49 Palms and Counting

A Hike to Joshua Tree's 49 Palms Oasis and a Visit to the Outdoor Desert Art Museum

The hike to 49 Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree has pleasures great and small. Big: a genuine palm oasis and expansive views. Small: the possibility of spotting a desert tortoise or a chuckwalla lizard. It’s all in the course of a 3-mile out-and-back gem that is situated between Indian Cove Campground and the Twentynine Palms (eastern) entrance to the park. The trail has its own approach road, so there’s a bonus: You don’t have to pay to park and hike.

The path starts a shadeless climb right off the bat. The panoramic brutalist desert views to the north are constant and overwhelmingly expansive. Look for those chubby chuckwallas basking in the sun on the large boulders that surround you. As you come over the ridge, the 49 fan palms (try counting them!) come into view against the mountainous backdrop as you descend into the canyon. Admire the daisylike flowers of the brittlebush or the spiky red-barrel cactus.

When you reach the oasis, there are plenty of boulders (and shady spots!) to enjoy a picnic. Or scramble on for different perspectives of this peaceful micro ecosystem. Mammals like bighorn sheep and coyotes rely on the space for water, as do Gambel’s quails and even springtime visitors like the dark-eyed junco and hooded oriole, making it a top birding spot. Take last looks at this beautiful scene as you climb to the ridge and eventually descend to your car. Cheers to the palms!

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BONUS ARTS: Gorgeous art installations are also an oasis of sorts for visitors to the stark Mojave landscape. Just 5 miles north of the Twentynine Palms Highway is the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, perhaps the best example of an artistic desert oasis. For the last 15 years of his life, the sculptor and J-Tree local utilized junked materials to create a stunning display covering 10 acres. It’s available to all to enjoy freely, dawn to dusk. Grab a self-guided tour brochure at the entrance, sign the guestbook, and bask in Purifoy’s truly awesome works just as the desert wildlife do under the palms.

To get to the 49 Palms Oasis trailhead, take the I-10 east to CA-62 and follow it for 37.7 miles, turning right onto Canyon Rd. (look for signs). Follow this for 1.7 miles to the lot and trailhead. No dogs. To get to the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, take the CA-62 for 23.6 miles after the intersection with the I-10, turning left onto Yucca Mesa Rd. Follow that for 4 miles and turn right onto Aberdeen Rd. After 4.5 miles turn left onto Center Ave., followed by an immediate right on Blair Ln. Parking is on the right; the museum is on the left.

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