USA

Camping (Virgin) in Joshua Tree

joshua-tree-california

Once upon a time, I thought “Joshua Tree” was a retro bar located in Manhattan’s Midtown East that played 80s music videos on TV screens and inspired you and your friends to belt out “Let’s Get Physical.” Years after experiencing several nights out at this gem, my Californian inspiration, Indigo, taught me that Joshua Tree (the bar) wasn’t the only place to “Feel Like a Virgin.” Little did I know that there was an entire 790,000 acre desert three hours from LA called Joshua Tree; my curiosity to explore was sparked.

To honor one of Madonna’s greatest hits that I would’ve normally been jamming to in that NYC bar, I spent two days feeling like a camping virgin in the heart of Joshua Tree – the place with actual trees.

joshua-tree-california

joshua-tree-california

Beginning the Journey

Around 11AM we packed the car with all the essentials: sleeping bags, paper towels, wipeys (lots of wipeys), first aid supplies, jugs and bottles of water, a cozy little tent, one pot to cook with, snacks, a pandeiro and ukulele, and a six pack of Coronas; we were ready to hit the dusty trail.

Of course, we had to belt to road trip classics on the drive down. We enjoyed a therapeutic moment singing (completely off pitch) to “Bittersweet Symphony.” We knew the overlapping mountains at the end of a road wouldn’t judge how we sounded, so it didn’t matter.

It was an uncommon forecast for California; cloudy skies that looked so thick we thought there might actually be drops of rain in our journey. But come onnn, it’s Cali, it never rains.

Except for, of course, on this day.

I looked out in disbelief, not only of the sky that eventually began pouring down way more droplets than expected, but at the scenic road we were zooming down to get us to our destination.

Around two hours and 45 minutes in, my cell phone service cut out completely, which automatically means survival skills had to kick in. There was no more way to Google “What to do if I see a wild coyote?” The independence excited me.

A few more classic 90s pop rock jams and a couple of rain showers later, and we arrived at Joshua Tree National Park.

The thing about Joshua Tree is that it’s MASSIVE. Once you pay to enter, you drive towards a backdrop that looks like it belongs in a Space Odyssey movie. It’s priceless.

Five minutes into this dry abyss of a road, Indigo pulled the car over and told me to get out. Why? I thought, what’s so special about this area? There’s… well, nothing here.

And that was exactly the point she was trying to prove.

joshua-tree-california

We both get out of the car, slam the doors shut, and suddenly, it hits my ears so hard that I couldn’t help but cringe.

The silence was so profound my eardrums weren’t quick enough to adjust to avoid the discomfort of not hearing anything.

Once my ears stopped spazzing out, I ran into the empty open road and screamed; “THIS IS WHAT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED,” and laughed at how my voice sliced the silence. It was one of those picture perfect travel moments where something inside of you is finally awake, you’re 100% alive.

Getting back to earth

Post-dramatic-life-moment we found our campsite at Jumbo Rocks; the largest campground in the park. We picked this area, mostly because the pictures were ridiculous; camping in the midst of rocks that look like they’re from Mars? Yes, please.

camping-in-joshua-tree

camping-in-joshua-tree

Of course, we arrived just in time to see a rainbow, because that’s what happens in this kind of story.

camping-in-joshua-tree

Camping Virgin Bucket List

Chase the sun

Site 67 looked cozy and quiet enough for us to pull the car over and commit to setting up our little temporary home. Once we were sure we would be alright in our humble abode, we decided we would chase the sun. Like two wild kids, we ran past campsites, and eventually climbed rocks until we reached the highest point our legs could handle, and still missed it.

camping-in-joshua-tree

A place like Joshua Tree really has a way of reminding us that we’re just humans; we may have fancy devices and methods for everything, but at the end of the day we’re no match for the sun or the force of nature.

Camping Virgin Bucket List

Chase the sun

Set up camp before dark

Despite our semi-fail, we were excited to try and tackle the night. We would have to accomplish the task of lighting a fire, and cooking four items with only one pot; somehow we made it all happen before 9PM.

camping-in-joshua-tree

camping-in-joshua-tree

Camping Virgin Bucket List

Chase the sun

Set up camp before dark

Become a poet

camping-in-joshua-tree

As dinner boiled on the open fire I had to marvel at the night sky and get all poetic. Because when you see a million tiny stars bunched together so closely the sky looks like a piece of dancing tin foil, you can’t ignore it.

I spot the moon and am genuinely surprised. What was usually suspended high in the sky was now so low and had such a yellow tint that I imagined myself reaching my hand out to grab it and put it on a cracker as if it were a slab of cheddar; damn I was hungry.

The best part was that the sky transformed every hour; with more darkness came more silver. And yes, I did make a wish on a massive shooting star that was way longer than it needed to be, and it was perfection.

Camping Virgin Bucket List

Chase the sun

Set up camp before dark

Become a poet

Roast something on a stick

Sing songs around a fire

campfire

campfire

So back to dinner: of course, we had to roast weenies on twigs, and sing songs around our fire after our meal. The clichés were almost worse than at Joshua Tree, the bar. But isn’t a little cliché good sometimes? It was my first time after all.

Camping Virgin Bucket List

Chase the sun

Set up camp before dark

Become a poet

Roast something on a stick

Sing songs around a fire

Think profoundly

After dinner, I had more epiphanies about how small we are as a race, how so many people are genuinely afraid of nature, but most of all, I thought about how the wild judges no one; for the better or worst.

Camping Virgin Bucket List

Chase the sun

Set up camp before dark

Become a poet

Roast something on a stick

Sing songs around a fire

Think profoundly

Want to go camping again ASAP

camping-in-joshua-tree

So with that, I think I nailed any first timer’s bucket list to their first time camping and I’m damn proud of it. Thanks Indigo for making me that much closer to being a Californian.

Things to know if you’re planning a trip

camping-in-joshua-tree

  • The $20/per car entrance fee secures your entry and reentry in the park for seven days straight. If you feel like camping, it’s an additional $15/per car fee that you have to pay via an honor’s system near the campsites themselves.
  • With several campgrounds, it’s important to research which ones have bathrooms, and protection from wind. Jumbo Rocks is the largest campground with over 100 sites, and the boulders protect you from wind, plus bathrooms are nearby.
  • There isn’t a drop of humidity in the Park, other than the sweat you’ll accumulate on your forehead. Bring tons of water, especially to put out your fire before going to bed. The bathrooms don’t have sinks, or flushes; plan for this and bring wipeys and hand sanitizer! It rained for like five minutes once I was in the actual park and that’s a rare occasion.

camping-in-joshua-tree

  • Wild animals are actually wild here; be prepared to see some crazy things you’ve never seen before.
  • We had no cell phone reception the minute we drove through the park entrance; preload your maps.

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