Huddling Up and Hunkering Down in Joshua Tree

Love my Big Sis

At least once per Odyssey we try to boondock, that is, to camp without hookups on public lands and off the grid. We do this partly to experience the feeling of complete independence and solitude that this mode of RVing brings, and also to make use of the capabilities we’ve put into our rig that makes this possible, especially the solar panels. Our smallish fresh water tanks (45 gal) means there is a limit to how long we can do this at any one time, but in small doses it is great fun.

It seems that the RV market is trending the opposite direction, toward models designed for people who want to be plugged in all the time (e.g. residential refrigerators, induction cooktops, electric fireplaces, radiant heating floors, 60″ TVs). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s not how we roll. Being dependent on a 50A hookup does not feel compatible with enjoying the great outdoors and traveling light. Vive la différence.

With this in mind we left Lake Pleasant and headed to California and our favorite boondocking spot: BLM land south of the Cottonwood entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. The great thing about this site is that you can drive up the hill into the park to fill water tanks, then just coast back down and find a place to park. Having been here before we have become familiar with how it is laid out, and as luck would have it, the very same site we used two years ago was available. We pulled in, leveled and unhitched. Winds were forecast to be high that night, so I tried to orient the trailer parallel to the expected wind, and we didn’t put out the chairs, grill, awning or rug. (But we did put the satellite dish out, as we were not going to miss BBC Blue Planet II!) As the wind picked up toward bedtime we even pulled the slide room in to minimize our wind profile.

Rocking and Rolling in the Boondock

The next day, rangers in Joshua Tree reported gusts of 50 mph for the previous night, which sounded about right, but we somehow managed to get some sleep and nothing blew away. We had seen some tent campers pitched in the wash next to us before sunset, but by daybreak they were gone. There are limits that even the toughest campers won’t exceed. But by noon the winds had subsided and we jumped on one of the trails near the Cottonwood campground for a short hike.

Après la vent

The next day we headed down into the Coachella Valley, the roughly 30 mile indentation set between Joshua Tree and the San Jacinto Mountains (and also home to the infamous San Andreas Fault and an increasingly popular music festival). We had some shopping to do, but the primary driver of our visit was to see Maureen’s good friends Kim and Roger, who used to live in the Chicago area but moved out to Palm Springs a few years ago. Maureen and Kim used to work together, and have managed to stay in touch even though they now live far apart.

It was Valentine’s Day, and Kim pulled out all the stops for dinner, with nice red placemats, and a heart shaped decoration on the delicious, but deceptively good-for-you chocolate cake. Kim and Roger have a lovely home and it was fun to catch up.

For Valentine’s Day I wore a little bit of red – on my Cubs sweatshirt

While in the Palm Springs area during the week we also checked out the downtown, which has some new developments and seems to be doing fairly well. It was also Modernism Week, an event showcasing the Mid-century Modern architecture and design styles that are prevalent here. There are tours, lectures, films and parties that attract an international audience, but we didn’t sign up for any – they were sold out long ago and seemed pricey, plus we could just drive around and Zillow houses we liked on our own.

Modernism Week in Palm Springs

After three days at our boondock site we entered the National Park and drove up to the Black Rock Canyon campground in the northwest corner of the park. This turned out to be a much better way to get there than hopping on I-10: the rate of climb is much more gradual and the scenery is much more interesting than along the interstate.

We’ve stayed in this campground before, so we knew that it was rustic. There are no hookups, and all the sites have a pretty significant slope, so it’s not all that much different than boondocking. But you are parked amongst the funky Joshua Trees, and there are picnic tables, good access to trails and the company of your fellow campers. We found the flattest spot we could at our site, but the drawback to it was that a nearby Joshua Tree shaded our solar panels for about 3 hours a day. Nevertheless we were able to get a good charge every day.

Our own personal Joshua Tree

My sister Caryn lives in the northern Los Angeles area (she works in Show Biz), and she and her husband Jim were game enough to make the 2.5 hour drive out to join us for a day. We had lunch at the campground, then drove into the park for a hike around Hidden Valley to look at all the weird rock formations and crazy rock climbers. Then we headed back to the campground for a light dinner, another episode of Blue Planet and s’mores! We don’t have the chance to get together often enough, and it was great to see them.

Families are the best friends

Caryn chose the best day to visit, with highs in the upper 60s and light winds. Our other 11 days in Joshua Tree were pretty chill – literally. A cold snap had descended on Southern California, and with the elevation of Black Rock (4000′) combined with gusty winds, we had to hunker down. Highs were in the 40s and 50s and lows went below freezing. Even with that we managed to get two nice hikes in on the Hi-View Trail and the West Side Loop.

Hi-View View

And yes, one morning we woke up to a dusting of snow on the ground! It melted within an hour, but one of the main goals of Odysseeing is to avoid snow, so this was a problem. Nevertheless, we stuck it out for the rest of our reservation. Most other campers decided this was BS and headed back to LA.


Pretty, but this is BS

As long as I was going to be inside I tackled another perennial RV project: restringing a window shade. The demonic design of these things, while simple, functional and inexpensive, must date from the 1950s. The shade cord rubs against a metal grommet as the shade moves up and down, so it’s only a matter of time before the cord breaks. I’ve replaced these on four different shades now, so have become quite adept at the repair, and I keep a spool of cord in the rig for the next time they break. But I think it’s an opportunity for some entrepreneur to innovate something better.

Bad Design

I also took advantage of the forced indoor time to reacquaint myself with my Traveler Guitar, which I brought along this year in place of my “real” one. It’s small, lightweight, and makes hardly any sound (except through earbuds), so it doesn’t disturb neighbors or spouses. It’s my second year of learning this instrument, and I’m still pretty bad at it, but less bad than last year.

What’s the fingering for B minor again?

After our time was up in Joshua Tree we were ready to head back toward the warmth of sea level, or at least closer to it. It’s a remarkable, unique place and totally worth a visit, but the best part of our detour to California was seeing friends and family.

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28 Comments on "Huddling Up and Hunkering Down in Joshua Tree"

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Favorite part of the world and Yes visit with family is the best. Be safe, Kath

Jim MacNerland
Jim MacNerland

We had a great time with you and admire your bravery in wind and snow.


It was great seeing you and being part of your California Adventure!

Sheila Franklin
Sheila Franklin

SO much fun to follow your travels and how great to see Caryn even if just a photo! She looks FABULOUS!


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