The afternoon we got to the BLM south of Joshua Tree, we wanted to scout out the best site. Since camping on BLM land is free, it can be quite busy when A. the weather is good and B. the site nearby is coveted. We were surprised to see how many RVs were parked there on a random Monday afternoon in mid-November. (I mean, it wasn’t that random. It was 3 days before Thanksgiving.)
We declared a good spot ours by parking our huge Home on Wheels there and disconnecting our tow vehicle.
Then, we asked one another… but what if there’s a better spot? (That dang green grass on the other side of the fence!)
It isn’t ideal to take a 42” motorhome down a rocky, sandy pathway that might be called a road but certainly doesn’t resemble one – particularly if we’re not sure about a turn-around. Thankfully, we know that, so this story isn’t going in that direction if you thought it was.
(Hi! Future Sasha here: we didn’t get stuck anywhere until about 18 months on the road, in April 2018 a short 50 miles from Joshua Tree.)
Our ringworm ridden dog in the back (another story for another day), and myself in the driver seat, the explorer took us along a “private” road that the public can use. Tip: If you go to Joshua Tree and find yourself in South BLM land, you can use this secondary road directly behind the access road to the BLM land. It’s essentially a “we can kick you out if you’re a jerk” road, but for all intents is public. While an absolute washboard, it is much nicer and better maintained than the BLM road. We drove down about a mile and a half scouting out various places we could camp – but each time we questioned whether it was the smartest idea to bring our huge rig down the sandy path. So finally, we decided to turn around, and maybe see what the access was like on the BLM road.
That’s when we spotted it. A majestic beast of a Minnie Winnie. Mid-the-decade-I-was-in-middle-school, the Winnebago with blue painted stripes had seen better days. And then, we saw the kicker – Jeremiah saw it long before I did. The entire back axle was stuck. Nope, that’s the wrong word. The entire back passenger side tires were dangling in a place that may, at one point have been road. And now? Now there was nothing but warm desert air.
“The dangers of boondocking,” Jeremiah murmured.
I blinked. Once, then twice. Suddenly I thought of RV parks with paved roads and running water, electricity and tow trucks at our fingertips. Maybe even a hot tub or pool waiting for me after a wine happy hour in the clubhouse. Then I laughed and said, “Yep. Glad that’s not us.” And that was the end of it.
Thursday was Thanksgiving, so Jeremiah was work-free. While measuring out berries to make a compote for our cheesecake dessert and checking on how frozen our turkey breast was (still very frozen, in case you’re curious,) Jeremiah said, “Wanna go take pictures of that Winnebago in the hole so we can use it in our blog?” I was hesitant. In my brick-and-mortar house days, I questioned each choice I made about whether it was “polite.” Everything.
There I was, measuring out sugar, thinking, Is this polite? Is taking pictures of someone’s potential home acceptable?”
“It’s been there a long time,” Jeremiah reasoned with me.
“How long?” I asked, “I don’t think it’s even been there a month. It wasn’t that dusty.”
“They haven’t had rains in months,” he said, “The road clearly washed away while they were parked there. A year.”
I disagreed. “I think they weren’t paying attention. I think they backed into that lack-of road.”
Within a few minutes, after battling the politeness demons in my head, we headed out on foot, our ringworm fungusy dog on lead.
It was hot. I mean not hot-hot. But warm. Warm enough that we should have brought a water bottle, and warm for three beings very used to the cool, wet weather of the Pacific Northwest. After some time we started questioning what we had seen. After a mile we thought, is it further? It must have been. So we kept walking.
By this time, our little doggo – who is not so little – was getting tired. Or bored. It’s hard to say. She has a streak of stubbornness that makes it hard to differentiate when she doesn’t want to do something versus when she can’t do something. We made it nearly another mile before we asked one another, “How did we miss it? We didn’t come this far in our car.” We paid better attention but decided to turn back.
The Winnie, stuck so far in that hole, was nowhere to be seen. And Bernadette? Well, she was having a puppy tantrum. She just wouldn’t walk.
“I can go get the car and come get you guys,” I volunteered.
Instead, every 400 steps, we’d find a bit of shade and let Bernadette rest. Google Fi reception is great outside of Joshua Tree. I googled “heat exhaustion in dogs,” and let my mind race as it does in any partially sub-standard situation. Every step with Bernie was like pulling, well, a dog. We found that when I cheered her on she picked up her pace so here I was, clapping and cheering our black lab mix while walking on a hot dusty road. It took us twice as long to finish the second half as the first half of our walk. When we got home to our site, Bernadette raced to the explorer. She wasn’t tired. She was just done with that walk. She is officially a princess.
So, again, we drove down the road we had just walked. This time, we looked for any Minnie Winnie. And that’s when we saw it.
This glorious beast.
Sitting in a campsite.
All tires on solid ground.
A beautiful majestic piece of metal, not hanging by a thread at all.
It’s rear bumper? FUBAR.
It had made it out. Between Monday and Thursday, this motorhome had been towed out of the hole and had driven to a solid sandy site. We stopped and looked. It mocked us. Our potential Instagram photos? Ruined!
The dangers of boondocking might include being stuck in a monsoon and having your tires washed into an abyss. But it might also include a dog so bored and lazy that she just won’t finish her walk.
Now, as for Joshua Tree itself – it was nice to be there for Thanksgiving, and totally relax since Jeremiah wasn’t working Thursday or Friday.
If you’re visiting, we might advise you to stay in the North section. Because it’s two deserts that come together, the Southern 30+ miles are all the same before it transitions. Sandy, and shrubby. If you’re eager to view Joshua Trees and cactus, head for the North. We actually went through the entire park so we could see all the cool sites – which takes about an hour to drive through.
However, because it’s a national park, dogs are only allowed on roads. I’m glad of that. I want to be able to keep our parks as pristine as possible, but it did limit what we chose to do when we were there.
I was also not expecting the amount of people that were there. 93% of the people were just posing for pictures. I made Jeremiah pose too; I’m not any better. It’s just a reality. I think if you were to go off the main strip though, you’d be really able to engage in nature and it would be a lot quieter. It’s beautiful – and precisely what you’d expect of a desert.
Next up? A different state! Quartzsite, Arizona.
Tips: Head North to see a Joshua Tree. If you’re in need of cell service, stay in the BLM land South of Joshua Tree. Even when we were in Joshua Tree the city, our service was sketchy at best.