Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Camping in Joshua Tree

I love camping. The fire, the food, the smell, all of it! My husband and I went camping this past weekend to our favorite spot, Joshua Tree National Park, about 3 hours from San Diego just North of Palm Springs. Even though we have made this trek several times, this time around we learned a few lessons.

Allow me to preface our lessons learned with these facts. The only reservable sites in Joshua Tree are Black Rock and Indian Cove. Both campgrounds are landlocked. If you want to experience the best parts of the park you will have to drive 30-45 minutes to get the vortex of the park. The other 7 campgrounds: Belle, Cottonwood, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan, Sheep Pass and White Tank are FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE. However, you are minutes away from all the most popular attractions (excluding Cottonwood).

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Entrance into Belle Campground


Lesson 1: If you are attempting to get a non-reserved site, your best chance for a decent site is to arrive Thursday evening / Friday morning. We arrived Friday around 11:30 AM and snagged the last two sites at Belle. At 3PM a group of campers came through and reported that the enormous Jumbo Rock (124 sites) was full. And if JR was full, I can only assume the 15-30 site campgrounds were long gone.


Lesson 2: If you stake your claim on a site, better make the proverbial stake significant like YOUR CAR, not the clip-on "this site is paid for" ticket. So my husband and I unpacked our gear into site #2 and dropped payment for #9, clipping the proof ticket on the designated ticket clip. Fast forward 2 hours later and our friendly neighbor comes over to our site (#2) to tell us that a man pulled up into site #9 and if we want that spot we’d better go speak to him. As we approached #9 I saw a man that was somewhere between the unibomber and Jerry Garcia but in a creepy parolee-pedophile kinda way. We told him it was our site (the ticket was mysteriously gone) and he got mad like “I’m gonna get my mis-treated angry dog to attack you” kind of mad. So my Knight in Shining Armor ran to the car to make the 15-minute drive to the Rangers Station. Long story short, the rangers gave the site to the unibomber. If our car was parked at the site the unibomber would have had no question or manipulation to snag the site.


Lesson 3: Camping at a first come, first serve campground is worth every bit of trouble. We spent less time driving to a destination and more time seeing and doing the things we wanted. You are limiting your experience by settling on the mediocre surroundings of Black Rock or Indian Cove and wasting too much precious time driving in the car to see something cool.



Bottom line, if you are planning on taking a trip to Joshua Tree, do it right and stay INSIDE the park. It will take a little more preparation (and vacation time) but it will be worth it in the end.

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Camp site #2 at Belle Campground

(originally posted on my Wordpress blog, April 30,2009)

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