We (actually not WE…I take the blame on this one) made the mistake of heading to Joshua Tree National Park on the weekend. I thought I was being smart when we decided to head there on a Thursday as we read the park camping fills up completely on the weekend. My logic was if we headed in on Thursday we could secure a spot and take our time enjoying the park.
When we arrived on Thursday at 2pm we went immediately to find a camping spot. We tried three different campgrounds in the park and found only three empty spots out of at least 200 sites. All the spots we found were less than ideal. They were all made for tenting which meant that we would literally be sleeping in a parking lot like situation and have to walk in 30 feet to use a picnic table. One of them was just OK but our neighbours picnic table would be situated about four feet from the door of our van. We decided to try to hold this spot while Mike looked for something better. The kids and I got out of the van to sit and wait while Mike went for one last effort to find a better spot.
Twenty minutes later Mike came roaring back to where we were holding the mediocre spot and told us to get in quick! He had said hello to some campers and they asked him if he was looking for a spot. He said yes and they said they were just packing up to leave. The spot was pretty much the coolest spot that we had seen in all of our searching. Score! Friendliness pays my friends!
Here is our kick ass camp site:
After the elation of knowing we had completely lucked out we settled in to our campsite. All day long campers drove in and out of the campground looking for spots that were already occupied. This parade of campers continued into the night and started to really grate on our nerves. It seemed as though people were driving in all night long on Thursday and Friday night and each time it would wake us up as they drove by our site. Friday night was the worst and we got hardly any sleep. Campers across the way had friends meet up with them at 2am on Friday night and it took them an hour to set up camp. They were so loud that we laid awake waiting for them to finally finish, listening to their car doors slam at least twenty times. I have to wonder how it is that people can even come into the park so late at night. I know in Canada parks close down at 10pm and the entrance gates are locked to avoid this very scenario. Does this not happen in American parks? Can someone enlighten me?
We noticed that when campers left for the day to explore they packed up pretty much all of their camp gear and then unloaded again when they got back. We took this as a hint that there may be a theft problem and made sure to pack up anything of value when we went hiking. On the last day we were there we came back to camp to discover that someone had come into our camp and stolen all of our firewood!!! When we told the park ranger he said, “Yup, people will steel anything here.”
Being that this is such a popular park with its close proximity to LA and San Diego I now know to never come here on a weekend.
OK. Enough complaining. Really we had a good time at this park despite the busyness.
Joshua Tree is really a stunning, out of this world kind of place. There are these huge piles of boulders perched seemingly precariously on each other strewn throughout the park. The rocks are like super grit sand paper which makes scampering up them easy and scamper we did!
We managed to get a few hikes in each day, trying to keep each hike under two miles. Our favourite area was actually the area around our campsite (Belle Campsite) as it was far enough away from the main attractions to actually get the feeling like we had the rocks to ourselves when we explored. We learned a tonne about the local plant and wildlife from the kids participation in the Junior Ranger program which I highly recommend.
So while our feelings of this park is mixed based on our experience there I would still recommend the journey simply for its stunning landscape. It is popular for a reason!