We left Barstow yesterday morning and headed south towards Joshua Tree National Park. The 34-mile run from Barstow to Lucerne Valley was up and down. We climbed up out of Barstow, descended a ways, then climbed more and finally had a long descent into Lucerne Valley. The country between Barstow and Lucerne Valley was mostly unpopulated and had me daydreaming about the pluses and minuses of building an off-the-grid home out here in the desert. Water would be the biggest issue since everything else (power generation, sewage disposal, heating and cooling) seems like it would be pretty easy. As we descended down into the town of Lucerne Valley, it was apparent that water must be available as the town had a population of over 5000. It had some stores but nothing major. Another 35 miles and we hit Flamingo Heights and then, in fairly short order, Yucca Valley. These places had Walmart, Rite-Aid, Domino’s Pizza, Von’s, all the major players in the chain-store game. They were much larger towns than I’d imagined they’d be. The signage is kind of weird, though as we found ourselves crossing the city limits and being welcomed to Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms several different times. Maybe they’re not too sure where the boundaries lie.
In Joshua Tree, we saw the turn-off to the park but there was a big sign at the visitor’s center that said All Campgrounds Full. What? But it’s Sunday afternoon, albeit early afternoon. Don’t these people have to go to work on Monday? They need to hit the road. Disappointed, we drove on to the turn-off to the Indian Cove campground. We parked and walked up to the office only to see a sign in the window that said “All Campgrounds Full”. We decided to go inside and ask anyway. The ranger on duty greeted us and we said, “All the campgrounds are full?” She said, “They are? What makes you think that?” I pointed to the sign in the window. She blushed, apologized for forgetting to remove it and took it down out of the window. She explained that there were plenty of open campsites available throughout the park and gave us some tips on a few we might want to consider. We thanked her, she thanked us for telling her about the sign, and off we went.
At the east end of the city of Twentynine Palms, we turned off on Utah Trail Road which led us to the park’s other gate. We paid the $15 entry fee and started on into the park to check out the campgrounds. Right out of the gate, Flipper gave us a little start. I’d noticed the temperature gauge creeping up during our trip. Not to the “HOT” mark, but higher than I could remember seeing it. I backed off the gas pedal and, before long, it was right back where it should be although it left me just a wee bit on edge. Now, just as we’re heading into the park, going uphill, Flipper lost power. Not the power loss that causes all the idiot lights to come on, but the kind that indicates that not enough gas is reaching the carburetor. I pulled over, put her in neutral, revved the motor a couple times and pressed on only to lurch along in 1st gear. Pulled over again and let her just sit there and idle for a few minutes. She ran beautifully. My guess is a mild case of vapor lock. Things were pretty warm under the hood and it’s not inconceivable that, while parked at the gate with very little fuel flow (since we were idling), some gas in the line got warm enough to vaporize and create a bubble which screwed up the flow until the bubble could be worked through the fuel pump, to the carburetor, and out. Anyway, Flipper ran just fine after that incident.
We tried a couple of the smallest campgrounds in the park, Belle and White Tank, first. They were both full and White Tank was totally unsuitable for a motorhome, even one as small as Flipper. That was OK as my first plan was to stop at Jumbo Rocks Campground which had 124 campsites.
Okay, a few words of advice in case you’re planning to visit Joshua Tree National Park. First off, if you’re tent camping you’ll be in great shape. Many of the campsites consist of a car-size parking space with a picnic table and fire ring either immediately behind it or a short walk away. If you have a mini-motorhome like ours, that isn’t over 20′ long overall, you generally won’t fit in the aforementioned parking spaces but there are a fair number of small back-in spots that will fill the bill.
If you’re in a large motorhome or trailer, you might have problems. There are some wide spots in the road that are essentially “drive-through” sites with picnic table and fire ring adjacent. But, there are also other spots that look like drive throughs but are actually several small campsites next to each other. If you’re towing a trailer, you may have to pay for 2 sites if you’re combined length is longer than the space available. All that said, we did see a few large and extra large motorhomes and some trailers in sites. Most of the trailers looked to me to be under 30′ but I could be wrong. The most important thing to remember is to plan your trip (if it’s in the high season: fall through spring) for mid-week. Don’t arrive on Sunday afternoon like we did if you can wait until Monday. We had a little trouble finding a good spot yesterday but today, the place is cleared out and there are several of the “drive-through” sites empty.
When we arrived and got set up yesterday afternoon, it was nice and warm. We set our chairs out side and sat in the shade having a couple brews and daydreaming. As the sun got nearer the horizon, the temperature started to drop and we eventually retreated inside. Once out of the wind, we were nice and toasty again. As evening fell, we started thinking in “boondocking” mode. We’ve made great strides towards prolonging the time we can be stopped without any services. All of our inside lights, except the dim one over the stove, are LED, drawing a fraction of the juice the old “taillight-style” bulbs had. We also have the solar panels charging the house battery now. This is our first test of the 12-volt system with the solar panels hooked up and it will be interesting to see how they do. One problem is that, although lots of our devices can be charged from a cigarette-lighter-type plug, the only one we have is the original cigarette lighter in the cab. And it is connected to the starting battery which is not connected to the solar system. We bought a plug-in while in Barstow but haven’t installed it yet. However, I did cobble together a connection between it and the solar panels and that’s what’s keeping this computer’s battery charged right now. I fully expect that the limiting factor for us for boondocking will be the holding tank capacity. We can extend it as much as possible by using shoreside facilities when available, dumping our dishwater outside around the base of plants and minimizing our water use. All good practices anyway.
Last night, as we lay in bed, the coyotes woke us up several times with their singing. One time one of them sounded really close. I suspect they inspect the campsites nightly to see if any goodies have been left outside. Voices, both coyote and human, seem to travel well out here. The campsites aren’t far apart but, when there’s no wind to carry voices away, you can hear the folks in the next campsite like they were sitting right there with you. Another good reason to come mid-week when fewer sites are filled.
This is getting kind of long so I think I’ll make our hike to Skull Rock a separate entry.