Archive for January, 2017

Exploring the Pacific Northwest: Portland and Seattle with High School Students

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UHS Faculty member Maggie Beckman hiking Portland’s Forest Park

I’ve long held the belief that travel is the best kind of education. So when my friend Wes Priest, an English teacher at University High School in Indiana, told me that he was bringing a group of students to the Pacific Northwest with his colleague, art teacher Tasha Barger, I agreed to join them and give a few photography tips.

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Wes and the JTerm students at the Witches Castle in Forest Park (photo credit: Maggie Beckman)

These 23 teenagers spent the first part of January studying the art, photography and literature of the Pacific Northwest with Wes, Tasha, and faculty member Maggie Beckman during their school’s January Term (J-Term). During J-Term, the students take a break from their normal studies to immerse themselves in a single subject that interests them. This interdisciplinary class culminated in a trip to Portland and Seattle.

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PDX snowpocalypse in Forest Park

I met up with the group in Portland, Oregon while the city was still pretty much shut down after experiencing the biggest snowstorm in 20 years. As a seasoned traveler, I know plans how often plans go awry and you need to embrace that. But I had no idea how a group of teenagers would handle it. Their upbeat attitudes and lack of complaints caught me off guard. It was refreshing. There really is nothing you can do about the weather and the students got to see Portland in a really unique way.

Time lapse of the students working on zines in Portland. What a cool class.

Spending time with this group taught me a lot of great things to do with teenagers in Portland. We hiked through snowy Forest Park to the Pittock Mansion to get a view of the city. We hit legendary Portland institutions including Powell’s City of Books and Voodoo Donuts.

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Hiking the Upper Macleay Trail in Forest Park

I learned donuts are very popular with high school students. Top Pot Donuts in Seattle was also on the week’s agenda. The students documented their trip with cameras and used photos and found items to create hand bound zines. It was fun to watch so many young creative minds get busy making art.

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Snoqualmie Falls

Spending the week with this group of students was both exhausting and inspiring. They appreciated both cities as well as the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and they reminded me of what it is like to have a youthful perspective.

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Eating Ramen at Pine Market in Portland (photo credit: Wes Priest)

Eating Ramen at Pine Street Market was a big hit with this crew on a cold night in Portland.

Watching the students document their trip made me want to include some of their photos and impressions on this blog. Featured below are some images the UHS students shot on their trip to the PNW and their own captions.

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I took this photograph of my friends’ and my feet right before our hike at Twin Falls.”- Kathryn Papp

These students came prepared and learned the best way to handle the Pacific Northwest’s moody weather is by dressing correctly. Every one of these students was wearing appropriate footwear. It made for a cute photo opportunity and I was excited that one of the students captured it.

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Lily in Capitol Hill in front of graffiti- Erin Webb

The students wandered through Portland, checking out local record stores, thrift shops, and the Portland Art Museum.

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I took it because its kind of a perfect depiction of the Seattle vibe. Everyone and everything is accepted, except for lack of acceptance- Lily Hunter

The students broke up into groups and explored different neighborhoods in Seattle, which prides itself on being progressive and a Sanctuary City. I wasn’t surprised the teenagers loved Pike Place Market and my personal favorite, MoPop  (formerly known as the EMP).

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 Gorgeous water fall at Snoqualmie falls in Washington” – Kenzie Binford

Seattle’s weather cooperated with us and the group got to visit Snoqualmie Falls and went for a great hike in Twin Falls.

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 “A different perspective of a piece of wood art at Portland Art Museum”- Drej Cosby

It was my first visit to the Portland Art Museum and I thought it was both user friendly and a nice size. There was lots to see without it being too overwhelming.

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 “Meowtropolitan cat taking some time to chill”- Drej Cosby

Some of the students visited Seattle’s Meowtropolitan, a Japanese-style cat cafe. I’m allergic to cats but was interested in their take. They really enjoyed it, and seemed to think it was quite a bit of fun for the price point!

