Sunset near Cap Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

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There are plenty of great places to catch a spectacular desert sunset in Joshua Tree National Park. I first considered watching the sunset from Keys View, but I think I found a better location – near Cap Rock Nature Trail. Here, you’ll find a good view to the west, some pretty piles of boulders to the east, and plenty of Joshua Trees to silhouette against a colorful sky.

Location

My sunset spot is located at the junction of the road to Keys View and Park Boulevard. From the town of Joshua Tree, take the Park Boulevard south into the park. The junction is about 15 miles south of California Route 62.

My Visit

It was about 90 minutes to sunset, and I was torn between waiting for the end of the day, or hitting the road. It was the last night of my week-long trip (mostly spent in Death Valley), and I needed to get back to the Los Angeles area to repack and prepare for my flight the next morning. Leaving the park early would have been smarter, but I’m glad I stayed.

I checked out the view from Keys View, but it was hazy (as it usually is – it’s hazy so often the park has posted a sign explaining the haze). There wasn’t much to see up there, aside from a nice view of the sun dropping down. So, I backtracked down the hill, and decided to stop at Cap Rock.

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Why is this place great for sunset? Joshua Trees are plentiful here (surprisingly, in some parts of the park, they are not). They’re also spaced far enough apart that it’s easy to capture just one in a picture, without some others poking up into your frame. There’s also some pretty boulder hills, which you could climb on, if you wanted a different perspective. I did this at first, but decided I’d get the best pictures from the ground.

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And that’s what I did. For more than an hour, I ran around from one tree to the next…

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…shooting Joshua trees in every way I could imagine.  Flip through the slide show at the top of the page for more.

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The sunset reminded me a lot of the one I saw on my previous visit to Joshua Tree National Park, a full 11 years earlier. On that trip, I stuck around at Keys View for the sunset, and managed to silhouette some trees against the sky.

Once the sun was down, and the best color had faded from the sky, my vacation was essentially over.  I made the long drive back to the LA area (Anaheim, to be more specific — I was flying out of John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, south of Los Angeles).  It was a brutal drive in the dark, intensely windy and jammed with traffic.  But I’m still glad that I stayed for the sunset at Joshua Tree.

The Bottom Line

The Cap Rock area of Joshua Tree National Park provides some nice picnic areas, a short nature trail, and some opportunities for boulder scrambling.  But I’d argue that the real beauty of this place comes at sunset (and possibly sunrise), when you can photograph those strange trees in front of a brilliant sky.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the sunset at Cap Rock, followed by a dark drive out of the park to the town of Joshua Tree:

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