On our road trip along the Southwest of the United States our first stop was the Joshua Tree National Park. You can find many Joshua trees here – hence the name – but there it has also much more to offer.
Already two weeks before we went to America, we tried to book a nice camping spot in the Joshua Tree National Park. Unfortunately, we learned quite quickly that this is more difficult than we thought. There are only a few campgrounds where you can make a reservation, but these were all booked out already for the next 2 months. Some campgrounds operate on a first-come first-serve basis. This means you have to be quick and early (and probably very lucky) to get a spot. As we first had to pick up our van in Los Angeles, do grocery shopping and then drive for about 160 miles (nearly 260 km), we were quite sure that this is not really an option.
After a bit of research, we found the Joshua Tree Overflow campground. People can just stay here when the other campgrounds are full. It is a bit outside the park and has no toilets or anything, but it’s for free. As our “Joshi” campervan has a toilet, this was an ideal solution for us. We finally arrived around 18:30 o’clock, unpacked our backpacks, got sorted and then enjoyed the sunset.
White Tank Campground
The next morning we went into the Joshu Tree city to buy some fire wood. Unfortunately we could not find any – neither at Walmart nor at the hardware store ?. But guess what was on offer at Walmart? Weapons… Interesting priorities ??♀️??♂️
Afterwards we went to the visitor centre and bought the national parks pass “AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL” for $80 (around 70,14 €). With this pass we can enter all national parks in the United States, which is by far less expensive than to pay entry fees in each park separately. Our next plan was to get quickly into the park and to one of the first-come first-serve campgrounds, to secure a spot that someone else had left that morning. The staff member at a the visitor centre doubted very much that we would be lucky. He said, that all spots are taken and that nobody would leave, because it’s peak season and also Spring Break. Even if someone would leave, that spot would be taken within a minute ?.
Well, we wanted to drive through the national park anyway, so we decided to try anyway. And indeed, we were lucky to find a spot on the second campground: the White Tank Campground ?. This campground is very basic, as it provides only long drops and no water… but it’s all about location, location, location.
As our campervan seems to be a little wonder on four wheels (big tank for water and waste water, toilet, big fridge that is operated by gas), we secured a spot for three nights. Afterwards we climbed some rock formations and had a glass of wine to celebrate our luck.
It didn’t take long until more vans and cars drove along hoping to find a spot. After a while a young couple asked us, how on earth we managed to secure a spot. And because the hospitality we experienced in Australia is contagious, we offered to share our spot with them. Page and Michael are newly engaged and stoped by the national park on their way to relatives. And they even had firewood with them ?.
We ended up sitting around the fire pit in the evening, and learned that marshmallows are for beginners. The professional version is called S’more and like a sandwich made of crisp bread, marshmallow, slice of chocolate, marshmallow and again crisp bread. Page made us one and my goodness… that was awesome. Amazing what you can learn while camping ?.
Discovering the national park
Our next morning was a bit slow and we had a nice breakfast in the sun. Afterwards we wanted to drive through the national park, do some small hikes and go to the many picture stops. First we went to Key View, one of the highest points in the park.
Then we drove to Cap Rock
Our next stop was Hidden Valley and it was pretty crowded, so we couldn’t find a parking spot close by which made our hike a bit longer.
Finally we drove to Fortynine Palms Oasis, a little oasis in a valley in the northern part of the national park. Despite the desert-like climate, everything was blooming here which looked quite stunning.
Here we saw a beautiful desert tortoise:
Contrary to our remaining destinations in the Southwest of the United States, peak season in Joshua Tree National Park is from February to April. It’s just too hot to explore the park in the summer. But although it’s quite warm during the day already in March, it became cold quite quickly after the sun set in the evening.
Also on our second night, we sat around the fire pit with Page and Michael and had a nice chat, sharing our experiences from the day.
Page and Michael departed the next day and said goodbye in the morning. As they didn’t continue camping, they even left their firewood and the ingredients for “smore” for us! That was really nice! Afterwards we went the Arch Rock Nature Trail. This trail started next to our camping spot and was only a short loop. But the arch was really beautiful and it’s easy to get lost between the rocks. We were happy that we didn’t have to move the van today and spent the rest day blogging and relaxing in the sun.
South of the Joshua Tree National Park
When you drive from the White Tank Campground south towards Cottonwood, Joshua Tree shows that it also has a completely different side. In spring, you can see many flowers blooming.
Afterwards we continue to the subjacent Pinto Basin which has also a different kind of vegetation. We stopped at the Cholla Cactus Garden which has a short circular track. A sign warned the visitors that you shouldn’t come too close to these cactuses.
We drove along some Ocotillos that look as if they are dead, but after some rain you can see red blooms.
Our last stop was in Cottonwood Spring, a little Oasis with enormous palm trees.
This was the perfect ending of visiting our first national park in the United States.