Joshua Tree National Park is one of the places that I have been itching to get back to since our last trip. It has been hard to pinpoint exactly why given that I struggled so much last trip with the climbing style, with most of the boulders leaving me cursing at the bottom. This trip has left me even more mesmerized by the park and while I try to figure out exactly how to put that into words, I will outline some of the logistical details that are of interest to anyone thinking about visiting:
Necessities: Gather all food and water. Joshua Tree (proper) has a Wal-Mart and Twenty-nine Palms has a Stater Bros for getting groceries and firewood before entering the park depending on which direction you are entering the park. Pro-tip: The Twenty-nine Palms entrance usually has a shorter line into the park because the majority of park visitors are coming from Southern California and entering the western Joshua Tree (proper) entrance.
Pull over at a Visitors Center on your way into the park for water. Be prepared to consume at least 1 gallon a day if hiking and up to 2 gallons a day if climbing/doing rigorous physical activity. This does not account for water needed for cooking and cleaning. Note: Visitors Centers have wifi (especially important to let your parents know you are alive and have not been eaten by coyotes).
Fees: Pick up your national parks pass at the Park Entrance for $80/year. This pass grants you and anyone in your vehicle daily entrance into national parks and federal lands. Well worth it if you are intending on visiting multiple parks or staying for longer lengths of time.
Campgrounds seem to be constantly full during the peak season (Oct-May), try to get there during the week and scope a site from someone leaving. They cost $15/night for most of the campgrounds and they include a parking spot, picnic table, fire ring, standup fire grill, and allow for a maximum of 3 tents, 2 vehicles, 8 people per site. Some of the campgrounds farther north in the park have flushing toilets and showers (such luxury). Pro-tip: they seem to leave the ‘Campground Full’ signs up even if people are constantly leaving.
Hidden Valley is the “climber campground” because of proximity to lots of climbing areas. We stayed there this time (last time we were in Jumbo Rocks campground) and found it to be a much quieter campground with less rowdy groups. Shout out to our awesome neighbours throughout our time there. From the younger stoners from Bishop to the ultra-zen, middle-age, incense-burning yogis, all the groups that came through were respectful and went to bed in good time.
Luxuries: Coyote Corner in Joshua Tree (proper) has showers and recycling stations serviced by the Joshua Tree Green Team. This was incredibly useful given that recycling in the park only takes beer bottles and cans, plastic bottles, and trash (wine bottles aren’t accepted either for some reason). They also accept money for water donations if you choose to fill up there. The $4 I spent for 7 minutes of hot water was just enough to scrub the filth from my body and get refreshed.
Okay, back to my reflection on being in Joshua Tree National Park.
The Park itself is gigantic, 3,196 km²/790,636 acres to be exact, which is larger than Ottawa (2,778 km²) for perspective. When you drive into the park, you are immediately surrounded by Joshua Trees with rock piles scattered around you and mountains on the horizon. See below because I am not the best with words.
Whether you are a climber or not, the landscape is breathtaking. You immediately understand why people flock to the area to take in the views.
And why people would hike uphill in 30+ degree weather in the middle of the day to see a palm tree oasis, an old mine shaft, or the view from the highest peak in the park.
The National Parks Service claims that “Half the Park is After Dark” hinting at both the fiery sunsets and the mystical night skies.
Scrambling to the top of a jumble of rocks at any time of day is rewarding. I found myself basking in the sun, taking in the landscape, falling into zen without even trying to. Kent too.
The spring smells in Joshua Tree are hard to describe in pictures but think honey and wildflowers. The Visitors Center in Twenty-nine Palms had a cacti garden which smelled particularly delicious. A ‘must-smell’ if-you-will.
The climbing? Well, it is still difficult. The place is sandbagged. However, going into the park with that in mind, I ended up being a lot less frustrated when climbs graded within my ability were far out of reach. I only had a few scary downclimbs (Kent a few more), a couple unexpected falls (thanks, grainy-pebbly footholds), and one or two problems that frustrated me to tears (because that happens sometimes).
I made some great progress on problems that I could not even pull onto last trip.
And even if I have nothing I consider a “notable send”, I know that I developed some technical skills that I would never get to train in Ontario.
Not to mention, I had fun. And what is more important than that?