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 Red and Boji”- Maddie Compton

I was impressed by the student’s genuine appreciation for the post-modern architecture of the the Seattle Central Library. They made me remember just how cool the Rem Koolhas and Joshua Ramus-designed building is.

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 “The Seattle Room at the Seattle Public Library”- Elise Zaniker

Seattle’s Central Library is also a great location to take photographs and the kids got some eye catching shots.

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 The modern built Seattle Public Library is home to many of writers and artists that open a portal of literary bliss to anyone. I felt that this was a good representation of the modern architecture that houses the classic tales of our time.”- Serena Patel

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  “This was on the bus ride from Portland to Seattle. It was just a nice, quiet moment I wanted to capture.”-Kathryn Papp

The students impressed me with their keen interest in the Pacific Northwest, their manners and the general lack of drama. Travelers have always been de facto ambassadors, and this group certainly made University High School look good.

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This bridge that served as our entry point into Forest Park felt like a gateway or portal into another world. Once I crossed under this bridge, I felt like I was in an entirely different universe of snowy bliss. Almost like Narnia.”- Livi Nichols

Spending a week with these kids strengthened my belief that travel is great education. It forces you out of your comfort zone, makes you to think on your feet and switches up your perspective. It was fun being able to share the experience of exploring the Pacific Northwest with these students. Their enthusiasm and curiosity was contagious.

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  Michaela laughed as she hoisted herself up to get a better view of Elliott Bay. It was our first day in Seattle and the rain and fog only added to our ‘authentic’ Seattle experience.“- Livi Nichols

I did not just learn from the students. Wes, Tasha, and Maggie are passionate educators who are dedicated to helping young minds develop. They worked hard to plan this trip and make it a positive experience for all involved. I hope these students know how lucky they are to have such fantastic and accessible teachers.

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“It was really spiritual and one of the best moments of my life because everybody was helping everybody else. People were cold and tired, but everybody stayed positive and struggled together to get the best feeling once we hit the very top.”- Eli DeBrota

The whole J-Term concept is a really cool idea. Where were classes like this when I was in high school?

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The JTerm Crew on the waterfront in Seattle

I have to confess I missed this group once they left Seattle. Hopefully some of them with return to visit. I promise Portland is an entirely different experience without all the snow.

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Wes and Tasha at Snoqualmie Falls

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Exploring the Baltics: Weekend in Vilnius, Lithuania

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh, the social media manager for this blog, recently returned from a weekend getaway to Vilnius, Lithuania. Her photographs made me curious to know more about this Baltic capital. I asked her to write this guest post about this gorgeous European city.- Jen 

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The Cathedral Square in Vilnius

Normally when people hear the words “winter getaway” they imagine some place warm, sunny, with white sand under your feet and calm ocean breeze touching your cheek in the morning. But for some of us travelers, winter is the best time to go North. You see, most of the countries here in Europe show their true character only in winter. This time I went to Vilnius, to see, to eat and to freeze 🙂

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Pilies Street

Lithuania is a young country with an old history. It regained independence in 1990, but the history of Lithuanian kings go back to the 13th century, and once was one of the largest countries in Europe. It included present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. The best way to see and touch that history is to explore the Old Town of Vilnius, one of the largest medieval sites in Europe. Let’s start the walk!

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A view from the steps of Town Hall

Cathedral square is the heart of the city, and also a good point to start a walk through the Old City. It looked completely white on a cold winter day, and I loved minimalistic neoclassical architecture of  Cathedral. Don’t miss checking it out inside – the place looks  like a museum with more than forty frescoes and paintings from the 16th through 19th centuries on it’s walls. Here’s an interesting factoid-  it is believed the pagan temple was located at the same place long before the white walls and liturgies.

