Monday, March 29, 2010

Camping in Joshua Tree National Park

I’m not exactly a “camper” but few months ago I got it into my head that a group camping trip would be fun. A few minor equipment adjustments (air mattress, pop-up tent to go over the table and chairs) and a group of friends may have converted me.

Joshua Tree National Park is about a 4 hour drive SW of Edwards – down near Palm Springs. Its an easy drive but doesn’t offer much on the way of distractions. Our trip started on Friday and the group was split into two – the first group left Edwards around 1pm to complete the set up of camp while the second group left Edwards after work and arrived with additional supplies just in time for dinner.

Spring is the perfect time to visit Joshua Tree – not too hot during the day and not too cold in the evening. We were glad to have thick sleeping bags and sweatshirts for the nights and mornings though, even with daytime highs in the 80’s. You can reserve campsites ahead of time – and should – since only two of the campsites in the parks have potable water and flush toilets available. The ranger told us campsites are almost always full on weekends. Also, there is no firewood available in the park so you will need to buy some before you come. There is a Home Depot in Yucca where you can purchase wood.

There is so much to do in Joshua Tree. Our first stop was to the ranger station to for a short introductory video on the park. We also checked in with the rangers about the programs being offered while we were there. After some friendly guidance we headed out for a day of hiking.

We spent our morning hiking the Lost Horse Mine/Mountain trail. This 4 mile roundtrip hike is rated as moderately strenuous since its uphill basically all the way to the mine. You are treated with amazing views of desert landscape with snowcapped mountains in the background. At the end of the hike is the Lost Horse Mine and some informative sides. This hike is actually part of a larger loop trail but we just hiked to the mine and back. (The nice thing about all uphill on the way there means an easy downhill walk on the way back.)

There are plenty of places to picnic in the park – so after our morning hike we found a picnic table along the main drag with a view of some of the parks many rock climbers. The boys tried their hand at “bouldering” before we headed off to view some more of the park.

After lunch we were in the market for a shorter less strenuous hike. Hidden Valley Nature Walk fit the bill. This 1 mile loop goes into a valley surrounded by rocks rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers and has plenty of distractions for everyone to enjoy. The girls took at turn at “bouldering” on some smaller rocks, we found some women meditating high up on the cliffs and there were plenty of rock climbers to watch. After the walk we returned to camp for diner, s’mores and an evening ranger program on mining in the park.

The next morning we packed up camp and headed back into the park. Key’s view was the first stop on our agenda. Key’s view overlook provides a phenomenal view of the San Andreas Fault as well as Palm Springs and the Saltan Sea. There is a very short path and parking is available right at the overlook. We found another great picnic spot for lunch before our tour of Key’s Ranch. (Separate Entry.) After Key’s Ranch we headed out of the park – made another stop at the park visitors center for clean bathrooms and headed back to Edwards. We were in Boron right around dinnertime so stopped at Domingo’s for some Mexican food before heading home.

This was a great easy camping trip. There is plenty to do in the park if you like to hike or rock climb. You could also combine this trip with Palm Springs if you had more time.

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