Camping within the Joshua Tree National Park
For a long while I had been looking forward to our visit to the Joshua Tree National Park. It's a place where people go to in order to seek solitude and solace, and just so happens, this was exactly what I had been craving at the time.
We arrived late in the afternoon as the sun had already began sinking beneath the horizon. Not long after entering the park, herds of giant boulders appeared on the scene, along with the famed Joshua Trees scattered throughout.
Providing us our first close encounter to the park, we took off by foot along a trail called Hall of Horrors. Here we stood underneath a single Joshua Tree, so tall it almost compared to the towering rock forms peering in the background. Eager to rise above the flat desert landscape, we took to climbing the rugged rocks in order to overlook the park from a higher view point. Weary and out of breath, we sat and dangled our legs atop one off the giant boulders, watching the night sky creep in.
Here's the thing we've come to learn about the desert. Unless you are travelling during the winter months, most likely your days are going to be consumed by the blistering heat. If not prepared, as we weren't the first few times around, you'll find yourself trapped in a disorientated state, too hot to move, let alone travel about. Because of this, we made a point to start our days well before the sun rose for the day, taking shelter during the hot afternoon, and stepping out to explore once again in the early evening. In doing this, we've come to find many advantages — not only is it more pleasant to sightsee this way, but the crowds are always fewer, and the lighting for photography is all the more better.
During our first full day in the park, we awoke early and made our way to a short trail called Cholla Cactus Garden. Located in the heart of the park along Pinto Basin Road, this rare and beautiful scene showcases an abundant sea of cholla cactus, in colours of green, silver and gold.
This cactus has also been nicknamed the 'teddy bear cactus', but this is one teddy bear you don't want to hug. I had read that this particular type is covered in spines that will latch in to your skin on the slightest touch — a defence mechanism effective for desert survival.
Trails aside, driving along the surprisingly empty roads of Joshua Tree National Park becomes an experience in itself. Often we would pull up, marvel with mouths agape at the alien-like landscape.
I listen to the silence. Such a silence. I try to record the sound, or lack thereof, in a video on my phone — yet it never sounds quite the same later. It's the type of silence that is only ever interrupted when a bird sings or a lizard crunches into a dried out desert shrub. It's the type of silence I could happily live inside.
With each day coming to a close, our time in this spellbinding place was all the more memorable thanks to our camping spot at the Jumbo Rocks Campground. Aptly named, this is the biggest campground in all of the park, with most of the sites being incorporated into the rocks, some even on the rock formations themselves.
Before entering the park, we stocked up with groceries and firewood, enough to last us three days. On the first night we arrived, we set up camp, parking our motorhome beside a shady cluster of jumbo rocks, and placed a couple of chairs around the fire pit.
At dusk, we would light the fire and listen to the crackle for hours on end. Joshua Tree is renowned for having one of the darkest night skies in Southern California, and so every night I looked forward to ending our days watching the fire burn low, as the stars put on a sparkling show.
That's the thing about sleeping in the heart of these treasured national parks, you get to know a completely different side to them, other than what they have to offer during the light of day. Like the howling wild coyotes that may wake you up in the middle of the night, or the distinctive colour of the sky that appears just before sunrise. You feel as though you get to know that place that little bit more, and in turn, come to know a little bit more about yourself also.