It’s a big country. Come along as we explore some of the most well-known, and maybe not so well-known, places in our vast Western states: Alaska’s Kenai Fjords; Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons; the Grand Canyon; Joshua Tree and Zion national parks; Hoover Dam; Arizona’s Antelope Canyon; Idaho’s Shoshone Falls. Some you certainly have heard of, others not. But what they all have in common is the capacity to astonish, especially if you’re seeing them for the first time. Included is information on how to get there from Bellingham or Seattle, and other valuable travel tidbits. Happy trails.

Joshua Tree

The Mojave and Colorado deserts collide in Joshua Tree National Park. This landscape provides home to many unique desert flora and fauna, most unable to be found anywhere else in the United States.

The name “Joshua” was given to the unusual tree in the mid-19th century, when Mormon settlers crossing the desert noticed its distinctive shape. They said the branches reminded them of the biblical Joshua, Moses’ assistant, lifting his arms up in prayer. When Minerva Hamilton Hoyt moved to southern California in the 1920s, she became enamored with the Joshua trees. With the impending railroad construction, she was worried much of the desert would be destroyed. She worked diligently and presented a proposal to Franklin D. Roosevelt to protect the land. President Roosevelt’s New Deal was passionate about the creation of national parks, and after a couple years of negotiation, the Joshua Tree area was established as a National Monument in 1936. The area remained a monument until the California Desert Protection Act elevated it to National Park status in 1994.

Twentynine Palms is a city that borders the park, named for the number of palm trees at the Oasis of Mara. The Serrano people came to the oasis hundreds of years ago as instructed by one of the spiritual leaders; they believed the desert air would make them more likely to produce baby boys. Their spiritual leader instructed them to plant a palm tree each time a boy was born. In the first year, 29 baby boys were born to the tribe, so 29 palm trees were planted.

In more recent news: Joshua Tree National Park is in trouble. During this winter’s government shutdown, some visitors caused destruction to the park, driving off-road, cutting down several Joshua trees, scrawling graffiti on rocks, and crushing plants and wildlife. Some climbed a centuriesold juniper tree to break limbs off as firewood. A local described the damage as “devastating.”

Joshua Tree National Park is working on being restored, and you can help. Volunteering with the National Park Service would not only help rebuild again, but will also help keep the cost of admission down. Even through the damage, the majority of the park is a beautiful place to hike, camp, horseback ride, and explore. There are trendy towns nearby to eat and relax after a long day in the sun. Joshua Tree is a great place for a springtime family vacation.

Getting There From Bellingham

Fly On Allegiant Air, take the direct 2-hour, 45-minute flight from Bellingham to Palm Springs, California.
Drive Road trip 1,329 miles (about 22 hours).

Fees or permits

Seven-day passes: Non-commercial vehicle (including passengers): $30
Motorcycle (including riders): $25
Individual (walk or bike in): $15
Annual pass: $55

What To Do

Watch a drive-in movie after a day of wandering the park at Smith’s Ranch Drive-In Theater, just three miles away in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Walk the flat trail though a landscape of rare strands of cactus species, just south of Joshua Tree National Park’s south entrance.

Catch a view of the Milky Way under the dark skies of Joshua Tree, one of the best night-sky viewing spots in the country.

Places To Eat

Pie for the People!
Joshua Tree

Crossroads Café
Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree Coffee Company
Joshua Tree

What To See

Joshua Tree National Park is home to many unique desert species of birds, including the roadrunner, mockingbird, and red-tailed hawk.

See the Pinto Basin painted with beautiful wildflowers of all colors in the early Spring.

Oasis of Mara
The lush greenery of this oasis contrasts with the stark orange of the desert beyond.

Where To Stay

Joshua Tree National Park has four reservation-only campgrounds and four first-come first-serve campgrounds. The cost is between $15 and $20 per night, with many accommodations.

The Joshua Tree Inn
Joshua Tree, Calif.

Mojave Sands
Joshua Tree


April 12–14, 19–21
Watch artists like Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, Ariana Grande, Janelle Monáe, Billie Eilish, and Khalid perform at the 2019 Coachella music festival just 30 minutes away from Joshua Tree National Park.

May 16–19, 2019
Joshua Tree Music Festival
Held at the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, this music festival advertises being family-friendly. Catch artists like Vintage Trouble, Dynohunter, My Baby, and more. This Woodstock-esque festival also features workshops in yoga, visual arts, and myth.

September 21, 2019
Night Sky Festival
Celebrate the autumnal equinox at the Sky’s the Limit Nature Center and Observatory for a night of stargazing. The park will provide at least 20 telescopes, music, constellation tours, and sky stories after dark. Tickets go on sale over the summer.

Fun Fact

The Joshua Tree isn’t even a tree — based on DNA testing, this plant is more closely related to grass and orchids than any kind of tree.

To continue reading our Western State Landmarks Feature, click here!

"This landscape provides home to many unique desert flora and fauna, most unable to be found anywhere else in the United States."