Overland Route - Joshua Tree Adventure Route


Gone Traveling
Dec 31, 2020
Yorktown, Virginia
Joshua Tree Adventure Route
by Chet Szymecki​

My recent adventure along the 137 mile Joshua Tree Adventure Route was partially a musical journey into the past. Some of you may remember that in the 1970s and early to mid-80s, we purchased complete albums from a band and listened to all the songs. The complete album itself was an experience, and the way songs were arranged, and complimented each other, was an art that I believe is largely unrecognized in today's world.

My time as a young man in 1987 is associated with this album: U2 - The Joshua Tree.

The Joshua Tree Adventure Route is another off-road route where you will be spending much time alone and without any cellular service. There are many signs along the route that state "PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. WARNING: DEEP SAND AND ROCKS. STRANDED DRIVERS HAVE DIED FROM HEAT EXPOSURE ON PARK ROADS. ROAD IS NOT MAINTAINED OR PATROLLED. FOUR WHEEL DRIVE ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT." The previously mentioned album began playing in my head, I closed my eyes and let my foot off the brake - I was rolling into yet another experience that few have the pleasure of knowing.

My initial entry into Joshua Tree National Park began at the north-east corner of the park near many old and abandoned mines. I stopped at a few and peered straight down into the blackness of a deep vertical mine wondering who the men were that chipped away at the rock in search of treasure. Where did they come from and how did they view this area? What drove them to risk life and limb a century or more ago to work and live in these harsh conditions? What thoughts raced through their minds as they fell asleep listening to packs of coyotes yipping? The night before, I fell asleep nearby listening to descendants of those tricksters yelping and howling at the stars in the sky. I said my prayers and drifted off to a wonderful night's sleep being rocked by moderate winds.

This road was tricky, at some points it was sandy and you were able to travel at 15-20 mph. At others, your movement forward was reduced to a 1-3 mph crawl. Looking up into the sky towards the sun I reminded myself that I was alone, in the desert, and despite recent successes, I had best keep my head on straight and respect the unfamiliar area I was in. I was deep into the heart of Joshua Tree now - what a strange and beautiful world I was exploring for the first time.

Roads in the area have interesting names such as Gold Crown Road, Old Dale Road, Brooklyn Mine Road, Ok Mine Road, etc. This was part of the Dale Mining District and there is so much additional history and remains of buildings and mines in this particular area I have not even begun to scratch the surface. If you spend a bit of time performing some research, and plan appropriately, this are alone can easily support two to three days or more of adventure. As a father I think back to when my children were young and how I wish I had taken them more often into the wild. Sure, there are challenging sections of the trail that require you to stop and plan your route over an obstacle, but this is always a great time to empty the vehicle and let the kids stretch their legs.

Although I began this trail in the Mojave Desert, I spent the night camping for the first time in the Colorado Desert in the Coachella Valley. Geographically, this is an interesting area since two very different ecosystems converge - the Mojave and the Colorado deserts. My goal was to sleep right on top of the southern section of the San Andreas Fault but it was just a few miles too far away. Maybe next time.

As my luck would have it, during the middle of my route, I encountered road closures at Berdoo Canyon Road and Geology Tour Road. After reversing my direction and partially exiting the park to regain cellular service, I discovered the roads were closed that morning due to a very recent rainstorm that damaged and washed out sections. This is part of overlanding though, coming upon a washed out bridge, an extremely muddy section that is impassable, or a closed road. It was time to break out the maps and explore go-arounds or parallel trails. Much to my disappointment, there were none and the ranger office had no idea when the roads would reopen. Time to slow down the process and think of a few options.

My alternate plan was to spend the night at White Tank Campground near Arch Rock. The West Entrance Station of Joshua Tree NP is where it seems most visitors enter and depart the park so be prepared to be delayed 15-30 minutes or possibly longer during the weekends. Back to camping at White Tank - there was no water, electricity, or cellular service at this location but there were trash bins and a vault toilet. When I am out on the trail I take advantage of every chance I get to fill up on gas, water, or dispose of trash.

I hiked the surrounding area as the sun fell and the stars came out. As I walked back into camp I stopped to chat with a gentleman from British Columbia who pointed to the top of a rock and said if I really needed cellular reception I could climb up top and maybe be rewarded with a sniff of connectivity. After talking a bit more, I thanked him and headed over to my Four Wheel Camper to fix some warm soup on this cold night. On a cool night it is always good to eat a warm meal late since you are eating something warm, and your digestive system will be working late which also helps keep you warm. Later, a skoolie with a young lady rolled in and after parking, walked over to say hello and talk for a bit. It's always fun meeting different folks from all over the globe who share a common passion.

The next morning I awoke early and decided that if Berdoo Canyon and Geology Tour roads were open, I would complete my adventure. If not, I would turn myself north, stock up on supplies, and head to King of the Hammers, in Johnson Valley, for the next ten or so days. I like to keep life simple and make as many binary decisions as possible - heads means this, tails means that. As men, we must eliminate overthinking, make decisions, and deal with any unexpected outcomes. As I drove by Geology Tour Road I noticed the "road closed" signs still up so I stopped by the ranger office on the way out, just in case they were planning to open within the next hour. Negative. Johnson Valley, here I come.


Ten days later I returned to complete the Joshua Tree Adventure Route and as soon as I jumped back in, it felt as if I had never left. While on the trail, my mind instantly switches into adventure mode and the rest of the world disappears. I suspect this is a good healthy way to live compared to the normal state of mind that is largely chaotic for most of the time these days.

Here is your standard 3/4 glamor shot with all the lights on. One thing to consider while roaming in the desert is the fact that depending upon where you are, there may be some high-speed folks blasting through and they may be smaller and more difficult to see. Most of them have all their lights on so I am a proponent of running lights, even during the day, in many situations. From what I have observed in the desert - lights increase safety during the day or at night.

As I have mentioned previously, the desert has a strange beauty of its own. As the sun was setting during my final few hours on the trail I stopped, rolled the windows all the way down, turned my truck off, and just sat for some time and watched. The only sound was the occasional whisper of a light wind. The only smell was faint but natural. The only thing I was able to see no matter where I looked was created by God. Some man made structures are impressive and some I even consider beautiful - but there is something special about natural beauty. Get out and enjoy nature for yourself no matter where you are or what the conditions are.

This is my parting shot for my time having fun along the Joshua Tree Adventure Route. I never imagined thirty-seven years ago that I would be exploring Joshua Tree Natural Park in an overland vehicle but I am sure happy I ended up here. I wonder if those miners from 150 years ago ever imagined digging holes in rock searching for gold, when they were young. Or maybe they flipped a coin and had the courage to begin their own adventure without overthinking the situation. I wonder what my future will be? I think it's fun not knowing and just taking a chance...
Thanks for another route to add to my bucket list though I'm not so sure I wouldn't rather do it in my Jeep. Had to google skoolie :)
Berdoo Canyon, unfortunately, has become a major area for target practice, especially near the southern end. Lots of trash, empty casings and targets. North of that, there are some short technical sections I have easily navigated with my truck camper. Sorry you missed Geology Tour but IMHO, the mining roads in the Dale District are the most interesting of them all.

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