Finding a Camping Spot
– is not easy when you arrive at Joshua Tree National Park late in the afternoon! It was pretty frustrating as most of the campgrounds were full. The few spots we did find, we didn’t want, and apparently, no one else did either. After driving through four campgrounds, we finally found a good site in White Tank Campground.
It’s a bit ridiculous how picky we are about choosing a campsite: parking, bathroom, flat spot for the tent, neighbors, view, dumpsters, general vibe, etc. Any of those things can make us keep looking. It’s a good thing we’re picky about the same things, or we would never camp anywhere, and at least one of us would go crazy! Maybe both of us.
You can see on the map above; we drove through Hidden Valley, Ryan, Jumbo Rocks, and Belle Campgrounds without finding a place to rest for the night. White Tank was last on the list and saved the day.
By taking that tour, we saw that this Park packs the camping sites into tiny areas, just like sardines. Every site is right next to the other: like the airlines, no room to move! They are not kidding when they say camping sites at Joshua Tree fill up fast during the winter. We helped fill up White Tank that day – getting the last available spot, right by the entrance.
The Next Morning
We witnessed a gorgeous sunrise in our comfy camping spot up against the big rocks. Those rocks kept the wind from blowing our tent away into the mountains, though it tried. One thing we’ve learned is that with camping sites things are very specific: think ahead, and you’ll do well.
For instance, we could sit at the picnic table here and see the sunrise: beautiful and civilized. Hot coffee and tea. Of course, that wasn’t foresight – that was the only site available. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Our first foray that day was right back out of the park. Neither of us can remember exactly why we needed a Wi-Fi connection at that moment, but we did. It was such a big deal that we drove over an hour through the park and into the town of Joshua Tree just to find a Starbucks! That’s not normal for us – we are quite happy to unplug when camping.
Touring Boulder Fields
Upon our return, we took a few Joshua Tree photos. They have a certain majesty, I guess, but they are not my favorite.
Our second stop was somewhere near Hidden Valley and these rocks. Maybe we should call them boulders since they are.
If you’ve never been to Joshua Tree Park, or have but won’t get back there anytime soon, don’t worry. These giants are likely to be just like this for a spell. Quite a spell.
These boulders do fun things together. Like these two, that decided to stand in line next to each other, close, but not too close.
Or even this one that decided to invite in quite a sizeable tree as a guest. I need to share that since I took some of the photos with my telephoto lens; the boulders appear smaller than they are.
The Hall of Horrors
That sounds cool, right! That’s what we thought and went to check it out. There certainly were a few tunnels, most too low, dark and narrow for our liking. We may have missed something, but we didn’t think it lived up to its name. Unless you start thinking of what creatures could be living in there. No, not monsters – scaly, crawly creatures.
There are many scenes like this in the park. Large stones that seem to have fallen and broken god only knows how long ago.
I’m not sure you can tell from the photo below, but those two pieces used to be one giant boulder! They decided to split up the family business and go their separate ways, as things go with rocks anyway.
Oh, one last thing I learned is that these areas filled with boulders are called Boulder Fields and they stand out, literally, from the flat terrain in most of the area.
Ryan Mountain Trail
Our next stop was the Ryan Mountain Trail. I had no intention of taking it all the way to the top of the mountain, but we thought we could walk around and check out the formations. We walked about a quarter of a mile up to the start of the big rocks and wandered around the back.
The boulder up at the top may not look impressive, but that thing was 20 feet long at least and about 100 feet high.
We found a few trees as well. Not Joshua Trees, something else. Since it was winter, it was leafless and a stark reminder that this is a desert.
At one point on the walk, I began seeing broken rocks with exposed crystals. It doesn’t show up great in the photos, but it was!
The photo below is from our vantage point looking north toward the parking lot. The boulders were easily 100 feet high on either side of the hallway.
They are mighty impressive from a distance, but when you get close, their immensity is staggering.
We came upon this site on the way back down the hill. That tree has grown sideways around that rock, apparently comfortable with the shade while also knowing a slight shift and that rock changes the relationship very quickly.
I just think it’s the coolest picture. Nature is impressive and magnificent!
There would be no end to the number of cool photographs one could take in this park.
We probably spent about an hour traipsing around this hill and all the massive boulders. Then it was time to continue our exploration and attempt to find another camp spot.
Have a Few Jumbo Rocks
Aren’t they all jumbo rocks? We chose a spot in the Jumbo Rocks Campground and then went on a walk through and over some rocks and found this. A massive flat area, with a slight tilt to the southeast.
You could play baseball on the flat rock shelf; it was that large. Couldn’t happen without some broken ankles, just a comment on the size.
Here’s another strange tree/rock relationship right out in the open.
The next photo is looking down at our car and camp area. When we arrived, the area was not full, so it looks open. Believe me; it didn’t stay that way.
It was a bit nerve-wracking looking down at our campsite and noticing that massive boulders could easily fall on top of the tent and flatten us. Once we finished exploring, we moved our tent further out, just to be sure.
Joshua Tree National Park is a fantastic place. The boulder fields are massive, impressive, and downright beautiful, and we’ve only explored the smallest corners of the park.
What Could Go Wrong?
Once we got back to our campsite, we did the usual camping chores; make a good fire, cook and eat dinner, wash up and then sit by the fire. The temperature began dropping, and I was cold. We decided to heat up a stone in the fire and put it in our bed to warm my toes. We had done it previously with great success. It’s an old trick Jim learned in the Boy Scouts, in Kansas, in the winter, camping in tents in the snow. Brrr.
Jim found a large, flat stone and we wrapped it in aluminum foil and put it on the coals. After a few minutes, I thought it was ready, but Jim said it needed more time: if warm is good, hot is better, right?
This Can Go Wrong
Eventually, we took it out and wrapped it in a towel, and I carried it the tent. As I set it down to open the tent, I noticed a bit of smoke emanating from the towel. That didn’t seem right, so I picked it up and carried it back to the picnic table to show Jim.
With the light from the lantern, we saw that it was indeed smoking. As we began removing the towel, I noticed it had some burn marks on it, the towel, that is. Oh, dear, good thing I didn’t put this on our bed – it could have burnt our blankets, conceivably ruined our air mattress and put a hole in our new tent! Feeling a bit chagrined we realized we wouldn’t be using that rock and my feet would just be cold. Oh, well. Live and learn, right!
What a Nightmare!
That’s when I happened to look down and saw feathers coming out of my brand new down jacket. I cannot adequately express my horror at seeing a hole right through the front of the jacket, quite a good-sized one and another hole on my sleeve. Oh, and the burn went all the way through to my skin. Not a bad burn, thank goodness, but not at all comfortable.
Once in a while, most of us get the opportunity to feel stupid, honestly stupid. This was one of those times for me. Seriously, think about it. I notice something is hot and smoking so I pick it up and carry it against my stomach.
There’s feeling stupid, and then there’s the fact that I just ruined the first decent winter jacket I’ve ever owned in my adult life. What a loss, just to keep my toes warm on a cold night. At least we didn’t have to rush off and find a hospital.
As if I needed a reminder, we saw feathers puffing out of that hole for the next six months, flying all over. Not even duct tape could keep those feathers from flying, which is, I guess, what they were made to do.
Eventually, we fell asleep with rain pattering gently on our tent. Next morning we packed up quickly trying to beat the heavy rainstorm predicted for the area. Thankfully, we made it out before everything got too wet. We’ll see you in Palm Desert in a few hours for our next house sit and post!
What’s Next – A short stay with a huge dog
You’ll get every post!