel. But the night I stayed there it was filled with a convention of people who collect Coke collectables… which is apparently a thing.
Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful place in a very out west kind of way. It has rocks, cactus and Joshua Trees and that’s about it. If you are not familiar with a Joshua Tree it looks like the love child of a wooly mammoth and a toilet brush. It is not tall or grand but lovely it it’s own way.
Even if you just drive through the park as a day trip like I did, do get out and hike. The Hidden Valley hike is an easy 1 mile loop that explores a small, and yes hidden, valley “rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers”. The hike is popular so this is not the hike to take if you are looking to get away from other visitors.
I detoured through Wickenburg Arizona to meet up with Mike, from Mike’s Road Trip who was a recent guest on Amateur Traveler. One of the best things about being on a long road trip by your self is time with your own thoughts. One of the best things about detouring to see a friend is less time with your own thoughts.
Hours to view the landscape, think and listen. While not as ambitious as the Great American Road Trip we did two summers ago, it was a good road trip. There was only one flaw to my plan. By the time I got to Phoenix I had the whole solo road trip thing out of my system… but I had to drive home again.