“Yeah you should fit” With those reassuring words from the rather confident park ranger, we gladly dished out our $80 for a National Park Annual Pass, and headed into the park. (We just bought an annual pass knowing we would be seeing other parks)
Prior to arriving at the north entrance of Joshua Tree National Park in California, we had to take care of a few housekeeping items. After our few day boondocking experience in Arizona, we were running low on fresh water and had full tanks. Our hope was to find a Flying J truck stop or someplace similar to empty our tanks and fill up with fresh water. We knew that Joshua Tree was a dry camping experience (as are most National Park locations) and if we were to stay there we needed to empty and top off. Well before we knew it we were crossing the California border and noticed some signs for an upcoming exit that offered a dump station.
Interesting enough to see that, we said… “Why not”. About 3 miles off the exit ramp, past some open fields, we came upon a self service dump station located at a water treatment/sewage treatment facility. We were able to successfully empty out all our tanks; but unfortunately for the $12 fee, there was no fresh water to fill our tank with. So we started scrambling to find a location for fresh water before we arrived at Joshua Tree.
The visitors center at Joshua Tree (situated outside the park on the north entrance) offered free fresh water, so we headed there next. As we got into the parking lot we noticed that the free fresh water had a sign saying 3 minute fill up limit. Um, we needed 80 gallons. Well, I filled up for 15 minutes. :-/ Sorry. Nobody said anything and I’m pretty sure that didn’t fill us up, but it was close enough.
So with fresh tanks, we headed to the ranger station, got our pass and headed to “Jumbo Rock”. As per the ranger’s suggestion, we should be able to fit there no problem. He also noted that we shouldn’t go down any cul de sacs, nor should we go to any other campground within that National Park except for Jumbo Rock. The sign on the ranger station said Jumbo Rock 70% full. Ok. Seems a little unnerving, but we know our rig is big and most often a problem for many national parks; so we expected some challenging scenarios.
After driving into the park for about 15 minutes, we came upon the most incredible rock formations. Large Fred Flintstone type boulders everywhere. Seriously, like out of a movie set of some pre-historic science fiction production. Right smack in the middle of these surreal boulders was a sign that said Jumbo Rock Camping Area <– Left. WHAT! We get to camp INSIDE these boulders! OMG OMG. We were so excited. This is the kind of camping you hope for when you travel. YES!!! Then………Within 15 seconds of making that left turn, our excitement turned to the highest anxiety we have ever experienced on the road. After rounding the bend past the 70ft boulder, we came to the realization that we were in a logistical mess. We are too wide, and too long for this place.
Holy Crap…. Did we make a wrong turn? No this is definitely it. Oh No… We can’t possibly fit down this road! What are we going to do? We can’t back up at this point. Up ahead of us on this driveway is a breathtakingly scenic corridor, nestled between piles and piles of monstrous, round, boulders. Situated along either side of the one lane road, are the official “camp sites”. Essentially these campsites are 25’ cut outs on the sides of the road. Parking in these campsites actually leave you sticking out into the road if you have anything too large, and that ultimately reduces the road from a two lane road, to a single lane. As we nervously continue to drive down the road… we see a 20ft Airstream on the left, and Volkswagon Westfalia Popup Van on the right. Subaru Outback with a tent, Honda Element, another “tenter” then an Enduro motorcycle tent camper……This pattern of vehicles repeated and made it glaringly obvious to us that this campground is best situated for small vehicles, tents, and self contained camper vans and small trailers. NOT what we were towing. WTF was that ranger thinking? Why did he even lets us go here? What were WE thinking not checking it out by bike ahead of time?
As we drive deeper into the neighborhood of wild campers, tenters and backpackers, we obnoxiously roll in with our Megacab diesel dually, towing a veritable mobile fortress. Luckily for me I was mid anxiety attack, and could only wrap my head around the possibility of the major traffic production ahead. A production of shuffling other peoples’ vehicles, countless “guides”, the combined efforts from 20 campers just to clear a path for us to get ourselves out of there, etc. Luckily for me I was so stressed with all those thoughts, I had no room for embarrassment. I can only imagine everyone’s comments…. LOOK at this moron! What is he doing in here with THAT! We GOTTA watch this!
After getting ALL the way into the campground we reached the cul-de-sac turnaround point.. Wait what? Didn’t the ranger tell us not to go into any cul de sacs? OMG. Slowly, I negotiated the tiny turnaround, missing countless camper vans by 2-4 inches each. 2 inches from their bumper, 5 inches from that boulder, watch the corner of that camper! I’m too close to that motorcycle! I have NO IDEA how we got around that turnaround without hitting anything, but we did. As we pull ourselves out from “the Cul-De-Sac from Hell” we were greeted by most of the nearby campers. Like an angry mob, flocking to any public spectacle, they had made their way to the road’s edge to watch the “show”. In most normal camping scenarios; my efforts of navigating a barge through a drinking straw, would have yielded a congratulatory round of applause; but with this group; it was more of a feeling of disgust shooting from their piercing eyes.
Get us out of here as fast as we can. We aren’t wanted, nor can we actually fit here. Ultimately we made it out fine, but it left us shaken, bruised and without any place to stay. After all, this was the ONE campground that the ranger suggested we stay at and we hadn’t made any reservations anywhere else…. To be continued…. Watch the video of us driving through the campground. This was filmed two days later, WITHOUT the RV attached to the truck.