Since our sleeping bags passed the test at Rose Valley, we knew they’d keep us plenty warm in Joshua Tree. We didn’t have any camping reservations, since most of the campgrounds are first come, first served. We figured that since we were heading out there on a Thursday morning, the day of my birthday, we wouldn’t have a problem finding a spot. Wrong! This was the Thursday before New Year’s and everyone else had the same idea. Unfortunately, my birthday falls right in between Christmas and New Year’s. The ranger told us that most of the campgrounds, including Jumbo Rocks where we wanted to stay, had been full all week. Our only option was to camp in the BLM land outside the park. Although not as picturesque as camping inside the park would have been, we pretty much had our pick of any “spot” out there with views of the snow covered San Bernardino mountains and no neighbors within 500 feet. No hookups or glamping amenities out there but none of that was needed since we were tent camping. The weather forecast predicted rain so we created our own island for our tent by doing donuts around camp.
Even though we were outside the park, we were about 10-15 minutes from the North Entrance. We had the America the Beautiful Pass, which gave us free entry into the park, as well as numerous other National Parks throughout the country. We ventured into the park both days that we were there and went on a few hikes. We visited the infamous Skull Rock, which isn’t much of a hike since it’s located right off the main road. The rock formations were a sight to see and fun to climb on.
Further into the park, we visited the Chollas Cactus Garden. It was amazing how many of these there were and how big they could get. Most of the other cholla cacti spotted in other parts of the park were small and sparse. Some of the ones in the garden were over 8 feet tall!
Our last hike in the park was to the Forty nine Palms Oasis. Although it is only 3 miles round trip, it has 350 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead has separate access off the main road away from a ranger station and, technically, outside the park. The trail is uphill for the first half and then descends into the oasis. Unfortunately, there was no water in the oasis when we went but the scenery was still pretty awesome. We did this hike right around sunset and made it out before dark. We were surprised to see people continuing to hike in so late in the day and questioned their ability to get in and out in time. All in all, it was a great trip to Joshua Tree National Park and I hope to go back and camp inside the park (with a little better planning).