Joshua Tree National Park
March 7-8, 2015
Joshua Tree National Park is a desert.
Actually, it's two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado desert ecosystems meet here. At altitudes above 3,000 feet, it's the Mojave. Below that, it's the Colorado. The Joshua Trees live in the Mojave desert, while the Colorado desert is dominated by creosote bush. Rather than repeating the National Park website, for more fascinating details on the ecology we'll refer you there.
Reservations? We don't need no stinkin' reservations.
We rolled into the park with no reservations, since most of the campgrounds there don't accept them this early in the season. We approached the park from it's Northwest corner due to our arrival from Mojave, CA, so we decided to try our luck at Black Rock campground, just outside the town of Joshua Tree, AZ. This is one of the more luxurious campgrounds in the park because it is equipped with fresh water and a dump station. No hookups of any sort, but with a bit of solar power and access to these facilities, it has all the makings of a perfect destination - especially at $15 a night. Reviews will tell you the last mile of the road is awful, but it was re-paved last year, neatly solving that last mile problem. The final approach is a real treat!
As we pulled up to the entrance we were a bit crestfallen, as the sign said "Full". Still, since we had come this far we decided to go for it, stopping at the visitor center to try our luck. As it happened, someone else had recently cancelled, so we got lucky site number 13 for the night!
As it happens, we camped just two sites away from a lovely couple from San Diego who were out camping in their Airstream - exactly the same model & floor plan, but different interior decor. For those who are interested, we have a 27FB International Signature, and they had a 27FB International Onyx. Their unit was only 8 months old, and looked great! We shared a lovely campfire evening with them, along with wine, stories and s'mores.
In addition, one of the two volunteer campground hosts (part of the Volunteers In Parks program) was in an Airstream 28RB Flying Cloud - a lovely unit, all the way from Minnesota. It's cool in the high desert (relative to the nearby Coachella Valley, which is TFH - too effing hot), but warm compared to their home base!
Joshua Trees in bloom
While in Joshua Tree NP, we saw many of the famed trees in full bloom. The trees are in the Yucca family, but unlike some of their relatives, they live on after a bloom. The trees just keep growing and blooming, year after year. They are beautiful, as we hope you can see from a few of the pictures. March is exactly the right time of year if you want to see them yourself!
As an FYI, a few of the grumpier reviews of Black Rock will cast various multiple aspersions, but we decided it's because they want to keep it for themselves. The reviews on Trip Advisor seemed a bit more even-handed. We liked it so much here that we decided to stay a second night. Unfortunately, we had to move from one site to another because our site was already booked. (They have site-specific reservations and won't move folks around. It probably makes their lives easier, quickly resolving any site squabbles.)
However, since it was a Sunday night, we had no trouble finding another. We will confess that some of the sites are on enough of a slope from side-to-side and/or fore-to-aft to be a bit tricky for trailer camping. After feeling like Goldilocks, we finally found one that was "just right." This time, we were in site 45, farther up the hill.
Tricks for parking on non-level sites
We learned a few new tricks for camping on out-of-level sites. First, if you're going to have to put one side of the trailer on more than one layer of Lynx blocks, it's easier to do so if you remove the load distribution bars first. Doing this removes a major cause of torsional stress between the truck and the trailer, and makes the leveling process easier. Second, measure left-to-right level inside the trailer, not on the tongue. Again, when the leveling process leaves the truck tilted one way and the trailer another, it's the level inside the trailer that counts. Lastly, don't forget to use a few Lynx blocks (we now use 4 of them) under the tongue jack so it's faster and easier to raise / lower the tongue of the trailer when un-hitching and leveling the trailer from fore to aft.
A driving tour of the park
We took advantage of our second day to drive through a chunk of the park. Black Rock campground is isolated from the rest of the park, so we drove to the West Entrance Station and then drove around, eventually exiting the park via the North Entrance Station. Along the way we hit a number of interesting sites and took brief walks (we had our dog with us, pets are *not* welcome on trails, and it was much too hot to leave him in the truck). We'd have loved to take any number of longer trails, but that will have to wait for another visit.
Highlights included Intersection Rock, the center of JTNP's rock-climbing attractions, where we watched any number of brave / crazy / foolish folks bouldering and climbing some serious rock faces. Speaking of boulders, we toured Big Boulder campground, which is very nicely situated amongst an impressive collection of large rocks - much larger than the tents and campers parked amongst them. It would have been delightful to camp there, but we felt that it was a little too cramped for a 28' trailer. We wouldn't go in there with anything longer than 25', and smaller would be better.
We also enjoyed visiting Keys View, which has a spectacular view of the Coachella Valley. That valley includes Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, huge wind farms at the West end, and a whole bunch of money. Air in the valley is predominantly smoggy, due to geographic accident. Mountains at the West end of the valley direct air from southern California right into the valley.