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Statue of St. Mark on Vilnius Cathedral

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Facade of the Vilnius Cathedral

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Inside the cathedral

Gediminas’ Hill and the Tower located right near the cathedral. The way on top looks harder that it is (tip, you can use a funicular!), and the tower itself despite looking very old was actually rebuilt in 1930. The origin legend of the tower (and the city) is rather fascinating.

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Gediminas’ Tower

The story goes that Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas was hunting in the woods, and spent the night on the hill. He dreamt about a large iron wolf howling loudly. He went to magician for explanation of his dream, and was told that this was an omen telling the Duke to build a city in this place, which would become the capital of Lithuania. So Gediminas built the city named Vilnius after the nearby river Vilnia, and a castle in the center of it.

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A walk through the Old City

The second you get to an old city you also notice another thing – Vilnius is a city of churches. There are 28 churches in Vilnius Old Town (21 are Roman Catholic and 4 are Russian Orthodox) with their spikes and crosses popping up all around.

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Facades of the St Ann and the St Francis of Assisi churches

Aside from Cathedral, one of the most exquisite and elegant catholic churches is a red-brick St Anne’s Church (paired with the larger St Bernardine’s Church) to the east of Pilies gatvė.

To get up close with Orthodox Christianity, you can visit St. Nicolas church (one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox churches in Vilnius) built in Neo-Byzantine style.

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Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church

South of the Pilies street is the quirky Užupis neighbourhood, also called Republic. The name Užupis means “the other side of the river”, it is separated from the Old Town by the Vilnia River, and on the second side there are steep hills. The place was a home to an artistic crowd for quite a long time (as the rent was much cheaper) and on April Fool’s Day in 1997, the city’s bohemian quarter declared itself an independent Republic. Užupis holds feasts, fireworks shows and open-air art exhibitions.

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Funky inhabitant of The Republic of Užupis

It even has it’s own constitution, which includes such rights as:

Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.

Everyone has the right to cry.

A dog has the right to be a dog.

The constitution is written in 23 languages and can be found on a wall on Paupio street in the area.

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Street bookshelf in Uzupis

Vilnius is small, so the best way to explore it is on your foot. Unfortunately, winter wasn’t the best time for walking,  so I didn’t get to see it all. But I promise to go back in summer, everybody says the city is completely green and the weather is very lovely.

Sightseeing is a good thing, but may require some additional calories, so here is the list of some useful places to stop by and fuel up:

To kick-start the long day of walking, go for a coffee and quick bite to Taste Map Coffee Roasters or Kavos Era. The coffee is simply great!

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Very straightforward sugar sachet at Taste Map Coffee Roasters

For a nice modern European lunch stop by Comfort Hotel LT, and check out the best hotel restaurant in Lithuania – Time Restaurant. It was started by Egidijus Lapinskas, rated as one of the best chefs in Lithuania, and sommelier Arminas Darasevcicius. They serve new seasonal lunch and dinner menus every day and the food is delicious. Make sure to score reservation ahead, the place is always busy.

Seafood and Salmon Salad at Time restaurant

To check out the local specialty visit Forto Dvaras, located in the heart of an Old City(zeppelins are weird and interesting, but don’t try to order more than one per person, too fulfilling!), and for late night dinner Bukowski Baras is the place to be. Hip interior, mixed crowd of locals and tourist plus tastiest hot-dogs in town and craft beer!

How to get there:

The most convenient way to get to Vilnius is by plane. Vilnius International Airport is only 4 miles away from the city center, and has flights from New York, London, and major European cities including Paris, Rome, Moscow, Vienna, Istanbul, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Oslo, Stockholm, Barcelona, Riga, Tallinn, Minsk, and Brussels.

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Exploring Venice, Italy: Lunch on the Island of Burano at Trattoria da Romano

 

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Charming interior of Trattoria da Romano

If you’re looking for things to do in Venice, Italy taking a day trip to one of the nearby islands is a must. The colorful island of Burano, known for it’s brightly painted houses and fine lace is an excellent choice.

Burano has a few well regarded restaurants, making it a great destination for lunch time excursion.

