Until recently, I’d never been a fan of camping. I like sleeping in a bed and showering every night. With a bit of cajoling from my husband and the promise of seeing lots of wildflowers, I’ve now been backcountry camping in Joshua Tree twice. In this post, I’ll share my experience at Joshua Tree National Park, how I came to tolerate backcountry camping, the various flora and fauna I encountered and a make of comfortable clothing called Stormie Dreams.
I was seven or eight when I first heard about Joshua Tree. I was flicking through my dad’s vinyl collection and found U2’s album, “The Joshua Tree.” The opening track, “Where the Streets Have No Name,” played in the background as my dad described the mysterious desert. I’ve wanted to visit ever since. Many years later, while driving through the Yucca brevifolia, the same track filled the car.
Joshua Tree is huge with 790,000 acres of desert. No water, food, phone service, lights, or electricity. A lot of the popular sites, such as Hidden Valley, attract many tourists but they’re worth braving the “crowds” for (when I say crowds, I don’t mean theme park sized ones. However, considering it’s the desert, there were more people than I imagined). I recommend visiting Skull Rock and the Cholla Cactus Garden. Don’t get too close to the “Jumping Cholla;” I found out the hard way how they earned their name.
If you’ve seen the film “Interstellar,” some of the rock formations in Joshua Tree reminded me of the planet Edmunds that Amelia lands on at the end of the film. Particularly once we’d got away from all the other hikers, it felt like we were on another planet.
Backcountry camping is free (there’s a small entrance fee to the park and another if you use one of the official campgrounds). You are required to park and register at a backcountry registration board. Unregistered vehicles left overnight can cause park rangers to worry about the vehicle owners. There are 13 registration boards throughout the park and you can find them here.
Setting up camp was pretty easy; we parked at Porcupine Wash both times and hiked to different areas. From a distance, Porcupine looks like a cluster of ugly rocks but close-up, it’s very pretty. Our water supply and the heat prevented us from going far, but a couple of miles into Porcupine gets you away from any other humans and into the land of tortoises and hares.
After setting up our tent and making some dinner, it was time to make my first s’mores! I’m happy to announce that vegetarian marshmallows become gooey like regular ones when toasted. We used Sweet & Sara’s vanilla marshmallows. If you’re looking for an easy but tasty meal, I was pleasantly surprised by Backpackers Pantry and their Chana Masala. It tastes more than edible and you just add boiling water.
To feel comfortable, I used a waterless body foam I brought over when we moved from England. It cleans and then evaporates. Flash Bath by Yuni Beauty sounds like it does the same thing.
Once the suns set, there’s not much else to do except sleep. I didn’t sleep much the first night because I kept fixating on the pitter patter of bugs crawling around and then I started imagining a bear biting my arm off (I know that’s irrational and they don’t live there – I have a vivid imagination). The second time we camped, I brought ear plugs. I decided if something was going to eat me, I’d rather not hear it happen. We planned to watch the sunrise but slept so well that we missed it. If you’re a light sleeper, I recommend ear plugs and a blow-up mat wouldn’t hurt for added comfort.
Fellow plant friends have said this year’s wild flowers were the best since 2010 thanks to all the rain this Winter. As we walked around, we saw explosions of colour and splashes of blues, purples, pinks, and yellows. There were clusters of blooms popping up everywhere! The field of wildflowers pictured below was at the entrance to Cottonwood Spring. The rest we spotted while hiking around.
Despite this year being one of the longest seasons of blooms, I think it’s finally over. For next year, I recommend checking the National Park Service Wildflower Report. During peak season, they updated what was blooming every fortnight.
My recollection of the desert wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some of the animals we saw. Between both trips, we were lucky enough to see a gopher tortoise, a kangaroo rat, multiple jack rabbits jumping around and various lizards. We even accidentally brought back a stowaway cricket in my backpack. I know other people have seen plenty of other animals and was surprised to learn the desert is even home to frogs and toads.
I must admit, I knew I’d be clambering over rocks getting dirty and sweaty, but I still wanted to look nice. My solution was a pair of black leggings which proved useful at preventing bramble scratches and a couple of airy tees from Stormie Dreams to keep the sun off me. My leggings were made by Girlfriend Collective, a new company turning plastic bottles into clothing and my t-shirts were made by Stormie Dreams, which is one of my favourite American clothing companies.
Stormie Dreams designs and makes their garments in LA which are all made from deadstock fabric. Using other companies’ leftover fabric prevents it from being dumped in a landfill and, because of the smaller amounts of each fabric, also results in a collection of unique pieces. They even have a zero-waste policy, which means everything they make is cut to order. I recommend checking them out if you’re looking for comfortable but contemporary fast fashion alternatives. If you find something you like, the code “ecolove” takes 20% off any order.
Now for some wildflower spam!