Joshua Tree National Park

Spending our anniversary camping in the desert.

September 16, 2019

Filed under: southwest-usa

On the day of our second anniversary we left LA and headed to Joshua Tree, stopping along the way for some beer and some Trader Joe's salads (after a long weekend of eating amazing street food in LA, our bodies were craving salad).

As we approached the desert, and began climbing to higher elevation, road signs along the highway warned about turning off A/C to avoid overheating. As we climbed, so did the temperature -- all the way to 103 degrees. Beyond the temperature and posted signs, the desert of Joshua Tree is made even more daunting by the fact that water is only available at Visitor’s Centers so we made sure to stop our water bottles before we found our campsite.

On the long scenic drive from the Southern entrance we paused to admire the cholla cactus fields and the splashes of pinks and oranges that the descending sun began painting across the sky. The plant life in the desert is surprisingly vibrant and nothing like the normal greenery most of us are used to.

Joshua Tree Cactus

Joshua Tree Cactus

We pitched our tent at the very primitive White Tank campsite. There isn't much around except jumbo rocks, a couple pit toilets, and a trailhead home to big horn sheep and other wildlife. Small field mice and rabbits were quite interested in joining our campsite -- a couple times, we found a mouse hiding inside one of our bags.

Our campsite was wonderfully secluded and surrounded by gigantic rocks which offered a pretty epic sunset.

Joshua Tree Sunset

The best part of camping in the desert? You don't need a rain fly on your tent, so you can admire the stars as you fall asleep. We listened to U2's album, "The Joshua Tree," under what seemed like a million speckles of light in the night sky.

After a good night's rest, we caught the equally amazing sunrise over the jumbo rocks. Brian felt particularly adventurous and climbed for a good view.

Joshua Tree Sunrise

We packed up our tent and took a scenic drive through the park, encountering mostly cactus fields and joshua tree groves.

How was it, being in the desert? It was incredibly hot -- the sun is powerful in a truly unique way in Joshua Tree. There were inspirational signs the National Park Service posted that sternly instructed us not to die today. We tried our best by drinking plenty of water, wearing our wide-brimmed farmer’s market hats, and doing all of our exploring before the sun reached its peak.

Less deadly signs throughout the park illuminated some of the history of the park's previous residents, including Pueblo Indians and later miners. To think that people actually lived in these harsh, unforgiving conditions is surprising. But there is something eerily beautiful about the terrain, and to see entire ecosystems surviving in ways that you probably couldn't... it's humbling. Although it is also kind of annoying in that the native bees swarm any bit of moisture including cars, food, and those all important water fountains.

Mojave Desert Preserve

You might think that given its name Joshua Tree National Park has a special claim over joshua trees and that they don’t grow elsewhere. Well you’re wrong. As we headed towards our next stop, Las Vegas, we continued through the Mojave Desert Preserve, festooned with joshua trees.

The highway is a joy to drive as you leave California. At some points the highway straightens up and stretches all the way to the mountains on the horizon. Closer to Nevada, you encounter a 50-mile stretch with with frequent dips in the road that make you feel like you might actually achieve liftoff or dislodge something from the bottom of your car.

California Highway

Las Vegas

Our 20 hours in Vegas were a whirlwind, but not in the stereotypical way. We definitely took time to hit up our favorite restaurants...

Apart from that, we spent our time in Vegas signing and printing paperwork, doing laundry, charging all of our electronics, and buying supplies for the next seven consecutive nights of camping in Utah. You'd be surprised in Las Vegas, the city notorious for letting you do just about anything you want with relative ease, that it’s quite difficult to find a notary public. For that, our adventure continued...