Desert trip—day 1: Davis to 29 Palms

We left home this morning to head to Southern California for a week in the desert. When we headed out at 7 a.m., it was 32°F in Davis, and the roofs of the houses in our neighborhood were white with frost. We had planned to stop only a few times but as we got close to the Consumnes River south of Sacramento, the sun shining through the fog-shrouded oak trees was too stunning to pass up so I stopped for a few photos. Truly iconic views of the Central Valley.

Valley oaks in the morning mist south of Sacramento

In fact, at this time of year, the Central Valley is at its most beautiful. The grass is almost neon green, and on a day like today, with blue sky and puffy white clouds, everything seems larger than life. This is a long and wide valley, sparsely populated, especially on the western side, and you sometimes drive for 30 miles before you get to another town.

The Central Valley ends at Bakersfield, and we headed east through the Tehachapi Mountains where we were greeted by snow-covered hillsides. In fact, it must have snowed earlier in the morning because we saw traces of snow very close to the road. No surprise, considering the road goes up to 4000 ft.

Snow-covered hills in the Tehachapi Mountains

On the other side of the Tehachapis, the road drops pretty quickly and before you know it, you are in the Mojave Desert where Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia) dot the landscape. This is the western- and northernmost edge of their growing range, and they are noticeably smaller here.

23 miles to Barstow

Our destination for today was the town of Twentynine Palms just outside Joshua Tree National Park. We decided to approach it from the north through Barstow—a town many consider ugly but I have a soft spot in my heart for it—, heading south through Lucerne Valley. This part of our drive was particularly beautiful because for many miles we were the only car on this two-lane highway that wends its way through unpopulated desert.

South to Lucerne Valley
What happens when you don’t water your palm trees—or, Boulevard of Broken Dreams 2011
Joshua Trees in Yucca Valley

We arrived in Twentynine Palms at a little after 4 p.m. and checked into the Harmony Motel, a very small but cozy place that is a throwback to the classic era of the American motel. U2 stayed here while working on their album The Joshua Tree back in the 1980s. The rooms here aren’t fancy and the place isn’t the cheapest, but they have a beautiful xeric garden full of cacti, agave and desert shrubs.

Octotillo and palm tree at Harmony Motel
Part of the desert garden at Harmony Motel
Century plant (Agave americana) and jumping cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)
Downtown Twentynine Palms on Sunday evening

Tomorrow we’ll spend the day in Joshua Tree National Park before heading on to the Salton Sea, a truly unique place that few people visit.

All posts about our trip:

Day 1  •   Day 2  •   Day 3  •   Day 4  •   Day 5


  1. This is going to be a fun week -- can't wait to see more! I love the Valley Oaks shot!

    Please tell me you were a passenger when taking the shots from the car window.

  2. Alan, I was driving but I stopped the car before taking this shot :-).

    More photos coming tomorrow. I'm working on day 2 right now.

  3. I'm actually going through your photologue backwards so this is the last one I've seen.

    I'll be in tune with the right flow tomorrow, hehe!

    The photo of Boulevard of Broken Dream 2011 is cool!


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