Travel & Culture

Camping at Joshua Tree National Park

I went camping for the first time at the end of 2018 with my best friends from middle school. It was my first time camping without my parents, and this was during the federal government shutdown, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

We chose to camp at Joshua Tree National Park because it was the closest national park to us, about a 2-hour drive from where we lived in Los Angeles. We also wouldn’t have to be as worried about animals as we would in someplace like Yosemite National Park.

On the way to Joshua Tree, we took a detour to Slab City, “the Last Free Place in America”. Slab City was founded after the U.S. Marines Corps abandoned Fort Dunlap around 1956. There are no property taxes or utility bills. Residents live in trailers, shacks, yurts, or trucks. There’s one communal shower. You are in the middle of a desert.

We saw 2 places in Slab City:

  1. Salvation Mountain (above) is the life’s work of a Slab City resident, Leonard Knight. It is a collection of rocks covered in thousands of gallons of latex paint, and decorated with a large cross and religious messages. It’s a great Instagram spot. Paloma, Vaishali, and I somehow were stuck behind this girl wearing a cropped top and hitting those Instagram poses: popping the booty, pursing the lips, and lifting the shirt. While her background said “Love Jesus and keep it simple”, her shirt was saying “Dump Him”.
  2. East Jesus (below) is like an art collective where residents display their own art installations and sculptures. Most of them are made from recycled materials. Unlike Salvation Mountain where there’s strict path you have to follow, East Jesus is a free-for-all. They encourage you to touch and interact with their art. This was more my vibe cause it’s less religious.

By the time we got to Joshua Tree, the sun had gone down. It took a while to figure out where our campsite was, but after that everything else fell into place. The tent. Then food. Make a fire. Clean the “kitchen”. Wash up. Hang out and go to bed. I knew more about camping than I gave myself credit for. Turns out, I learned a lot from all those years camping and being told what to do by my parents.

Despite my worries about the federal government shutdown, the bathrooms were open, didn’t smell bad, and was stocked with toilet paper. Another camper even left behind hand soap, bless her soul. Everybody we came across seemed to respect Mother Earth.

We were lucky to have gone to Joshua Tree at the time that we did because 2 days after we left, all the national parks shut down because of human waste and destruction. Lots of a**holes decided it was a great idea to defile Joshua trees and create new roads in the park themselves. Sucks when a small group of people ruin it for the larger population.

Initially, we planned to camp for 3 nights and 4 days, but Mother Nature didn’t like the idea of that. The first night was cold as heck – think 30 degrees Fahrenheit cold. I believe I fell asleep and woke up because I was cold. Thankfully the daytime was a lot nicer and we got to do several hikes.

But the next night… the Santa Ana winds picked up and drove the three of us insane. None of us slept for more than 15 minutes at a time because the winds were coming in all directions. Several times throughout the night, I felt like there was something on top of me – oh, that’s the tent door. It was literally on top of me. We went back to the city the next day, which was for the better because the winds were going nuts.

I definitely want to go camping with friends more often. It’s so much fun! For all you newbie campers out there, we created a checklist of things to bring.

Have fun camping and please be respectful of Mother Nature!


Click here to download the camping checklist.


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