Joshua Tree is more popular than ever. It may not be a good thing

The sun was low, the shadows of the cacti were lengthening, and laughter rang out amidst the Airstreams.

Natalie Valdez, 36, and Clarence Tsay, 37, who got engaged last year at Joshua Tree National Park, had returned with a group of friends from Los Angeles, San Francisco and beyond. Now they’ve filled four trailers tricked into the AutoCamp station, one of many shiny new businesses in this increasingly fashionable corner of the desert.

“I love Joshua Tree – its weirdness, its hippiness. I don’t want it to get commercial,” Valdez said.

“We don’t want it to become Tulum,” Tsay said, referring to the Mexican beach town that has become an Instagram darling, attracted legions of high-end tourists and is now struggling with overwhelmed people. Infrastructure.

When a naturally beautiful destination starts to become too popular and luxury-oriented, he said: “The line is fine. »

Then their friend Hana Cho responded.

“That’s the only reason I’m here – because there was a luxury option!” she says.

In fact, there are many.

In fact, as more and more people arrive in towns along Route 62 near Joshua Tree National Park, these visitors and newcomers are spending freely on everything from neo-bohemian lodgings to vintage goods. In their eagerness to feel those desert vibes, they sparked a full-fledged boom.

The World Famous Crochet Museum is near Joshua Tree National Park, where retailers and restaurants along Highway 62 have been booming in recent months.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Several shelves full of crochet animals.

Crochet animals fill the shelves of the World Famous Crochet Museum in Joshua Tree.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

As beginners quickly learn, hotels are scarce but vacation rentals are pretty much everywhere.

For $3,460 per night, you can book “the invisible house, a house with mirror walls with a swimming pool. For $450 to $800 per night, book a spring or fall stay in the AZ West compound designed by artist Andrea Zittel. For $300? Maybe a yurt with Mongolian furniture.

When your retail adventures begin, Ricochet Wears (Joshua Tree) stands ready with old cowboy boots. Looking for an old Tom Waits album? White label vinyl in Twentynine Palms wants to help. Need a $3,000 fine art print or a $16 bar of soap? To consult Mojave Flea Trading Post (which has stores in Yucca Valley and Palm Springs).

Then dive into a 1 hour sound bath with 27 new friends amid the dome’s crystal “singing bowls” Integrtron in Lander. (No water, no soap, $50 per person, reservation required.)

White beds under a domed ceiling.

The Integratron in Landers, California was created by George Van Tassel in the 1950s with the goal of recharging and time travel. Visitors come for sound baths in the sound chamber, and to find relaxation and meditation on its grounds.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

A group of people toast with plastic cups outdoors.

AutoCamp Joshua Tree, which opened in early 2022, features 47 luxuriously outfitted Airstream trailers, as well as picnic tables and fire pits where guests congregate.

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

This explosion of commerce and creativity follows the highway 32 miles west to east through the Morongo Basin region, through the varied and once sleepy communities of the Morongo Valley (population approximately 3,090), Yucca Valley (pop. 21,738), Joshua Tree (pop. 6,489), and Twentynine Palms (pop. 28,065). Pioneertown, about six miles north of Yucca Valley, is part of the same wave.
Joshua Tree National Park has set a record 3.06 million visitors in 2021, up 50% since 2015.

“The pandemic has definitely created what I would call a tipping point,” said artist Eric Nash, who moved from Palm Springs to Yucca Valley seven years ago. “Every day I read or hear about a new business…the kind of stuff you can’t do in LA or San Diego or Palm Springs for that matter.”

Meanwhile, many businesses that predate the pandemic are seeing more customers than ever before. In Yucca Valley, for example, sales tax revenue has doubled since 2017.

“Anyone who owns a business in Joshua Tree is walking around in a dream state right now. It’s so busy,” said Jeff Hafler, 49, owner of the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum in Joshua Tree.

“These Airbnb people want something to do,” said Steve Halterman, co-owner of the Station, a former 1940s gas station now filled with souvenir T-shirts, mugs, posters and pottery.

A man stands behind a crate full of baked goods.

Travis Poston owns Campbell Hill Bakery in Twentynine Palms with his wife, Nancy Tran.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Although much of the region’s new tourism – both part-time and full-time – comes from Los Angeles, 120 miles to the west, another part comes from nearby Palm Springs, where mid-modernism of the century is practically a way of life.

Now imagine this style in conversation with the cosmic-cowboy sensibility that reached the high desert with rock star Gram Parsons (and his embroidered bell bottoms) in the 1970s. of J-Tree, as well as legions of revelers drawn to nearby music festival Coachella (which will return in April after a two-year absence). Consider then that Registered Republicans continue to outnumber Democrats in Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms.

It’s the unique mishmash you now see along the freeway: Stetsons and Jetsons, rustic cabins and Airstream trailers, the occasional gay pride flag, the occasional Trump bumper sticker.

But with so many changes going on and gas prices in LA going beyond $5 per gallonhow long will this push last?

Two men sit in a red dune buggy outside a store, towered over by a tall fiberglass man.

Glen Steigelman, left, and Steve Halterman own The Station, a gift shop in Joshua Tree that was once a gas station.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

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