My first trip to Joshua Tree National Park

And definitely not my last!

I had a wonderful weekend at Joshua Tree and was left confused why I hadn’t gone sooner. Sure I probably further enjoyed the higher altitude forests of Sequoia, the coastal Big Sur, or the truly spectacular Arches National Park. But all of those places are much further from home. It only took about 2 hours 15 minutes to get out to the area and another 20 minutes to get to the campground. I originally planned on just doing one night to see stars and then head home, but I ended up staying through to Sunday due to unseasonably great cooler weather.

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The weather never got into the triple digits and it was cool enough at night to use my sleeping bag unzipped so it had to have been in the 60s as a low. I had planned on vegging out and doing nothing during the day but ended up getting in some very good hikes and exploring much of the road accessible parts of the park.

Friday started with setting up camp at Black Creek Campground, in the Northwest corner of the park. Then I went to check out the Key view and then the Lost Horse Mine. There were zero people on that hike and no cars at the trailhead either. It must have been due to it being a Friday and one of the “off season” due to the average temperatures this time of the year. But it was a low key four mile hike with some cool history and nice views around to see.

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I then checked out Jumbo Rocks and almost immediately decided then that I had to stay a second night just to camp there. I also saw quite a few other things I just simply didn’t have time in one day to see. I made it back to camp by about 1900, chopped up firewood, enjoyed a sunset, cooked up some dinner over the fire, and eventually settled in for a wonderful starry night. I couldn’t find a good way to sit in my chair comfortably while staring up at the night sky and in my tent, the netting blocked too much of the milky way view. I suppose it also just wasn’t quite dark enough on the outskirts of the park. Still a wonderful view nonetheless! The wind all night led to a somewhat bothersome sleep but at least it made for a nice temperature. Regardless, I woke up early and got in a nice morning hike.

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It was another relatively easy 5 mile hike but a great way to start of the day with the cool morning air and again, nobody around at all. There were a few other cars in the camp but it still seemed bizarre to me to be alone in such a wonderful place with rather pleasant weather. I packed up camp, went into town to purchase some ice for my cooler, more firewood, and an easy up since harbor freight had a really good sale and I knew eventually it would get hot. Even though 90s are “cool” for Joshua tree, it’s still very much “get me out of the sun” weather midday for sure!

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I wish I had taken some better photos of my camp setup when I got to Jumbo Rocks but here you can see my Subaru at the road to the left and then my canopy and tent in blue and red to the right. I had my hammock set up under the easyup for some great midday relaxation and in position for stargazing later. This campsite was good because it was away from the road and other people and really had a nice amount of area for just me. Plus I could immediately climb out on the rocks surrounding camp and just explore cool places.

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I spent a TON of time just scrambling over rocks and climbing everything that looked kind of cool. It was entirely hiking though, no rock climbing for me. I throughly enjoyed watching that “Free Solo” documentary but I have no dreams of doing that lol. It was just cool to not follow a particular trail and just problem solve my way up and around the various big rocks that obviously gave the name to the area. My main goal was to find the best spot to watch a sunset later on. Once I found my spot, I got back to camp, relaxed a bit more, and then got out on the road for the rest of the daytime adventuring.

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I went for a nice dirt road adventure on the Geology Tour Road which was advertised as “4x4 recommended”. I did see an Altima coming by the other direction on that road at some point, so it was well within my car’s capability. I did chicken out on the section after where I parked and hiked since it becomes a one way road and really looked a bit sketchy in terms of rocks and ground clearance. It might have gotten better but I didn’t want to chance it since there’s no turning back on that road. I had my fun though and enjoyed the sketchy soft sand working out the AWD while regretting every second of washboard road and my harsh suspension. It was funny to me because the sketchy road parts were far more enjoyable than the flat boring parts just because of the lower vibrations.

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Getting back on paved roads, I really realized how bumpy the dirt road was since it felt so smooth again. I made it over to another hike to check out a Dam that apparently creates a lake of some sort during rains. It was a very easy hike and a nice way to just see a bit more before turning in for another night of campfire and stars.

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The sunset was truly wonderful there. I’ve always thought that the classic sunset on the ocean was the best but I’m beginning to think the desert surely has that beat! Even my crappy camera captured such a good sunset out here. The clear skies probably helped a bit with making things look great. I enjoyed another great campfire meal and thankfully way less wind that night. The stars were even better and the milky way much more pronounced. I contemplated sleeping in the hammock just to continue having the better view but it was definitely cool enough out that I preferred the tent with my sleeping pad and bag.

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I was sad to go home the next day but excited to think about coming back ASAP. I have now made good use of my America the beautiful pass. With 6 visits plus a couple of day uses in the Angeles National Forest, that is a value of 6x30 + 10 for $190 purchased at $80. I’m hoping to find time to go to Yosemite still before my year is up but I’m pretty confident I’ll buy it again and so it’s no rush to go!

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