The only way to reach Burano is by boat. I traveled with friends on a private water taxi arranged by the concierge at Bauer il Palazzo which got us to Burano in about 35 minutes. Water taxi is very fun way to travel!

Time lapse of water taxi ride from Venice to Burano

We had a fabulous lunch at Trattoria da Romano, which came highly recommended to us by an American who is an Italian scholar and part-time resident. Booking reservations ahead of time is a must.

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Canals and colorful buildings of Burano

Trattoria da Romano makes a world famous risotto which won raves from Anthony Bourdain, who featured the restaurant on an episode of No Reservations.

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Smiling water at Trattoria da Romano

Burano has only 2,800 full time residents, most of whom work in the fishing industry. When you come here, you’re coming for seafood! We ate our meal family style, with sardines and branzino for the table.

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My friends contemplating the menu at Trattoria da Romano

The highlight of the meal was the seafood risotto, which will please any foodie. I am not normally a fan of dishes that include squid ink, but the seafood risotto won me over. I’ve been dreaming about it since tasting it for myself.

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Seafood Risotto at Trattoria da Ramano

We ordered both the Bourdain-approved seafood risotto, as well as the traditional risotto. While not much to look at, both were seriously next level. The seafood risotto was black but not overly so. It was so good, we contemplated ordering another round for the table.

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Sardines for lunch at Trattoria da Romano

The spaghetti with clams was also quite flavorful and perfectly al dente.

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Spaghetti with clams

We also heard great things about Gatto Nero Restaurant, but we did not dine there ourselves.

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Picture of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards on the wall at Trattoria da Romano

Be sure to check out the photographs on the wall near the bathrooms at Trattoria da Romano. They are a fascinating look at the history of this family owned restaurant and it’s guests.

Via San Martino Destra 221, Burano – Venezia
Phone 041 730030
Via Giudecca, 88 – 30142 Burano (Venice Italy)
Tel. +39.041.730120

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Exploring Italy: Venice in the Winter

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A gondolier on the Grande Canal in Venice, Italy

I rang in 2017 in Venice, Italy. I’m a huge fan of Italy and usually game to visit. To me, Venice has always seemed like a gorgeous dreamy fantasyland, so beautiful it is almost surreal.

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Gondoliers on one of the canals in Venice 

Italy is always a popular tourist destination and Venice was once described to me as “the original Vegas.” The city’s unique charms have always been a huge draw for tourists. For this reason, I’ve only visited Venice in the winter. It’s still a popular spot, but you don’t have dodge quite so many selfie stick toting tourists.

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Tourists taking selfies on the Rialto Bridge

This trip I stayed at the fantastic Bauer Il Palazzo, which has a great location about five minutes walk from San Marco Square. The suite was old school stunning and very spacious by Venetian standards, with an exceptionally huge bathroom.

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Stunning interiors of the Aman Venice

While the focus of this trip was simply wandering around the city and dining with friends, I did make a trip to the Aman Venice for lunch. It’s a gorgeous property which boasted the only green space I saw in the city.

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Seeing red in a suite at the Bauer il Palazzo

The Aman has a lovely restaurant and bar, and served a great Aperol spritz. Like all Aman properties, it was zen to the point of feeling like you had the whole place to yourself.

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Museum-like interiors of the Aman Venice

It’s a lovely respite from the throngs of tourists, but a bit more off the beaten path and not the right place if you want a “happening” vibe. But I’ll admit… I was dying to see the rooms!

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Spritz o’clock at the Aman Venice

I had a positive experience at the Bauer il Palazzo and would definitely stay there again. I hope I get the chance since Venice is one of those cities I start planning my next trip to before I’ve even left.

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Sunrise on the Grande Canal

If you’re planning a trip to Venice, check with your hotel about arranging a water taxi to meet you at the airport. Uber is not an option in a a city where gondolas and water taxis are the only way to navigate the canals and water ways.

