With a thrilling name like Geology Tour Road (sarcasm intended), you might decide to skip the drive down this 4-wheel-drive dirt road into the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. But don’t let the field-trip-inspiring name fool you. It’s quite an interesting drive, past hundreds of Joshua trees, some big boulders, and into a remote valley. And, a 4-wheel-drive vehicle isn’t actually required for the most interesting part of the drive.
Geology Tour Road is located to the west of Split Rock and Skull Rock, and to the east of Ryan Mountain. Take Park Boulevard from either Twentynine Palms or the town of Joshua Tree, and you’ll get there. Geology Tour Road heads south from Park Boulevard, then makes a one-way loop around the valley, rejoining the dirt road for the return to pavement.
I was fortunate enough to have a Jeep SUV during my 2016 Superbloom trip to southern California, so I wasn’t shying away from rough roads. When I saw the “4×4 Required” sign on the Geology Tour Road, I was immediately interested.
The first couple of miles of the road is generally smooth, with occasional washboarding, but no dangerous rocks or other Jeep-worthy obstacles. This part of the road is especially interesting, because you’ll be passing through a relatively dense forest of Joshua trees.
Stop wherever you want and take pictures of these unique, personality-filled trees.
After a few miles, you’ll reach a big patch of boulders. I’d argue that this area makes a great alternative to the boulder mountains like Split Rock and Skull Rock, which are located right beside the main park road, and are jam-packed with people. Consider driving out here instead for a more serene experience.
I’d say that the dirt road is passable for just about any car, up until the point where the road splits into a one-way loop. If you’re in a smaller car, it would be very easy to drive as far as you think you can, then make a u-turn. Of course, road conditions may vary over time, so proceed with caution.
When the road splits, it narrows, and begins dropping downhill quickly. Before long…
… you’re down at the bottom of a valley, and around the corner from the Joshua trees and boulders.
There’s a pair of rusty old water tanks down here, from the days when ranchers kept livestock in the area, but that’s about all there is to see. It’s less like Joshua Tree National Park down here, and more like any-old desert valley in the southwest.
Continue around the loop (you don’t have any choice). Eventually you’ll reach a few photo-worthy spots…
… looking across the valley to the road you came down.
Aside from the water tanks along the road earlier, this was the only sign of civilization I found — a concrete slab, at one of the final curves along the loop portion of the road. Not terribly exciting.
This final sharp curve is at the end of a valley that heads further south. I suppose you could hike up it, but I don’t know if it would be worth your time.
Once you’ve looped around, head back uphill.
The loop ends, and you rejoin the smoother, wider dirt road, around the area of those boulders.
I think the most interesting parts of the Geology Tour Road are in the first few miles. This portion is two-way and easily passable in almost any vehicle. Consider the boulders along this road as a less-crowded alternative to the ones that are near the paved highway. The rest of the loop is not essential, but it’s still an interesting drive (and fun, if you have a 4-wheel-drive).
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive down and up Geology Tour Road: