What it’s like to take a road-trip across the Californian desert


From desert glamping to Palm Springs, Cali has it all (Picture: Getty/ Metro.co.uk)

We’re heading out of the Joshua Tree Saloon – a lively western dive bar in the tiny desert town of the same name – when we’re accosted by Scott, a wild-haired fiftysomething who’s been propping up the pool table.

Hearing our British accents, he introduces himself as a ‘desert rat’ who moved out here from LA several decades ago and now earns a living – unsurprisingly – carving walking sticks.

He asks why we’re here and before we can reply, goes off on a rant about ‘tourists who just come and take pictures of themselves next to the trees’ – the ‘trees’ being the spiky yuccas peculiar to the Mojave Desert, and which flourish in neighbouring Joshua Tree National Park.

They were apparently named by 19th- century Mormon settlers who thought they resembled biblical figure Joshua reaching out his hands to guide the Israelites through Canaan.

Needless to say, I don’t mention that my companion and I had spent half an hour that day posing up our own tributes to the artwork for U2’s The Joshua Tree, the 1987 smash LP that gave us I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, among others…


Joshua Tree National Park, Near Hidden Garden

These spiky yuccas earned the national park its name (Picture: Getty Images)


U2 album cover

U2 fans might recognise this place


Laura Millar and her partner recreating U2 album cover

Laura had a go at recreating the album cover (Picture: Laura Millar)

Album covers aside, we’re here because of a hip new place to stay that has just opened a short drive from the park.

Autocamp specialises in setting up retro Airstream trailers in beautiful, nature-focused US locations, including Yosemite and the Catskills.

Now it’s touched down in the Californian desert and provides a ridiculously comfortable backdrop to the photogenic surroundings – it’s glamping on steroids.


Laura Millar in Airstream trailer

Laura was a big fan of her Airstream trailer (Picture: Laura Millar)


Autocamp Airstream trailers in the Californian desert at the Joshua Tree National Park

Despite the retro exterior, the trailers are very glam


Autocamp Airstream trailers in the Californian desert at the Joshua Tree National Park

Check out their luxurious interiors

Each gleaming, mirrored silver trailer is equipped with all mod cons – a bathroom, oven, French press coffee maker, TV and outdoor firepit – and the bed has the comfiest Sealy mattress.

It’s a brilliant base from which to explore the park which, prior to an evening marked by a flame-red sunset lighting up the desert sky, and our aforementioned night at the saloon, we do.

The best way to explore is by car (entry £23) so we stop off at geological oddities such as Skull Rock, which looks like King Kong’s cranium (naturally I pose in its ‘nostrils’), and try to avoid getting stung while roaming around the deceptively cute, furry-looking plants in the Cholla Cactus Garden.

Then, further embracing the wacky artiness of the desert, we head to the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Art Museum (free entry), where the 1960s African-American artist created a quirky landscape of installations made using found objects like tyres, shopping carts and vacuum cleaners.


Laura Millar at Skull Rock

There was enough time for a photo op with spooky Skull Rock (Picture: Laura Millar)


Assemblage sculpture by the late Noah Purifoy in Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Joshua Tree, California

Noah Purifoy turned trash into art (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)

Afterwards, we contrast our remote desert stay with a few days in Palm Springs, less than an hour’s drive away, and with a population under 50,000.

It became popular in the 1950s due to its proximity to Hollywood – stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Liberace lived and partied there.

Today it’s known for its hot springs, mid-century modern architecture, golf courses and stylish hotels.

We check into one of the latter, the newly opened Fleur Noire (rooms from £170pn).

Its 21 casitas are stylishly furnished, their exteriors hand-painted with big, blowsy, colourful blooms by LA muralist Louise Jones.


Fleur Noire

Fleur Noire has gorgeous hand-painted floral murals all over its buildings


A scenic road in Palm Springs, California.

The Californian landscape is really striking (Picture: Getty Images)

In search of kitsch – another thing Palm Springs is known for – we go for cocktails at PS Air Bar, which has been decked out to look like the interior of an airliner, complete with staff dressed in uniforms.

We blow the cobwebs away the next morning with a hike in the jaw-dropping Andreas Canyon. It sits, like Palm Springs itself, on the vast Native American Agua Caliente reservation.

We’re guided around the scenic one-mile Andreas Loop by tribal ranger Wade, who explains the history of the people who used to live on the land here, pointing out plants they would use for food and medicine.

An Agua Caliente cultural museum will open this year in town to celebrate the area’s heritage and outline the tribe’s modern-day life.

The landscape is Jurassic, with 65ft-California fan palm trees rearing up along a small that flows in between walls of red rock – no wonder it’s a popular filming location.

The desert has seduced me completely, from the stark, dry landscapes of Joshua Tree to the more lush and verdant areas around Palm Springs.

I want to stay longer – and later, under the stars twinkling against velvet skies, I dream of doing so.

Spring in Palm Springs is just the ticket.



Three more Californian desert destinations

Living Desert Zoo And Gardens Palm Desert


Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Palm Desert

Walk on the wild side (Picture: Tara Howard Photography)

The 80-plus acre attraction showcases flora and fauna from the deserts of the world.

The zoo and gardens are home to about 120 species and this year sees a new rhino savannah that has welcomed Nia, a female black rhino, and Jaali, her male companion.

Tickets from £21.

Azure Palm Hot Springs Desert Hot Springs


Azure Palm Hot Springs, Desert Hot Springs

Sit back and relax in thermal waters

If you fancy a dip in thermal, mineralised waters, head to this recently opened spa and resort.

It features two outdoor hot-spring pools, as well as a yoga pavilion and several treatment rooms.

Day spa entrance is £38 per person, which includes use of the sauna and steam room.

JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort Palm Desert


JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort, Palm Desert

Hollywood glam

Raise a glass to Frank Sinatra, who had a home nearby and whose last public performance was here in 1995.

The resort offers a Sinatra Smash cocktail at 4.05pm every day.

You can also eat at one of the ten restaurants or play on one of the two championship golf courses.

Rooms from £358pn.

Tailor-made specialist Bon Voyage has a seven-night trip, with three nights at Autocamp Joshua Tree and four in Palm Springs, plus car hire and flights from London, Glasgow or Manchester to LA, from £1,475pp, bon-voyage.co.uk.

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