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Dusk at Basilica de la Salute

 

Bauer Il Palazzo Venice

Address: S. Marco, 1459, 30124 Venezia, Italy
Address: Calle Tiepolo Baiamonte, 1364, Palazzo Papadopoli, 30125 Sestiere San Polo, Venezia VE, Italy

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Exploring Southern California: Sunrise at Joshua Tree National Park

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Colorful sunrise in Joshua Tree

I have a fondness for desert landscapes and love to visit Joshua Tree National Park during the winter. The weather is pleasant and the park never seems too crowded. I find it particularly peaceful to get up before dawn to watch the sunrise.

I shot this time lapse video on my iPhone 7 plus at Joshua Tree National Park

On my most recent trip, I had my two labs with me. Since activities with dogs are limited in the park, I stayed in Palm Springs at the pet friendly Ace Hotel Palm Springs. The Ace Hotel also two dedicated Tesla chargers, which made this road trip easy since since I drive a Tesla.

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Bristled Joshua Trees

If I was traveling without my two dogs, I would have stayed closer to the park. I’m a big fan of the Mojave Sands at Joshua Tree (check out this previous post about a stay at Mojave Sands), but they only allow small dogs.

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Twisted, surreal Joshua Trees

If you’re heading to Joshua Tree National Park from Palm Springs, I suggest coming in through the West Entrance.  Each morning I drove towards Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, and Keys Ranch until I found a spot I wanted to watch the sunrise.

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Here comes the desert sun

If you are driving from Palm Springs, and want to watch the sunrise, allow at least 90 before sunrise to drive to the West Entrance of the park and find a spot to watch and set up your equipment. It can get windy at times, and you might want to use a tripod.

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Colors change dramatically just after dawn in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree has been a favorite spot of mine to just chill. After photographing the sunrise, it’s nice to explore the cholla cactus garden, an easy quarter mile loop with a dense population of cholla cactus.

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Sunrise panorama shot on my iPhone 7 plus

Pet owners should note that activities with dogs are limited and animals must be leashed at all times. You can check out what activities you can do with your dog in Joshua Tree National Park here.

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The last super moon of 2016 seen through a Joshua Tree

My trip occurred during the last supermoon of 2016, so that made both the sunrise and moon interesting to photograph.

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Warm skies in Joshua Tree

After exploring the park for a few hours after sunrise, I like to head to the funky Joshua Tree Saloon for breakfast. The service is friendly and the place is packed after 7:30 with climbers and desert dwellers. They make a mean Bloody Mary, and the potato pancakes are quite tasty.

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Morning walk through the cholla cactus garden

If you head to the Joshua Tree Saloon, don’t miss the vintage photo of Johnny Cash near the front door.

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Rocky landscape at Joshua Tree National Park

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Morning in the desert at Joshua Tree National Park

I’m a big fan of National Parks and Joshua Tree is the one I am most comfortable exploring on my own. It’s pretty user friendly.

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Funky roadside Joshua tree

If you’re visiting Palm Springs, Palm Desert, or the Coachella Valley, I’d definitely recommend spending a morning exploring the surreal desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. It’s one of those special places in California that has a “vibe.”

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Morning sunlight in the cholla cactus garden

Joshua Tree National Park

74485 National Park Dr.
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597

Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day and may be visited at any time of the year.

Entrance Fee – $20.00 (7-day vehicle permit, admitting the passengers of a single, non-commercial vehicle on the day of purchase and for the next six days).

Motorcycle or Bicycle Entrance Fee/ Walk-In Fee – $10.00 (7-day entrance permit, per motorcycle or bicycle/per person on foot).

Joshua Tree Saloon

61835 Twentynine Palms Hwy.
P.O. Box 289 Joshua Tree
CA 92252 USA

1-760-366-2250

Hours Open:
Sunday – Thursday 7:00 am-12:00 Midnight
Friday & Saturday 7:00 am – 2:00 AM

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