Joshua Tree National Park: Not A Pitstop (San Diego to Vegas)

It’s a long story. When placed on Google Maps it seemed like a road trip the kids and I could do in one day. San Diego to Vegas, and hey, why not go via Joshua Tree National Park. 6 hours….


10 and a bit is more like it. I wish we had just spent the night at Joshua Tree, California, but we didn’t. We persevered and written in partnership with Hotels.com here is our tale.

Joshua Tree National Park - pano

The Night Before

It had been over 7 months since I had seen my Australian friends, Dave & Vanessa and they were in Vegas! They were long-time friends of mine and when I heard they were in Vegas I just knew I had to hightail it there to catch up. As I didn’t have any plans to leave San Diego, I decided what better place to head than Vegas with friends.

Not one to usually be spontaneous I had been working on it. I mean at the beginning of my nomadic journey I had planned 4 months upfront and now here I was contemplating a 6-hour drive to visit friends in Vegas? Tomorrow!

We decided I could get to Vegas early, then the next day we could all head to the Grand Canyon in my 7 seater vehicle. So the plans changed that night. Tomorrow I would leave for Vegas, and just chuck in a quick stop in Joshua Tree.  6 hours didn’t sound too bad.

Joshua Tree National Park - car

Finally, on the road

It took much longer to pack then I realised and I was so grateful for my giant car, as it was PACKED! I didn’t manage to leave my beautiful house in San Diego until about 10:30am.

Car Troubles

It felt like I had just got started flying down the highway when all of a sudden the car lost acceleration. The car kept rolling forward, but the speed was coming down very slowly and the accelerator was doing nothing. Scary!

I pulled over to the side of the road and tried to restart the car. It didn’t fix anything. The accelerator would get to maybe 20km, but nothing above that and now some weird helicopter-type light had turned on the dashboard.

Joshua Tree National Park breakdown

As the car was hired, I rang the agency. The hard part was I had no idea where I was and they had no idea where anything was located near us. They asked me to get off the Highway so I drove super slo-mo onto a side street and pulled into an isolated parking lot.

It took nearly an hour to figure out where I was and if they could get a tow-truck here and what we would do after that. During the frantic phonecalls I had to remain a mom so I took the kids to the toilet, we all ate some food, had a drink, and then feeling anxious I tried restarting the car.

Supermom. Magically, the acceleration was back! Another phone call to the hire place to change the tow-truck plans. Instead they asked me to drive to the nearest town for a service vehicle swap if needed.

Joshua Tree National Park - superwoman

It didn’t take too long for me to get to that town. The service guy was very fast. It takes all of 90 seconds before the car is fine and the problem with the electronic “histories” is fixed. With a promise it won’t happen again I am back on the road, having lost 2 hours of my driving day.

Sorry Palm Springs

It didn’t take me long to get to Palm Springs, however I didn’t get to visit since the delay. It became nothing more than a toilet stop in my mad dash to make up some time.

Joshua Tree National Park

Having read plenty of Dr Suess, the kids and I knew we had to visit the strange Dr Seuss-like trees with their furry and palm-like crazy looks. The trees reach to the heavens like a man praying, thus the Mormons named them after Joshua in the Bible.

We enter Joshua Tree National Park at about 3 pm, paying our $15 entry fee. It is humongous and I realise quickly there is no way we are going to cover the majority of the park. So we check out the ‘Oasis’ and then head straight out. It takes just over an hour to drive through the park – I had no idea it was so big! We stopped a few times for photos with these bizarre trees or to climb gigantic boulders.

Joshua Tree National Park - trees

We had to skip the bigger concentrations of interesting things to see and just head straight out of the park as the orange sunlight slowly crept further and further back from the land. It was mesmerizing to watch the shadows deepen and tiptoe over the vast expanse as the sun slowly sunk behind the boulders and mountains in the distance.

Given the opportunity to do it again, I wish I had stayed, seen more, and finished the drive tomorrow.

Warm Glow of Joshua Tree to the Blinding Lights of Vegas

Soon we were driving in pitch black. No street lights and no cars. I drove like this for nearly 4 hours before the eerie glow of Vegas’ neon garb lit up the horizon. I felt almost blinded as I drove into the bright lights of Vegas, having been accustomed to the long road of darkness.

Sad I didn’t see any more of Joshua Tree at least the drive into Las Vegas was electrifyingly beautiful. My friends were staying at the Monte Carlo so I booked a last-minute night there and arrived around 8:30 pm. As I was checking-in my friends arrived back at the hotel. So we hit up Denny’s to plan tomorrow’s epic Grand Canyon adventure before getting my exhausted kids and myself to bed.


2020 and 2021 haven’t been the easiest years to travel in and safety is at the top of everyone’s list. If you are comfortable with traveling, please travel responsibly and within the rules of each destination you visit, being aware that those rules change frequently and may be different from your home country.

If you are traveling in 2020/2021, can I recommend:

  • Wear a face mask in countries that require you to do so. 
  • Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands on a regular basis.
  • Check official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures, and status of local businesses.
  • Book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
  • Choose travel insurance that covers you for COVID.
  • Getaway somewhere remote like Joshua Tree National Park to enjoy the ultimate in social distancing.



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