Following our Arizona boondocking stay in January, we headed west into California to visit Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree NP is known for its concentration of iconic Joshua Trees and is loved by rock climbers for its concentration of fascinating formations and, due to its proximity to Los Angeles, it’s often packed on weekends. Which of course is when we arrived, without a reservation for the campground. Thank goodness for Campendium.com, where we found BLM camping at Chiriaco Summit, also known as Joshua Tree South. We found a nice spot (Karma approved) literally a stones’ throw from the south entrance of Joshua Tree, and settled in for the next 2 weeks.
Nearly all of the Joshua Trees, nifty rock piles and hiking trails are in the northwest corner of the Park. We drove up for a day and hiked to Barker Dam and checked out the sights in general. We also took the self-guided Geology Motor Tour, which is pretty fascinating. Rather than taking the Park road back to our campsite we took the Berdoo Canyon Road, which connects to the Geology Tour road. Berdoo Canyon is a great off-road trip with a nice technical section in the middle. Some parts of it were so much fun we would turn around so each of us got a chance to drive it.
A short drive to the south of us was the Salton Sea, which is the largest inland waterbody in California. Created when the Colorado River changed its course and filled a low-lying valley, the elevation of the Salton is lower than the land around it and it therefore doesn’t have any outflow of water. Over the years, agricultural run-off coming into the sea has continued to make it saltier and saltier from evaporation. Once a recreational paradise, the increasingly salty water causes periodic fish and vegetation die-offs It’s an eerie combination of beautiful scenery, troubled ecosystem, and abandoned human infrastructure. We also made a trip to nearby Salvation Mountain and Slab City, a.k.a. The Last Free Place in America. The three places together are so unusual and so different that spending a day here is a bit disconcerting, like you’ve been transported into a John Waters movie. Weird, quirky, sad and celebratory.
In addition to the off-road trips inside Joshua Tree NP, we also discovered that the entire area between the Park and the Salton Sea is one huge off-road vehicle playground! We were actually exploring alternate camping sites when we stumbled across a map and information about trails criss-crossing the area. Over the weeks we were camped at Chiriaco Summit we took several of the trails and had a blast! The Red Canyon Trail was one of the most scenic off-road trips we’ve taken. We also stepped up our game and ran our first trail with a rating of “Difficult.” I had a blast driving it, but poor Eric had a busy day as spotter.
TIPS FOR YOUR JOSHUA TREE TRIP
- Most of the rock piles, Joshua trees and hiking trails are located in the northwest corner of the Park.
- Campgrounds are nearly always full on the weekends. If you want to stay inside the Park, make reservations ahead of time.
- If you plan to utilize off-road trails inside the Park, check conditions first, make sure your vehicle can handle the terrain, and take plenty of water with you. Cell service inside the Park is limited.
MUST-SEE AND DO LIST
- Do explore and hike as much as you can in the northwest corner of the Park.
- Hike to Barker Dam early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the best chance to see birds and wildlife, including Desert Bighorn Sheep.
- The Geology Motor Tour is great if you’re interested in the formation of the Park.