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Sunrise on the last day of my trip in Joshua Tree, California.

Joshua Tree, Retrofied

By Monica Corcoran, senior photo editor at

It’s funny how your mind can change after you’ve tried something for the first time. I was convinced that Hipstamatic – an iPhone app that let’s you apply film, lens, and flash settings to your pics to achieve a retro look – was more gimmick than photography. So last month, on an early spring trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I decided to put it to the test, armed with an Old Glory camera case, the Americana lens and an “endless supply” of Ina’s 1969 film. It seemed like a fitting kit for my first encounter with this iconic desert, or more appropriately, deserts. The park is comprised of not one, but two deserts: the Mojave “high desert,” and the Colorado “low desert.”

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A courtyard chandelier at the Joshua Tree Inn.

In less than two hours, you can go from sitting in L.A. traffic to sitting at the Crossroads Café in Joshua Tree savoring a plate of cheesy, stick-to-your-ribs potatoes and a cup of coffee. This is key because it’s best to go into the desert fully satiated (buying some extra water and other supplies doesn’t hurt either). After a quick stop at the visitor center to get my National Park Passport stamped, it wasn’t long before I saw the namesake and star of the show, the Joshua Tree.

I happened to time my trip perfectly and was rewarded with blooming trees, creosote bushes, ocotillo plants, and patches of other wildflowers. The desert was spectacular and the rock formations otherworldly. I didn’t see coyotes or roadrunners, but a curious iridescent green hummingbird made up for the no-shows. After several hours of bouldering and hiking, it was time to leave the park and check in to my hotel before heading to dinner.

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Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace looks the part.

The Joshua Tree Inn (just six miles from the park’s west entrance) offers hacienda-style lodging centered around a courtyard garden and pool. A few more miles down the road, I found Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, an authentic steak house that grills over an outdoor mesquite fire, features live music most nights and serves up margaritas in a mason jar. By the time I got back to the inn and was gazing up at the starry sky on my private patio (and making s’mores in a chiminea they kindly provided), Joshua Tree had shot straight to the top of my all time favorite trips list.

And while a no-app, no-filter photo straight from the camera is still my favorite, Hipstamatic will show you (and your friends) a heckuva good time.

Don’t forget: National Park Week is still in full effect through Sunday, April 29, with all parks offering free admission to celebrate the occasion. Share your own photos with the National Geographic community by tagging them #parkpic on Twitter and Instagram.

To learn more about our amazing national park system download National Geographic’s free app for iPhone, National Parks by National Geographic.