Looking for a great weekend trip, with desert wilderness and interesting attractions along the way? Take the 354-mile journey from Joshua Tree, California, to Flagstaff, Arizona. Depending on the time of year you choose, you can take in a music festival, visit a beautiful lake area, and explore geological wonders.
Starting at Joshua Tree, just north of the Joshua Tree National Park, be sure to take in the National Monument. which is a vast 400,000-acre wilderness and easily accessible with three park entrances. There are plenty of great RV camping opportunities at the park, which boasts high desert wilderness for hiking and backpacking trips. Camping sites are available by reservation at some campgrounds, and on a first-come, first-serve basis at other sites.
The park is famous for its large population of iconic Joshua Trees, and is somewhat cooler than surrounding desert regions, but it is still very hot, and more popular during the winter, spring, and fall, when temperatures are more moderate.
When driving between California and Arizona, be prepared for extreme heat. Your RV or vehicle should be well maintained, and you should pack an extra supply of drinking and coolant water in case it is needed. From Joshua Tree, take Highway 62 east to Vidal Junction, then head north on Highway 95 to Interstate 40. Continue east and then north on Interstate 40 to Flagstaff. This section of Interstate 40 follows the old Route 66, so you can take in the scenery and attractions that once attracted motorists in the heyday of overland travel through the region.
When you arrive in Flagstaff, be sure to take in the fascinating Coconino Lava River Cave just 20 miles north of town. An ancient volcano’s lava flow created the cave when a lava river carved its way through the solid rock, and then cooled and hardened. The resulting underground passage is an almost perfect circular tube that appears almost as though it were man made, making it a perfect natural subterranean cave for exploration.
The Coconino Lava River Cave is especially large, at one mile in length, and is tall enough for people to walk through upright with many feet of clearance overhead. The cave features a Y intersection where two lava tubes combine to form one spectacular large tube. There are holes in the cave ceiling that let in some natural light with a unique effect, but make walking on the desert floor above the cave hazardous.
Also, beware of condensation which makes the cave walls and floor slippery, due to the temperature gradient between the cool subterranean cave and the hot desert landscape above. Wearing good footwear with traction is recommended and cave explorers should bring at least two light sources per person, and a drinking water supply. The cave can be explored free of charge.
If you stop at Lake Havasu, you can leave your RV at a local campground and head north on Highway 10 to Oatman, Arizona, or take a side trip off of Interstate 40 as you pass and head southwest on Highway 10 from McConnico, for 20 miles, to visit what is described as a “Living Ghost Town”. The highway is a remnant of historic Route 66, and is not particularly well maintained, with washouts and sharp turns, so you will need to take it slow and leave low clearance vehicles at more appropriate locations.
This iconic “old wild west” town won't disappoint and is well worth the side trip. The town of Oatman is small, with a population of only 200, and about 150 yards of street front, but packed with historical buildings, and plenty of nostalgia. The town comes complete with wild burros wandering through the streets, the descendants of beasts of burden once used in local gold mining activities, and then turned loose to fend for themselves.
Also, watch out for gunfights. Two groups, the Bitter Creek Outlaws and the Ghostriders have “mock” gunfights several times daily, by simply walking out into the street and putting on an improvised show. The entertainment is free but donations are accepted for a local charity. Gunfights during the offseason are only held on weekends.
Cross the Arizona border on Interstate 40, and take a quick jaunt 16 miles south on Highway 95 to the east shores of Lake Havasu and Lake Havasu City. There is plenty to see in Lake Havasu City including a reconstruction of London Bridge, built from the actual dismantled granite blocks from the original bridge in, yes, London, England! Lake Havasu City is also home to the largest number of lighthouses in the US. Not something you would expect to see on a desert lake!
Lake Havasu is 45 miles long, and there is plenty of greenery, sun, and clear blue-green waters at this desert oasis. Stay at Lake Havasu State Park or area KOA campgrounds for overnight camping, and enjoy boating, water sports, excellent beaches, and swimming areas on the spectacular lake. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
The area is very popular and attracts scores of visitors throughout the year, so be prepared for traffic in the area. Reservations are recommended.
If you are travelling from Joshua Tree in mid-May or mid-October be sure to catch the Joshua Tree Music Festival, which is held bi-annually in the spring and fall at the Joshua Tree Lake RV Campground. This desert festival features new artists in music and visual art, as well as some old favorites. You will hear a variety of music styles including bluegrass, soul, rock, and jazz, as well as some original fusion styles.
Festival-goers often dress in wild costumes and the festival has an eclectic, free, relaxed atmosphere. You can park your RV at the campground if you book ahead, or stay at nearby Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds. Be sure to enjoy the art installations at the festival which are often created out of “found” items.
The dramatic desert setting and lighting gives the event a unique atmosphere. There are even family-friendly activities for visitors with children. This festival runs for four days and features three stages so there is plenty to see and do for event-goers.
At the end of your 2-3 day or weekend trip, there is still no shortage of things to see when you reach your destination of Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff is situated in scenic high mountain terrain and experiences all four seasons, so you can enjoy great summer activities with warm weather, spectacular fall colors, and winter activities during the off-season depending on the time of year you visit. Be aware of road conditions during the winter as there is significant snowfall here and winter rated tires are recommended during the off-season.
Flagstaff is sometimes referred to as the “City of Seven Wonders”, because of its close proximity to seven national parks and wilderness areas that are within an 80-mile radius. While staying in Flagstaff, visit these amazing parks and sites on day trips that include the Grand Canyon National Park, Wupatki National Monument, Oak Creek Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano, San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, and Walnut Canyon. Camping opportunities abound at the nearby parks and wilderness areas, with natural wonders and wildlife, or you can opt for local KOA campgrounds with plenty of facilities and amenities during your stay in Flagstaff.