Last spring break, my boyfriend Chris and I spent some time in La Jolla, San Diego to visit his grandparents and explore an area I had never gotten to know. We went to the beach, ate at good restaurants, visited the San Diego Zoo (the best zoo I have ever been to), went to Coronado, and relaxed at our hotel, The Grand Colonial. It was a lot of fun and helped us relax before spring quarter started at school.
La Jolla was luxurious and comfortable, and while the end of our break wasn’t the extreme opposite, it wasn’t a hotel room with a king size bed and ocean view either. Instead we had beautiful views of a landscape we had never seen before and a small tent. We spent the last 2 days of spring break camping in Joshua Tree National Park. It was my first time camping (if you don’t count the time I spent one night in the woods with my cabin from sleep-away camp at 10 years old).
I was nervous but excited and lucky to have Chris with me as he is an experienced camper and backpacker. We came prepared for the trip with sleeping bags and a tent from his house, food from Whole Foods, our friend Sam’s gas stove, and lots of other supplies that we picked up at multiple camping stores.
The drive to Joshua Tree took us about 3.5 hours from La Jolla. We arrived as the sun was starting to set so we had plenty of time to set up our camp and prepare dinner. Chris booked us a spot at Black Rock Canyon Campground where we had running water, restrooms, a picnic table, and fire ring. We were living luxuriously––for camping.
The first item on our list of to-do’s was to empty the car and set up our tent. It took us about 20 minutes to do everything and was pretty easy. We put the sleeping bags, pillows, and some extra sweatshirts inside too.
Next came time to make the fire. We thought we had everything we needed: logs, newspapers, and matches. Clearly, we were wrong. We had somehow forgotten to buy kindling (thinking the newspaper would be enough) and had a ton of trouble getting the fire started. The newspaper would burn within a minute and the logs wouldn’t catch. Eventually, we managed to get the fire started, and it’s a good thing we did because our dinner had obstacles of its own, and the temperature outside dropped drastically.
Once the fire was going, we decide to make dinner. It was becoming darker outside and we soon ran into trouble with the stove. We attached the bottle of white gas to the stove and had it set up perfectly, but for some reason it wouldn’t light. We discovered later that the ring that controlled the flames was offset. Before we learned about this, the entire stove caught on fire so we had to douse it in water. Disappointed, we decided to cook hotdogs over the fire and smores for dessert, so it all worked out. We cleaned up the picnic table and put everything into the car before getting ready for bed and hopping into the tent.
The night was beautiful. The sky was clear; we could see all the stars and some constellations like the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. I had so much fun being wrapped up in the sleeping bag (prepared for freezing cold nights) and going to sleep early so we could conquer the next day of hiking.
We naturally woke up around 7:30 AM, ate cereal for breakfast, and got ready to go on the 49 Palms Oasis Trail (3 miles long). It took us 3 hours to complete and was strenuous considering it wasn’t too long. I have to be honest and admit that I am not the most “outdoorsy” kind of person. I had been on hikes with my dad when I was younger but was usually forced to do so and most often pessimistic. But while driving to the Oasis Trail, I was the complete opposite: optimistic and really excited to explore the park.
The hike was very fun. I made sure to lather on sunscreen and wear a cute bucket hat that Chris had let me borrow to protect my face. We saw barrel cacti, different types of wildflowers, and the fan palm oasis at the end of the hike. While the hike to the oasis was beautiful, coming upon the oasis itself was eye opening. I realized how unique it was to have a small oasis in the middle of the desert and actually be able to visit it. Additionally, the palm trees were large and provided shade from the hot sun.
After taking a short break, we made our way back down the trail so we could head to our next destination: the Cholla Cactus Garden.
In order to reach the garden we had to drive deep into the park. It was an incredible drive. We saw many patches of the most beautiful wildflowers (much more than on the Oasis Trail), rock structures, hills, vast amounts of flat land, and a beautiful, blue sky. Everything was breathtaking and new.
As we were driving, there was suddenly a dramatic appearance of the cholla cacti. The previously barren land unexpectedly gave way to hundreds of cacti within seconds. It was incredible. The Garden was a portion of land with cacti that had been fenced in. There were bridges throughout it and many other people taking pictures. The cacti were some of the coolest plants I had ever seen.
We spent some time taking pictures and videos of the cacti, walked around looking at them closely, and admiring the landscape. Once the sun began to disappear behind a hill, we decided it was time to head back to the campsite if we wanted to beat the sunset.
Dinner consisted of hotdogs and s'mores again (I’m not complaining though). We did finally fix the stove and get it to work, but the beans we had were flavorless and the tomato soup I had bought was a weird item to eat when camping. The hotdogs were a better choice. We had the same routine as the night before: built the fire, ate dinner, cleaned up, and then got into the tent for an early night’s rest.
The next morning we woke up early again. We disassembled the tent and made sure everything was packed in the car. Before we started our long drive back to UCSB, we drove to Keys View, a very popular destination if you want to see the entire Coachella Valley from one location (see image at the very top of the article). It was extremely windy causing my hair and clothing to blow all over the place, but the view was worth it.
Though our camping trip was only 2 days long, I had an amazing time. I definitely recommend going to Joshua Tree. There were many other hikes we didn’t go on due to lack of time but I will surely be back within the coming years. Black Rock Canyon Campground was great for a first camping experience, mainly because of the running water and the ability to “car camp”.
I think going on this trip with someone I love also made the experience the best it could be, so if you go, go with friends, family, your significant other, or anyone who will bring a positive attitude to a fun adventure. One last thing: Chris made a video of the trip that’s about a minute long so please enjoy!