Trip Report: Joshua Tree National Park
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Black Rock Canyon Campground May 2 – 6, 2017
We hit this camping thing hard right out of the gate. We left Los Angeles around 1:30pm on Tuesday, after spending the first half of the day clearing out and cleaning our house before closing the front door for the last time. Exhausted, we loaded the dogs in the back of the van (because we can’t open it anymore after it’s hitched), attached the trailer to the van, secured the kids in their car seats, and set off on our adventure.
First we drove to the World’s Largest Paper Cup in Riverside, CA, then on to the World’s Largest Dinosaur(s) in Cabazon, CA, where we stopped for gas and grabbed a delicious gas station hot dog (a delicacy that had escaped Wendy until I convinced her of its merits).
The kids did great on the trip despite having been in their high chairs most of the day while Wendy and I moved furniture out to the curb, cleaned cupboards, and packed the car. The dogs did really well too, particularly considering that we hadn’t taken them on any long trips in preparation for this drive.
Though the journey was only 118 miles, it took us a few hours to get to Black Rock Canyon Campground—our new home for the next four nights. According to the itinerary I created, this campground was supposed to have water at the entrance to fill up our trailer. But when we arrived, there was nothing at the entrance except a sign for the campground. We drove for a bit and came upon the Ranger Station, but it was closed. So we drove around looking for our site, on roads that seemed narrow, impossibly windy, and in disrepair. Eventually Wendy just got out and looked for our site to prevent us from getting stuck down a dead-end road.
We pulled into our campsite (#45) around 6pm, unhitched, and let the dogs out to pee and get some water. The kids stayed in their car seats with the doors open so they could watch us. For the next two hours we worked to set up camp. Our site wasn’t level, so we used our BAL Leveler for the first time. It’s supposed to go around the bottom of one tire then lift it up so you can easily level the trailer. This didn’t go according to plan, as I didn’t like the way it was sitting on the tire. So I tried several times and finally positioned it in a way I feel okay with, but not good. We’re still sloped because I’m just not comfortable cranking it any higher. Wendy’s really awesome about it though. This morning she commented “If we need to be lopsided again, let’s try to do it the other way so stuff doesn’t keep falling out of the refrigerator.”
While I was working with the leveler, Wendy pretty much did everything else, like laying our little rug in front of the trailer and setting up the R-Dome (the tent that attaches to the trailer to extend our living space). Since we couldn’t fill the trailer with water, we dug out the six-gallon emergency water container I’d bought and Wendy filled it using a nearby communal hand pump. I checked our battery and it was at about 70%, so I hoped that was enough to keep our refrigerator running throughout the night.
It was about 9pm by the time we’d walked and fed the dogs and gotten them acclimated to “their spots” in the trailer. Afterward we fed the kids dinner (muffins and cheese), read them a story, and put them to bed. Using a flashlight to conserve battery, we opened a jar of salsa and a can of refried beans and dipped tortilla chips into them, then settled in for a bad night’s sleep.
All is Better in the Light of Day
We woke up around 5am the next morning and the kids weren’t far behind. Although we were still tired, in the light of day, the campground layout made more sense and my crankiness from the night before dissipated. We were now prepared to view this adventure as a challenge rather than a chore.
Our battery did keep the refrigerator running through the night, so our food didn’t spoil. I dragged the solar panels out of the Thule in the morning and set them up to see if they worked (since we had never tested them) and how well they worked. The battery was fully charged again in no time! The direct sunlight in this campground has its drawbacks, but the energy it’s providing us is much appreciated.
And it really is beautiful here, and quiet. Right now all three dogs are resting in the shade and I can hear three different kinds of birds singing. We’re all pretty dirty since there are no showers or laundry here, and the only running water is in the bathroom (which has no soap). But the kids don’t seem to mind and we’re adjusting. Baby wipes and wash cloths are close companions this week and I introduced the kids to a nail scrubber yesterday (sloshing it around in a dog bowl with some soap and water to rinse it clean). All four of us are fully embracing the Camp Hair Don’t Care mentality, and Wendy has become friends with the bees that frequent the watering hole where she fills our water jug and does our dishes.
We’re also finding ways to charge our electronic devices. Yesterday we explored Joshua Tree National Park in our van and charged my phone, Wendy’s camera, and CeCe’s Dogtra collar during the trip. I’ve mentioned before that our dogs aren’t the best behaved and we’re worried about barking—at people, animals, cars, wind—pretty much anything. So we’re using this time as a reset of sorts—new environment, new rules. It seems to be working alright so far, so keeping the e-collar charged is a priority. We’re hoping if we use it consistently enough at the beginning of the trip, we won’t need it in a few weeks.
I had listed several hikes on our itinerary for this park, but it’s our last day here and we’ve only done one of them—the dog and stroller-friendly Oasis of Mara trail at the Joshua Tree Visitor’s Center. And honestly it was so hot that we didn’t appreciate it very much. We didn’t stop to read any of the sign posts—just took a 20-minute stroll then hopped in the car to explore the park from our vehicle. To do anything else would require leaving the dogs in the trailer and it’s just too hot. Without electricity, our only way to cool our trailer is via open windows and a bathroom fan. Fortunately the solar panels allow us to keep the fan running during the day, but yesterday afternoon I found myself telling Wendy it was “only 93 degrees inside.” (Much better than 98 degrees on our first full day of camping.) So we’re all living outside as much as possible—no naps inside for the kids, no solo time inside for the dogs.
All seven of us are learning how this works. The dogs had never been camping before now—they’re learning what to do during the day, how to behave, where to eat and sleep. The kids have camped a couple of times but never in this heat and never without water or electricity. They’re having a blast playing in the dirt, getting their little legs scuffed, and seeing animals from stories come to life. (There are quails and jack rabbits here.) They’re learning about washcloth wipe downs; wetting their hair to keep cool; a regimen of sunscreen, argan oil up their nose and chapstick on their lips; drinking water often; standing in shaded areas rather than burning their feet on hot sand; and sitting—just sitting.
Wendy and I are learning how to care for ourselves and five other beings in a way that enriches all of our lives—safely and cost effectively. What should we make for meals? How do we keep everybody clean? Is everybody drinking enough? How do we keep the kids on their schedule? How long can we leave the dogs? When and where should we buy groceries, diapers, and dog food?
We don’t have all the answers yet but we’ll stumble toward more answers tomorrow when we arrive in Death Valley.