17 mi / 28 km
Palm Springs (PSP)
Dirt (Grade B)
Calling all rock buffs – if you know your Phanerozoic eon from your Archean eon, then the Geology Tour is for you. An offshoot of our greater odyssey through the wonders of the Joshua Tree National Park, this 19-mile drive crosses one of the most desolate parts of the whole reserve. The focus is on the natural history, as you'll learn all about the millions – nay, billions – of years of geological formation and metamorphosis that led to the creation of this unique landscape.
It all begins midway down Park Blvd. A turn off there takes you south, straight towards the amphitheater of peaks that is the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Notice how the yucca trees get smaller, how the scrub gets drier. You're entering the most inhospitable sector of Joshua Tree, where rainfall is measured in the hundredths of millimeters and the temperatures can oscillate from 100 to 30 in the space of just 24 hours.
The main hiking path here is Paac Kü̱vü̱hü̱'k (pronounced paa-ch kurv-er-hurk). It goes diagonally across the central plains of the reserve. At first glance, it all looks desolate. But, peer a little closer, and you'll spy clues of a former life. There are bajada, small hills of sediment that gather where there was once a babbling mountain stream. There are the ancient lakebeds, where – perhaps 10,000 years back – you'd have seen shimmering waters.
Picture this: It's 1992, and Southern California is rocked by a seismic beast—the Landers Earthquake—registering a whopping magnitude of 7.3. When geologists ventured into the park post-quake, they stumbled upon an astonishing sight here along the Geology Tour Road.
Imagine their astonishment as they found a section of the road dramatically shifted 15 feet, courtesy of the powerful fault movements unleashed by the earthquake. Now here comes the intriguing twist—instead of fixing the road, the National Park Service decided to embrace the seismic alteration as a living testament to the Landers Earthquake's might.
If you want to drive even further into this wild, wild corner of JT park, go south again. There's a trailhead that heralds the way up to Pinyon Well. It's very rarely trodden these days but paves the way to a haunting ghost settlement deep in the San Bernardino Mountains, a place once inhabited by gold miners looking to strike it rich.
The town of Joshua Tree has a range of accommodations, including hotels, motels, and vacation rentals. Some popular choices include Joshua Tree Inn, Pioneertown Motel, and various vacation rental homes and cabins.An entrance fee is payable upon entry into the park. A permit is required to backpack and camp overnight in the backcountry. Day hikers do not need a permit. Parking fees may apply to some areas - see signage on site. Got a tip for this route? Send us yours! Dirt (Grade A), 4WD is a must as the route contains deep ruts and soft sand. View current alerts and warnings from the National Park Service.
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