When we left you last, we were climbing the mountain road up to Joshua Tree National Park. Our solar installation that morning had taken longer than we thought, so that meant we were going to arrive, navigate to our site and set up in the dark.
The campsites at the Black Rock Canyon Campground are dry camping only – no hookups – so that meant the first order of business was filling our fresh water tank. We pulled into the park and stopped at the (now-closed) nature center to pick up a map of the campground, which I thought would help us navigate to the dump station where the fresh water fill is located. Except, we learned later, the National Park Service cartographer, during a recent update of the map, had arbitrarily removed the dump station symbol from the map! Yet the dump station itself had not been removed. Whether this change was the result of cost cutting, bureaucratic incompetence, or maliciousness I could not say, but we were left to feel our way blindly.
Fortunately, I had a vague recollection from my research of the park on Google Maps back in November that the dump station was in the northwest corner of the park. We crept down the hill and with a sigh of relief, found the water fill hookup.
We navigated to our assigned site without further misadventure, but then the fun really began. The campground slopes continuously from south to north, so we jockeyed around a fair bit before we found the most level spot, then began our un-hitching routine. I put on my headlamp and followed our checklist up to the point where the tongue jack on the front of the trailer is extended, which pushes the trailer’s coupler off of the Jeep’s hitch. If there is a bit of tension between the Jeep and trailer, sometimes the coupler will stick a bit before releasing. I had the jack extended almost to its limit when, suddenly, it gave way. To my horror the trailer lurched backwards, separating from the Jeep by 18 inches, in what at the moment seemed like a fissure opening in the earth. Even though I had installed X-Chocks on the tires to prevent this from happening, there was apparently more slope at this spot than the chocks could handle, and the bottom of the tongue jack had slipped off its support.
I was really concerned that the jack had been damaged as it bounced along the ground (it supports about 800 pounds). And due to the pitch the trailer’s coupler seemed to be sitting low to the ground. Comparing the height of the coupler to the height of the ball on the Jeep’s hitch, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to lower the trailer enough to hitch up again. We decided that we’d had enough adventure for one day, and decided to take a look again in the morning. Some microwaved pasta and a few glasses of wine helped take the edge off, but I was plotting recovery strategies in my sleep.
As with most such things, my worries were overdone. It turns out the reason the Jeep was sitting so high relative to the trailer was that I had left the door open before turning the engine off, so the air suspension didn’t return to its normal resting level. As soon as I opened the car door in the morning, the Jeep sat back down. And the tongue jack seemed none the worse for wear. But lessons were learned: chock the tires with both X-Chocks and leveling blocks and close the door to the Jeep when unhitching. This adventure behind us, we were able to begin enjoying the park.
Joshua trees are a type of yucca plant that was named by a group of Mormon settlers after a biblical story about Joshua raising his hands to the sky in prayer. They are native mostly to just the Mojave Desert area. These are definitely some funky-looking plants, and our campground was located in some of the densest groves.
While our location was spectacular, sadly the condition of the campground was poor – especially the roads, which are broken up, rutted and filled with potholes. The park employees were chagrined about this situation, but it’s out of their control; Congress just doesn’t allocate enough money to the Park Service to maintain these special places. It’s a shame that our national treasures aren’t treated as such, but I guess the money is being spent elsewhere. If raising campground fees would ensure better facilities, I would be happy to pay them.
That said, the hiking trails and scenery are still spectacular. We fit in hikes on the High View (about 3 miles) and Panorama (about 7 miles) trails that provided stunning views. We were delighted to see a snowcap on San Gorgonio Mountain and a dusting of snow on Mount San Jacinto, while down on the floor we were toasty warm in the 70s. From the top of the Panorama trail we could clearly see the Palm Springs area, complete with its hundreds of spinning wind turbines.
One night during our stay we were invited to dinner at the charming, neat-as-a-pin Palm Springs home of Maureen’s friends Kim and Roger. Kim and Maureen used to work together, and while they keep in touch via phone, seeing each other in person allowed them to catch up in more depth. We returned the favor, although with not quite as much class, by inviting them up to see our RV at the campground. Instead of making them a home-cooked meal in the RV, we opted to meet at the legendary Pappy and Harriet’s restaurant in nearby Pioneertown. Pioneertown was started in 1946 when a group of filmmakers built a Western-style movie set (used in The Cisco Kid, among others), which included a cantina. In intervening years the cantina has served as an outlaw biker bar and is currently a barbecue restaurant. Its counterculture vibe has attracted prominent musicians who give both scheduled performances and impromptu jams. At lunch, we saw only other tourists and some civilized bikers.
During our remaining day in the park we drove all the way from the entrance in the northwest corner to the Cottonwood campground in the southeast, stopping for a short hikes at Hidden Valley and the Cholla Garden, and researched potential future camping sites at Jumbo Rocks and Cottonwood. South of the Cottonwood entrance is land the Bureau of Land Management has set aside for dispersed dry camping, and it is some of the most beautiful desert country we have seen, chock-full of greening ocotillo cactus and palo verde trees. We plan to return and camp there in a few weeks.
For the first part of our stay the campground was maybe only a third full, and we reveled in the peace, quiet and dark skies. But the weekend before our departure, the character of the place changed completely. Had I thought ahead, I would have realized that it was Presidents’ Day weekend. Starting Thursday evening, the campground filled up with mostly young hipsters and young families. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”, but let’s just say it was more of a party vibe than I usually look for when parking my home on wheels. We watched as parents wrangled their toddlers – or didn’t – among the hazards of hot fire rings, cactus and picnic table corners. But I will say that everyone shut the parties down at 10 pm, and while we heard much wailing from the toddlers, we don’t think any injuries were serious.
By Monday, we were ready to head to the beach. Traffic driving through LA wouldn’t be bad on a holiday, would it? More on that in our next post!