Procrastinators rejoice: Gypsy Springs Ranch is the kind of destination that rewards a late start. We set off one fall afternoon for a long-awaited getaway to Joshua Tree, and our leisurely departure from Los Angeles meant a magic hour arrival in the desert. Buttery dusklight filtered through the dust as we made our way down a maze of dirt roads.
A handful of turns off Highway 62 and a few hundred Joshua Trees later, we came to a cheerful, hand-painted sign indicating that we’d finally made it to our home-away-from-home. Immediately smitten with the property’s charming aesthetic and stunning views in all directions, we hopped out of the car and got straight to exploring.
Set in the center of a sprawling ten acre property, the welcoming bohemian outpost known as Gypsy Camp feels at once spacious and incredibly intimate. Only two guests at a time can use the space, which consists of a glammed-out camping area and a cushy, private trailer outfitted for daytime use. Lantern-lined trails wind around the space, navigating their way through cacti and curated vignettes of glittering crystals, brightly painted stones, and colorful, antique bottles.
We were greeted warmly by our host for the weekend, property owner Rhonda Lynn Hayes. A permaculture expert (and total dead-ringer for Diane Keaton), Rhonda has been developing her ultra-sustainable ranch for nearly a decade, finally opening it to guests earlier this year. She offered an enthusiastic rundown of Gypsy Camp’s innumerable amenities: the open-air wood burning stove, a collection of cooking supplies that would impress any chef, indoor and outdoor showers, multiple spots for comfortable lounging – even a freshly ground jar of locally roasted coffee.
Before Rhonda bid us adieu for the evening, she mentioned that Gypsy Camp is a perfect place for wildlife observation – even bobcats and desert tortoises sometimes make an appearance. As if on cue, a coyote trotted by as we set up our tent at twilight. Our eyes were wide with excitement, but the feeling didn’t seem to be mutual – the coyote paid no attention to us, its curiosity focused instead on the sights and smells of the land.
We grabbed our jackets and took in the sunset from the short, private hiking loop beginning at the campground. Every few steps, we were compelled to stop, taking in the brilliant swaths of pink highlighting the horizon, and delighting over the occasional cottontail rabbit that hopped across our path.
The rest of the evening slipped by as we shared tacos, mezcal, and lots of laughter under the trailer patio’s twinkling white lights, eventually snuggling up in the quiet stillness to pick out constellations and count shooting stars.
We woke up early to blue skies and an already warm sun, and sipped coffee al fresco while planning our day. Joshua Tree National Park is a quick drive from Gypsy Springs Ranch, and within its vast borders exist a wealth of activities perfect for hikers, photographers, flora enthusiasts, and history buffs. After loading up on water and sunscreen, we were ready to hit the road.
Not counting the numerous pit stops we took to ogle the otherworldly landscape, our first order of business was a visit to the Desert Queen Mine, an abandoned gold quarry that can be observed from a lookout point down a short path. The trail continues into a desert wash before climbing the side of the old mine, allowing for up-close-and-personal exploration of leftover equipment and fenced-off mine shafts.
After wandering the hills and marveling at the remnants of Joshua Tree’s checkered past, we continued on to the Cholla Cactus Garden: acres upon acres of pokey plants with quills that appear fuzzy enough to earn them a deceivingly cute nickname – the teddy bear cactus. This unique concentration of cacti also marks the point where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, a reminder of the park’s diverse geography.
On our way back to camp, we stopped by the quirky village of Joshua Tree to grab a bite and get a feel for the town. The Joshua Tree Saloon was our pick for a late lunch, a perfectly divey choice for a basket of babyback ribs with a side of local color. We walked off the calories with some window shopping – the town is known for its truly funky thrift stores and well-stocked rock climbing shops. In serious need of caffeine after our day of adventuring, we paid a visit to the Joshua Tree Coffee Company, a locally beloved roaster with enthusiastic baristas and an appealing outdoor patio.
By the time we made our way back to Gypsy Camp, the moon was already high in the sky as the sun disappeared behind the hills. We kicked off our hiking boots and settled in for card games and cocktails, basking in the warmth of the beautiful antique Ben Franklin stove. A truly blissful moment beneath another killer magenta sky.
The next morning, Rhonda gave us a tour of the rest of her property. We wandered through the native plant gardens, fruit orchard, and greenhouse as she talked about the history and future of the ranch. Gypsy Springs is named for the permanent water supply she’s made available for animals – and for the old bedsprings she’s repurposed as fencing throughout the property. She moved here full-time in 1999, after years of visiting and falling more and more deeply in love with the desert. “The wide open space… you can see the horizons, and it just does something to you,” she says with a dreamy smile. “It just kind of cracks you open, and I think it makes you more in tune.”
When she bought the land, the old house and one lone Joshua Tree were the only signs of life. Rhonda’s vision to transform the property into a welcoming and environmentally sustainable retreat for family and friends took nearly a decade to fully realize, and she’s not finished yet. She continues to introduce and perfect systems meant to reduce her eco-footprint, like composting and rainwater capture.
Rhonda hopes to eventually expand her offerings, possibly adding more camping areas and a garden brunch featuring food grown on the ranch – at the moment, her pomegranate tree and tomato plants are heavy with abundance. But most importantly, she wants to make the experience more educational.
“My goal is eventually to make this sort of like a teaching ranch,” Rhonda says. “I want people to be able to come here and learn about the desert and the environment, and learn about permaculture and ways to save water, grow your own food, composting…all the things that I’ve done forever. I’d like to share that.”
Before saying our goodbyes, Rhonda put together a generous bundle of fragrant lemongrass and Thai basil for us to take home – a fitting souvenir, symbolic of the bountiful hospitality that makes Gypsy Springs Ranch an oasis in every sense of the word.
Jennifer Kotlewski is a Los Angeles based writer, humanitarian, and wildflower junkie. You can see what kind of trouble she’s currently getting into via instagram @jenkotlewski.
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