I’ll admit it- this trip got off to a ROUGH start. We were doing pretty well with packing the car and getting everything ready to go, and all we had left was some last minute grocery shopping (because I’m of the opinion that food shouldn’t be put in the cooler until the absolute latest moment possible, and it should be as fresh as possible when it goes it). That’s when crap started to hit the fan. While waiting in line to check out at Walmart, I get a call from Brady (whom I’d left in the car with the air con running for the dog). “Hurry up,” he says, “the car just suddenly died and I don’t know what to do.” Well, crap. That’s just great. Sure, we had another car we could take in a pinch, but the air conditioning isn’t as good (just needs a recharge), the tape player is broken (so no tunes aside from my cds from high school… ha), and I need to replace the hub assembly (so not the best idea to drive it almost 2500 miles to California and back). Plus we’d just spent $40 on an oil change in the red Explorer specifically for the trip and I wasn’t stoked on the idea of that being essentially completely wasted. So I hurried through checkout, got out to the car, and called the shop where we’d just done the oil change. They sent out a guy to come check it out, it miraculously started right up (OF COURSE), and we drove to the shop to make sure everything was okay.
It turned out that in our year of Explorer it was fairly common for an oil sensor to occasionally malfunction and, thinking erroneously that there was no oil, shut off the engine. A reasonable safety feature when you think about it, but we were told that it should only happen while the car was idling, and that the sensor could be replaced cheaply and easily. Grateful that it wasn’t anything serious or trip-ending, we headed back on our way, but of course by that point found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of traffic. People from outside of Utah always scoff when we call what we experience “rush hour” or “traffic,” but no matter which way you slice it, going 5-10 miles an hour (if you’re moving at all) for 45 minutes to an hour on the freeway is a huge pain, especially when you’re looking at 6+ hours on the road.
Eventually though, we made it out of traffic and ultimately made it to our destination- Valley of Fire State Park. We didn’t make it in outrageously late, around 11, but that wasn’t our main problem. Our main problem was that it was HOT. We’re talking 85 degrees at 2am hot. It honestly was insanely miserable, especially for poor Teddy, who is still learning how to be uncomfortable and not freak out. Needless to say, none of us got any sleep, and we ended up rolling out at 6am to head straight to Joshua Tree. I felt pretty bad as I’d originally planned to spend some time at Valley of Fire hiking (especially since dogs are allowed on leash), but the main intention of the hiking was to tire out the puppy so he’d sleep in the car… and that was completely unnecessary after a night of no sleep. As soon as we got in the car and turned on the air con, he went straight to sleep and completely zonked for pretty much the entire trip to J Tree.
We drove the back way (which, according to Google maps AND locals is the fastest way to get to J Tree from Las Vegas) through Mojave National Preserve, and it was awesome! We honestly saw a much higher density of joshua trees there than in the park itself, it was like a forest of joshua trees as far as the eye could see. Pretty rad!
Once we got to the park, we took a quick stop for a break and a little walk at the Oasis of Mara at the visitor center in Twentynine Palms. It’s pet friendly, so you can never turn down that opportunity!
After that we headed to camp, got everything all set up… and took a nap. It was kinda hot and a little windy, but it was cool enough that we could all fall asleep, which was much needed after the terrible night we had. We woke up an hour or so before sunset to head to Keys View for photo opportunities.
I’ll admit it, the sunset wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for. Cloud cover caused the sun to set earlier than it was supposed to, and it was crazy windy and FREEZING. Going from mid-80s to low 90s all day and then into high 40s plus windchill was not the most fun experience I’ve ever had.
It wasn’t the worst idea though, and driving there and back was insanely gorgeous. We didn’t take any pictures though- to quote Sean O’Connell from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,“Sometimes… if I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
We got back to our campsite and it was just as windy as it was at Key’s View, and even colder now that it was totally dark. We built a fire, cooked dinner, and then were super naughty and ate dinner in our tent because it was FREEZING. I know, we’re bad, but I need to wash that tent anyway and it’s not like there are bears in Joshua Tree. I will say, cuddling up in our blankets eating steaming hot tin foil dinners was one of the more satisfying experiences of my life. It would have perhaps been even better if I’d been more adequately prepared for the cold, though. We’re not exactly strangers to the high desert, but I think I was so focused on the 80+ degree daytime temperatures that I didn’t even think about it getting cold at night. Thankfully I didn’t pull an Epic Road Trip fail and I did in fact remember to bring jackets for both of us, and I’m super grateful that I decided at the last minute to throw in a pair of leggings for myself. It saved my little skinny butt from being even more miserable than I was. Note to self (and all other Joshua Tree campers): always take leggings. Hahaha.
The next morning dawned a little chilly, but thanks to a fire, heated up leftovers from the night before, a snuggly puppy, and sunshine, it wasn’t too bad. Our friends Monica and Lyndi came to visit and hike with us, and we headed out into the park!
First stop on our list was the Cholla Cactus Garden. Here we were again a little naughty and put Teddy in a pack for the short little hike. Yeah, we know, we’re a bad example and pets are against the rules, but we didn’t want to leave him in the car, and he technically never set foot on the trail. Anything that the Park Service doesn’t like about dogs (pooping, wandering, spreading their scent, scaring animals, etc) was mitigated by the fact that he was completely contained in his little pack, it was pretty much like carrying a baby. I’m not recommending that you do this and I’m definitely not condoning rule breaking, but it was a super short little stroll (we’d never do this for a real hike). Plus, I will admit it was pretty damn cute. People pretty much lost their minds.
After that we headed to Skull Rock to explore around a little bit. Monica and Lyndi didn’t have much memory of Winnie the Pooh and his escapade to rescue Christopher Robin… so I felt a little silly with my quotes. Hahaha.
Next on the list was the Geology Tour backcountry road, which we were stoked about because dogs are allowed there! That’s pretty rare in a national park, and we were pretty happy to give Teddy a chance to run around somewhere other than the campground.
After that, we drove around the park some more, chatting and catching up, and then headed back to the campsite for puppy nap time (it’s like having a four-legged furry baby, I swear… only probably a little easier). After they headed out and Teddy woke up, we headed out for another walk to check out more of our campground!
Then, as we were getting ready for dinner, I finally got the incredible sunset I was robbed of the night before… no driving required.
After dinner, we got to have a little fun! We’ve been super stoked and lucky to work with Power Practical, and we had a blast playing with the Luminoodle Color. I have to say I think we got the best campsite for night shoots!
The next morning was pretty lazy. We hung out around camp, did some bouldering in the campground, ate breakfast, and took one last scenic drive through the park. I could easily just drive back and forth through that park and never get bored, it’s GORGEOUS.
We even took one last little “puppy pack stroll” around lunchtime in the park.
Overall, it was a great park and I’m super glad we took the opportunity to go! I can’t wait to come back when we can spend a little bit more meaningful time there and not be so concerned about the dog. As much as I love him AND love the national parks, they unfortunately don’t go together so well. But I’ll sure we’ll return soon!
Our Joshua Tree National Park “Must Do”:
Driving through the whole park- it’s insanely diverse and awesome! But other than that, the Cholla Cactus Garden is really cool. Short, easy, and I think it might actually be impossible to take a bad photo of a cholla cactus. They’re just cool looking!
You can also read our review of Indian Cove, our awesome campground, here on The Dyrt!