Road Trip Through Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks + Southern California
My family has made it a tradition to visit new National Parks each summer—some of my favorites include Yosemite and Grand Teton. This year, we headed back out to California, but rather than returning to the towering Redwoods + vast canyons, we took a mini western road trip to venture the desert. And good news: I’ve got lots of pictures!
We began our trip in Las Vegas, Nevada where my aunt and uncle live. As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed with a home cooked Filipino feast by my aunt including pancit, BBQ pork skewers (“meat sticks”), spring rolls, flan, an assortment of avocado, mango, and ube (purple yam) ice cream, and ripe mangoes, bananas, and watermelon!
From there, we headed out towards Death Valley National Park. We entered the park at Hell’s Gate and the location names throughout the park continued with the Death Valley theme—Devil’s Cornfield, Desolation Canyon, Funeral Mountains, etc. We made stops at Furnace Creek, Golden Canyon, Artist’s Palette (naturally occurring colors on the Amargosa Mountains due to the oxidation of various metals… AKA, God’s creativity explained through scientific terms), Badwater Basin (the hottest point and lowest elevation in North America at -282 ft. Our high temperature for the day reached 118°F!), and Zabriskie Point.
Later that evening, we made our way over to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where many television show and movie scenes have been filmed. It was a mesmerizing experience to walk over huge mounds of sand with a panoramic view of the mountains surrounding. The scene continually got more astounding as the sun turned golden + dipped behind the mountains, reflecting hues of pink and orange along the mountain range + grains of sand.
The views don’t cease when the sun goes down! As I looked up, I was overcome with awe + bewilderment at the vast sea of glittering stars that extended across the expanse above me (and even further beyond that!?). The amount of stars were so numerous that the sky no longer appeared black, but rather in a shade of silver. It’s incredible to think that we get a free viewing of the universe each night, along with colored sunset skies that vary in hue + pattern with each passing day. And to think that these are only the least of things that are offered to us freely by God.
We then traveled from Death Valley to Joshua Tree National Park where we saw Jumbo Rocks, Skull Rock, and Keys View. I always thought of this park as a desert landscape filled with Joshua trees and that was it, but oh was I wrong—it’s all about the rocks! The wild rock formations + huge stacks of perfectly placed boulders have no other explanation than by the hands of almighty, artistic God. We are blessed in viewing the handiwork of the Artist, but how great it will be when we can see + worship the Artist Himself in person!
Viewing the world from these points sure does make me realize how small I am, yet I am still known + longed for by the Maker of it all.
We made it priority to wake up early (about 4am) each morning of our trip so that we didn’t miss a single sunrise. This is probably one of my favorite things about our family trips—we don’t use them as vacation time spent relaxing, but rather, we rejuvenate through packing our schedules full of places to be + things to see so that we absorb as much as we can in the short time that we have + we don’t miss out on a single precious moment of the day.
On the way out of the south side of Joshua Tree, we passed through Cottonwood Spring + the Cholla Cactus Garden where fluffy cacti were scattered everywhere throughout the valley! We then voyaged through Indio, Coachella, and Westmoreland areas that were studded with numerous kinds of fields, ranches, vineyards, and farms including many date palms.
We followed the edge of the Salton Sea down to the Imperial Sand Dunes, making a few stops at some of the beaches + bays along the way. Although the Salton Sea was bustling back in the 1950s, the area has now been left almost entirely abandoned, which left the rest of us with a somewhat eerie feeling. The Imperial Sand Dunes, on the other hand, took my breath away. I stood in the midst of all the sand dunes that stretched far beyond what my sight could see + felt the wave of heat brushing past me, and I felt like I had been transported straight to the heart of Saudi Arabia (also because I was still slurping on a date shake that we had purchased from the date palm farm).
Salvation Mountain has been a point to visit on my destination list for a long time now, and when I found out it was around the area that we would be for this trip, it was immediately added into the itinerary! The vibrance of color that Salvation Mountain boasted against the desolation of “Slab City” + the surrounding desert was captivating + so synonymous of the great contrast between the Lord’s radiant, bold, compelling love compared to the drab, dry, depressing nature of the world we live in.
I was wonderstruck as I explored Salvation Mountain. My fascination + awe heightened as I ventured across each rainbow patchwork of quirky art + inspiring messages—a Wizard of Oz + Word of God kind of mashup. Not only did I walk up the outside of the mountain, but I got to explore the inside of the mountain which was a fantasy fort-like creation made out of hay, filled to the brim with new discoveries + hidden treasures along each step + turn of the corner. This, too, screams what a life with Christ is like: fascinating, mysterious, curious, exciting, and full of little treasures, happy moments, miracles.
After spending the evening in Palm Desert, we headed towards La Jolla, California. We made a stop in old town Temecula, then drove oceanside through Encinitas, Torrey Pines, and Carlsbad areas. Once to La Jolla Cove, I got to walk along the ocean cliffs + get up close to the MANY sea lions who call this area home. It was really neat to see all of the newborn pups who were cuddled up + nursing from their mothers.
We made our way down to Old Town San Diego to explore the marketplace + museums + restaurants. We also visited Mission Beach, Hotel del Coronado, and stumbled upon the gorgeous Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on our way through Point Loma which was like an Arlington Memorial on the cliffs of the Pacific.
My favorite spot in San Diego outside of La Jolla had to be Balboa Park. I immediately fell in love as I saw various nations + cultures represented throughout the park—from the impeccable architecture of the buildings to the many restaurants and gardens. My eyes were glittering + my heart was bouncing as I walked through those beautiful gardens of numerous different kinds of flowers + variations of roses that I had never seen or smelled before!
I absolutely love spending time exploring nature, especially within our National Parks. With each new location + venture I set out on, I am continually overwhelmed by the power + presence of God. I feel His joy through the warmth of the sun, I see His creativity in various plants, flowers, rock formations, and I hear Him speak through the chirping of birds + crashing of waves. He is a part of all that is around us. He is available at all times + waiting for us to receive Him. If only we can open our eyes + hearts to glorify the Creator as much as we do the creation.