Book now: The bungalows of Homestead Modern
I’m stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 91 en route to Joshua Tree on a hot October day in Southern California because I decided to leave town on a Friday around noon . To be honest, I’ve only been a resident of Los Angeles for five years and this is my first time traveling to the famous desert oasis nearly 150 miles away. As I pass the time humming oldies, the landscape slowly begins to change from shopping malls and bustling highway interchanges to open spaces dotted with windmills. At about 130 miles, I begin to see the hail-armed namesake tree of my destination, and the bustle of LA begins to feel distant.
The quirky town of Joshua Tree (pop. 8,000) in the Mojave Desert has long had a reputation as a place where visitors can soak up New Age philosophy, marvel at mid-century modern architecture and take in the unearthly beauty of the austere landscape dotted with Joshua trees. I hope to get a taste of all three this weekend.
My destination is The Bungalows, a newly renovated mid-century modern hotel with 14 suites spread over three buildings, locally owned and managed by Homestead Modern, a short-term vacation rental company that got into the hospitality business with this flagship property. The bungalows opened in June 2022 and are located on the sprawling 130-acre campus of the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, aka the Institute of Mental Physics, a spiritual center inspired by East Asian philosophy, established in 1946 and dedicated to improving his physical and mental well-being. All campus buildings were designed by Southern Californian architect Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. The retreat houses the world’s largest collection of Lloyd Wright buildings.
After ascending the ramshackle mountains of Little San Bernardino, I finally arrive in nearby Yucca Valley and the sparsely populated western part of Joshua Tree, where the hotel is located. The original structures were built in 1960 and designed by mid-century modern architect Harold Zook, who was best known for the eclectic homes he created in the Midwest and Los Angeles. I can park in front of my room because the buildings that now house the bungalows were originally designed to be a motorhome. The Bungalows, a contactless hotel, has no official reception – guests are asked to “check in” a few weeks before their arrival date and are emailed information on how to use the locks intelligent from their room four hours before their arrival. on time. However, Bungalow employees are just a text or phone call away should guests need anything.
When I open the front door, I find myself in a room bathed in golden sunset light and steeped in classic mid-century details: polished concrete floors, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors embracing the indoor/outdoor flow that mid-century builds are famous for, and, most impressively, Zook’s original post-and-beam ceilings. Each suite has been updated with contemporary amenities such as air conditioning and heating, a plush bed, and high-speed internet connection. I am particularly pleased to find a kitchenette with a large fridge and freezer, stove, microwave and all the cooking utensils one might need. I imagine preparing a meal and enjoying it on the large patio outside the suite. One thing that is noticeably lacking in the Bungalows? A television, thank God.
After unpacking, I walk around the campus, decorated with smiling Buddhas and landscaped with desert flora, and I can see how one might not even need to leave the Joshua Tree Retreat Center to get the full Joshua experience. Tree. The property adjoins the Mojave Desert Land Trust, and there are a few different hiking trails and meditation walkways in the retreat that take guests through a landscape dotted with Joshua trees that is similar to what they would see in the retreat. park and the same views I have from my room.
I pass rows of mid-century modern style cottages where guests and mental physics practitioners stay. I stumble across the Lloyd Wright-designed Sanctuary, the largest meeting space on the property, at 5,000 square feet. It has its characteristics: the liberal use of odd shapes (the building is oddly octagonal) and a slender silhouette topped by an almost panoramic steeple. A sign announces the wellness activities of the retreat, such as yoga or meditation classes that the Institute offers regularly and that Bungalow guests can join.
As I continue along the “Silk Road”, the path that divides the property in two, I pass the Food for Thought Café, which serves vegan dishes for breakfast and lunch from Thursday to Monday . Although the veggie burgers and mushroom curry bowl sound tempting, I’m in the mood for something more substantial and plan on grabbing some food at Pappy and Harriet’s music venue/former biker bar. I continue along the silk road path until I reach the swimming pool and the hot tub (admittedly they are a bit dated, but there are plans to revamp both) and make a mental note of come back for a swim after the hike.
The next morning I got up early to drive 15 minutes to the entrance to the 800,000 acre Joshua Tree National Park. A shuttle serves the popular north area of the park, but it’s a good idea to have access to a car to get off the beaten path and seek out one of the other two less-visited entrances. Joshua Tree, unlike many other large national parks, offers a plethora of short and gentle hikes, much less than a mile in length, giving visitors a taste of the different types of terrain, which include flat valleys and steep mountains. I opt for the popular Heart Rock Trail, a roughly one-mile round trip that leads to a heart-shaped rock, but find more peace on the less traveled one-mile Ryan Ranch Trail. As I’m about to embark on the nearby Ryan Mountain Trail, I see a huge, furious gray cloud bank rolling towards me. The accompanying cold front blows with dramatic effect whoosh. As cold rain beats down on my skin and thunder rumbles, I rush to my car for safety.
For the rest of the afternoon, I sit in my suite listening to Billie Holiday to match those mid-century vibes, watching the big raindrops roll off my bedroom’s sliding glass doors and enjoying the smell of petrichor after the downpour in the early evening after the rain stopped. The best thing about rain in the desert? The clarity of the night sky after the dust has settled. With a glass of rosé, I bask in the dull light of the Milky Way in the cool air with dozens of satellites streaking the sky and savor these last moments of peaceful calm before morning, when I will be on my way back to the city life.