Joshua Tree National Park is only about an hour from our site at Catalina Spa and RV Resort in Desert Hot Springs and we typically journey there at least once when we are here. December is great time to visit the park before it gets too crowded with Winter visitors.
We want to stay inside the park this time to catch early morning and late evening light which is ideal for photography. However, there is a 35-foot restriction on campsites here and our RV won’t fit! Bruce dug out the tent camping gear from our storage boxes while we were in Tempe last month. Now the plan actually comes together. We’ll see if we can transition from our comfy sleep-number bed in the RV back to sleeping on the ground in sleeping bags. Just like our younger days!
This adventure serves as a test to see whether we want to tent camp to get into the heart of the National Parks or into the back country campsites when we want.
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Finding a Site
The reserved sites at Joshua Tree National Park were all taken so we went looking for a first-come-first-serve site. Not too risky if we fail to find one. It’s only an hour back to the RV in Desert Hot Springs.
The park is surprisingly full for the 11th of December. It’s just before the snowbirds arrive in-force to enjoy the mild desert temperatures. Only a few sites remain open in the center of Joshua Tree National Park. I had a gut feeling about site number 11 at Ryan Campground. My birthday is 11-11 and it’s the 11th of December which gave that site more mojo. What a surprise, we had perfect views of the setting sun! Hooray for gut feelings!
The campsites are nestled among a pile of boulders. Climbers were scaling a tall boulder near the entrance. While it’s fun to watch, we enjoyed the seclusion on the other side of the campground. The views of the mountains, Joshua Trees and sunsets are spectacular.
The Realities of Tent Living
The first night reminded us about a lot of tent living realities.
- First, our sleeping pads didn’t quite cut it. An extra layer of padding from foam swimming pads helped but I woke up many times having slipped off all of the pads. New sore spots in my hips and shoulders point out the need for better sleeping pads.
- Second, sleeping outside is cold, even in the desert! It is around 38 degrees at night here in the Mojave Desert! We prefer sleeping cool but the tent was much colder than the RV by comparison. I layered up even more and we vented the tent windows a bit more to reduce the condensation and it was fine!
- Third, going up the road to the pit toilet requires a little more planning. I woke up and didn’t want to get out of the mummy bag into the cold night air. By the time I decided to venture out, the mummy bag seemed unwilling to release it’s hold on me. It was a struggle to maneuver and wriggle out of it. Shoes went on after finding them hiding in the dark corners of the tent. Bruce’s gear wedged up against the zipper pulls making one of the tent doors impossible to open. Then the midnight yoga just to get myself to a standing position just aggravated my bladder further. The full moon eerily lit the completely blurry road. Oh, I left my glasses in the dark tent and couldn’t waste any time returning for them. For some reason, I had accidentally slept with my headlamp wrapped around my neck which really helped at that dark outhouse! It was a life saver!
A lady told me about her experience getting locked inside the pit toilet. She yelled for help for 10 minutes before someone came to use the toilet and got her out. Her intricate sign on the toilet door warned others not to lock the door. Turns out, the door handle opens upward so she wasn’t actually locked in there after all! I’m glad it wasn’t me that got locked in that smelly dark place! And, it’s a good reminder that our mind plays tricks on us creating blocks that may not actually be there.
With better experience, the second night was much more comfortable. I layered up for warmth and perfected my technique for climbing in and out of the tent to keep the yoga maneuvers to a minimum. Paying attention to where I leave the tent zipper pulls, my shoes, and glasses helped. The headlamp around my neck trick was a good one to repeat. We still plan to invest in better sleeping pads next time.
The Test was Successful!
There are plenty of places in the National Park system that can’t fit the RV, plus many back-country camping locations off the unpaved roads. We aren’t quite ready to downsize to a smaller RV and already own tent camping gear to allow this inexpensive alternative. Mixing in adventures like this open up more opportunities to expand the best views for hiking and photographing of these amazing lands.
The test worked and we loved it! We will make room in the RV for the camping gear.