In my short experience here, I’ve found that desert dwellers tend to be a self-selecting crowd: to live here, you have to be okay with a little bit of grit, and even more okay with solitude.
Living in Joshua Tree has its fair share of grit, but not so much solitude these days – with a National Park nearby and a pandemic that dictates that all activities we do must be outside – the crowds are simply overwhelming, especially when camping opened back up. On weekends, the small town’s population swells, the (outdoor) restaurants fill up for hours-long-waits, and you can absolutely forget about finding a trail without tons of people.
And so I began to look beyond Joshua Tree for the desert solitude I desired when I moved here.
Enter, the Mojave National Preserve.
The Mojave National Preserve feels truly wild, with dramatic landscapes and very few signs of human life. Yes, it’s close to Las Vegas – about an hour drive – but you may surmise, as I did, that most Vegas tourists aren’t there for its scenic hikes or solitude. The next nearest city is Twentynine Palms, the easternmost city connected to Joshua Tree National Park – which does a great job absorbing the LA crowd. The distance from cities and general lack of services in the Mojave Preserve area – few places to eat and even less lodging – means a safe bet if you’re seeking adventure and isolation.
North of Joshua Tree, and south of Death Valley, the Mojave National Preserve resembles a bit of both deserts. Towering sand dunes, cinder cone volcanoes, and carpets of wildflowers in spring are all found within the 1.6-million-acre park. It also includes the densest Joshua Tree forest in the world – or it did, before the Cima Dome Fire in 2020. Now, the charred remains of Joshua Trees create an eerie, totally other-worldly experience for those willing to make the journey.