An hours drive out of Palm Springs, along dust blown highways shimmering with heat, we came to a small town. Nestled in the desert, on the edge of a long road that snakes away into the distance, is Joshua Tree. The place is tiny, a row of wood boarded shops hoarding candles and tarot cards, vintage silk slips and battered vinyl records and cowboy boots with scuffed heels. There’s a store glowing with scarlet neon, full of books and dreamcatchers and heady with incense, with two shower cabins out the back for campers. For $4, we got 12 glorious minutes to wash the face paint and desert dust of Coachella off ourselves.
Driving out into the National Park itself, the heat intensifies. The sky opens up, a vast bowl of ozone blue scudded with clouds, and the scorched earth cracks and splinters away from the road. Dry scrub and grasses rustle in the breeze. The landscape is beautifully eerie, studded with the distinctive Joshua trees that give the National Park it’s name and framed hazily by mountains rearing from the horizon.
We drove through the last hour of the afternoon, and as dusk began to fall we pulled the van onto a side road leading to a huge rocky outcrop, casting shadows in the fading light. The campsite circles the base of the rocks; a ring of small pitches each with a fire pit and a picnic table. We found one facing out into the surrounding mountains, catching the last long fingers of daylight, and walked around to put our $10 in the honesty box by the side of the road. Scrambling up over the slabs of rock, we reached the top of the outcrop and sat with our backs against the warm stone to watch the sun dip below the horizon in a sky washed with rose gold.
As the night descended and the desert cooled, we put on jumpers and lit a fire in the rusted metal pit. The inky sky became a glittering map of stars, in the way that can only exist in empty space; and the desert stretched off into blackness, the Joshua trees silhouetted in the moonlight. We huddled around the fire with a couple of beers and forked fried potatoes out of plastic bowls, retelling the events of the past few days, the only sounds the crackling of the fire and the soft laughter coming from the other camps. Gradually the fire died to glowing embers and we slept, curled in blankets and silent darkness.
Camping in Joshua Tree National Park was an experience that appealed to my notions of classic Americana, of deserts and big skies and small towns. The National Park is otherworldly and beautiful, and a mecca for climbers, hikers and mountain bikers. If you don’t mind the most basic of facilities, it is the perfect place to stop over for a night during a road trip – you’ll feel like you’re the star of an old-school American B movie (Tarantino filmed part of Django here) and you won’t get a better night’s sleep than out in the silence of the desert.
You can find out more about camping in the National Park here