Palm Springs may be known for midcentury design, gay pride, and quality-of-life retirement, but a mere 30 miles away is a whole other kind of desert outpost. The High Desert communities bordering the northern end of Joshua Tree National Park, at 2700 feet above sea level, are smaller, cooler, and dustier. Towns like Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms are the last vestiges of civilization before the vast stretch of unpopulated Mojave wilderness to the east.
That could explain the spooky, anything-can-happen vibe as well as the rock 'n' roll legends that haunt the area. Lodging options abound, but your rock star self must hole up at the Joshua Tree Inn, a rambling, tile-roofed, roadside motel staffed by a super-friendly dreadlocked dude named Marsu who makes his own chai. Why are there Gram Parsons T-shirts for sale in the office and a shrine to the alt-country prototype in the small courtyard? Because this is where Parsons overdosed in 1973. You can stay in the very room, or if that seems morbid, book the ones favored by Emmylou Harris or Donovan. A few miles away is the west entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, where you can hike past, or climb up, mountainous granite crags and see endless rows of the iconic desert trees that inspired U2's best-selling album. Bring your lunch—the many picnic tables are strategically placed in shady areas with silence-inducing views.
Photo of Pappy and Harriet's from their website.
A scenic drive through the park brings you out through the north entrance into the town of Twentynine Palms, made famous in the Robert Plant song of the same name. Plant allegedly wrote it for his then-lover Allanah Myles while touring with her through the area in 1990. Lest you begin to feel the Mojave's musical allure is all nostalgia, head a few miles north to Pioneertown. Built in the '40s as an Old West movie set, the tiny village is now home to Pappy & Harriet's, a barbecue joint and music venue that shakes the rafters come the weekend. Order a drink (it comes in a jelly jar with a straw) and migrate up to the small stage with the hipsters—male and female alike all clad in perfectly worn Western boots—to see killer sets by the likes of Ryan Bingham and Divine Fits. Just be sure to make a reservation if you plan on eating beforehand, because it's going to get crowded.
For more wholesome fare, head to Royal Siam in Joshua Tree—the lemongrass soup is out of this world. Come breakfast time, Ma Rouge in Yucca Valley makes five varieties of quiche that are so mouth-watering you'll swear you're eating some kind of deep-dish egg pizza (wait, you are eating a deep-dish egg pizza). Their coffee, muffins, and art collection are nothing to scoff at either. As you head out of town, any last traces of hangover can be eased away at Living Waters Spa in the nearby town of Desert Hot Springs, where you can lounge and soak—clad in bathing suit or birthday suit—in the mineral-infused waters all day for only $45 per couple. Rock 'n' roll ain't easy, but somebody's got to do it.