This Week – The Lay Of the Land

hi-desert-map-1-2-2016Note: Map not drawn to scale

In our blog we often refer to the “hi-desert,” but we haven’t really defined the area we’re talking about on our site… until now. There are several different places in Southern California that can call themselves the hi-desert. When we talk about the hi-desert we are specifically referring to the Morongo Basin in the southwestern Mojave desert.

The Morongo Basin covers the area from Morongo Valley through Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms and on to Wonder Valley in the east. It extends from the northern half of Joshua Tree National Park up to Pioneertown and over to Landers – the home of the Integratron.

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Above: The Integratron

Highway 62 runs through most of the Morongo Basin and is one of the most used routes to reach the hi-desert. Most people coming from the L.A./O.C. area take Interstate 10 towards Palm Springs. Highway 62 is a few off-ramps after the Palm Springs turn off. I always watch for the freeway sign that says “other Desert Cities” to know I’m close to Highway 62.

This is the land of giant windmills turning wind into electricity. Now I know the hi-desert is just a few off-ramps ahead.

Highway 62 is also called the Twentynine Palms Highway or 29 Palms Hwy – take your pick. I always call it “the 62.” It’s the ribbon that ties my hi-desert world together.

highway-62-zero-marker-800pAbove: 0.00 marker at the beginning of Highway 62. Image by Google.

I love to glance at the highway markers as I leave the 10 and ride the sweeping turn that curves onto the 62 and see the 0.00 marker.

Something in me always feels a sense of relief, like I escaped and made it back to my beloved hi-desert. The 62 has officially begun, and several wind-swept miles down the road I’ll pass the light at Indian Canyon and start heading up “The Hill”.

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“The Hill” is what separates the low desert from the hi-desert. It’s a several mile stretch of winding road that takes you out of Riverside county and into San Bernardino county, from the arid low desert to the Joshua Tree filled hi-desert.

After climbing the hill you will find yourself in Morongo Valley. There is a great shop called The Cactus Mart in Morongo Valley filled with locally made hi-desert items and an amazing selection of cacti and succulents.

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You’ve just entered the hi-desert at this point, and if your destination is Joshua Tree you still have about seventeen miles to go.

Willie Boy’s Saloon and Dance Hall is in Morongo Valley. You’ll see it off to the left as you reach the edge of town. It has a giant (re-purposed) P.F. Chang’s horse (all cracked up from being blown over during an intense wind) in the parking lot and a buffalo on the roof. You can’t miss it.

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If you have the time I recommend stopping, otherwise, it’s time to head up “The Grade”.

The Grade is a very long crawl up from Morongo Valley to Yucca Valley. The speed limit is 60 mph and I recommend sticking to that speed because the CHP is almost ALWAYS on the highway here watching for speeders. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve traveled up The Grade without seeing a highway patrol car.

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About halfway up The Grade you might notice that you’ve entered the elevation where Joshua Trees grow. Again I feel a sense of relief as another milestone towards home has been passed. Back in the land of Joshua Trees, hurray!!!

Immediately as you crest the top of The Grade you are in Yucca Valley. You’re now at 2900 feet. Yawn if you need to clear your ears. The speed limit in Yucca Valley is 40 mph on the 62. Only out-of-towners speed through town. You’ve reached the hi-desert. We like to move a little slower here. It’s taken me several years now, but I’ve slowed down too.

Yucca Valley is the place to shop before you hit that campsite at JT National Park. Need a grocery store? Yucca Valley has them and Joshua Tree doesn’t.

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Big 5, Rite Aid, Home Depot, Petco, Staters, Vons, Starbucks… all the standard issue chain stores – Yucca Valley has ’em.

Once you’ve passed the Home Depot you are nearly out of Yucca Valley, and Joshua Tree is just a few miles down the road. The road opens up and the signs on the roadside say “Slow Down And Enjoy The View.”

It’s always like a moment of transcendence and transition for me as I enter Joshua Tree proper. First I pass Sunny Vista Rd. and I notice the big red arrow stuck in the sand to the left, and then The Playhouse and The Joshua Tree Inn on the right.

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After passing Sam’s Market (good beer here) on the left and The Beatnik Lounge on the right – I have just about reached Park Blvd and the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park – the destination for many people coming to the hi-desert. This is the heart of the town of Joshua Tree.

Another 15 miles down the 62 will get you to 29 Palms. Wonder Valley is just beyond 29 Palms. The best thing in Wonder Valley – hands down – is The Palms Restaurant – a hi-desert roadhouse/music venue. It’s the real deal. Kick back and have a beer and take it in.

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On your way back stop at The Glass Outhouse Gallery – a first-rate art gallery in an unexpected location.

That’s how the hi-desert rolls – great stuff in unexpected locations.

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