It was already dark when we pulled into Indian Grove Campground, our base camp for the two days we were going to spend in Joshua Tree National Park. We slowly circled the campsite until we found the one that had a note with our name tacked to its pole. Campsite #3. We pulled in, leveled the RV, and retreated to the back to finally get some sleep.
With only one full day to explore the park, Alex and I woke up before sunrise. We started the morning by boiling some water on the stove. As typical tent campers, this was a lovely convenience we’ve never experienced before, and would only be the first of many luxuries that came with RV travel! While we sipped our coffee and ate breakfast, we planned out our day.
Our first stop was Ryan Mountain. The 2.8 mile hike took us past cacti, boulder fields, and finally delivered us to the highest point (5,456’) in Joshua Tree National Park. The views from the peak seemed to endlessly stretch in every direction. It was also the perfect spot for a quick snack, so we sat on a few boulders at the top and munched on some sandwiches. It may have been October, and it was still before noon but the temperatures were already creeping into the high 80’s. With no shade from the sun, and no wind to cool us, we headed back down to the trailhead shortly after finishing our snack.
Our second stop of the trip was the Barker Dam trail. This short 1.3 mile loop winds past Joshua Trees and gave us a beautiful view of the Barker Dam. The dam was constructed by cattleman in 1900 to give their cattle a source of water in the arid, desolate desert. It was certainly a unique sight to see in the middle of the desert, a true oasis!
After our two short hikes, we retreated back to the RV to escape the blazing sun and nap in the comfortable bed, another RV luxury! We found an empty pull out that faced west (we were already preparing for sunset!), placed the sun cover over the front of the RV and got a few minutes of shut-eye.
Just like that, it was time for dinner. I once again put some water on the stove, still marveling at the convenience of the whole situation, and started to cook up some macaroni. The meal was complete just in time to watch the sunset. As the sun sank ever lower, the sky changed color, from orange to pink and finally to a deep purple before true darkness set in. However, this didn’t mean the day was over for us! It was time to capture the night skies. Joshua Tree has a famously dark night sky and photographers flock to capture the stars over its unique rock formations and namesake trees. Alex and I spent the next few hours taking photos and night-lapses.
Eventually we decided to call it a night. We had plans to watch sunrise the next morning so we made the drive back to the campsite and turned in, with alarms set for blue hour once again.
During my research I read that one of the best spots to watch sunrise in the park is the Cholla Cactus Garden. It’s easily accessible and faces east, offering the perfect vantage point to watch the sun peek over the horizon. We woke early and started the drive in the dark. By the time we arrived at the garden the skies were already beginning to brighten. Despite the fact that this was supposedly one of the best spots to watch sunrise, we were entirely alone!
Smoke from a distant wildfire created an eerie haze, and when the sun finally rose, so much of its light was blocked by smoke, it looked like an orange orb.
After the sun had properly risen we headed back to the RV. We again made our morning coffee and hit the road for our next destination: Death Valley National Park.
Article initially appeared on The National Parks Girl