Many people who live on the road, myself included, have toyed with the idea of someday buying a plot of land, and setting it up so that our fellow travelers can come stay with us. I just spent a few days at just such a place, Van Life Campground: Joshua Tree.
All great adventures start at a bar, and this was no exception. The Joshua Tree Saloon greeted me with a large metal wall completely covered in stickers. I had to make my own contribution to the wall. If you ever see it, let me know! The place was rustic and nice. Even the indoor seating was pretty much outside, because it’s the desert, so why not? I had a tasty beer and burger for lunch.
Then I made my way to the campground itself. The owner, Aidan, likes to keep the exact location off the map for the privacy and safety of his guests, which I’ll respect here. Suffice it to say it’s pretty much in between the towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, California. Each campsite is pretty much just a place to park a couple of vehicles with a fire ring. Electrical hookups are available at a couple of sites for an extra fee.
The campsites form a circle around a central common area, with picnic tables under a canopy and all the outdoor games you can imagine. While the tables were clean and pristine when I arrived, Aidan took it upon himself to begin a new tradition with the sticker I gave him, which became the first to adorn these tables. Let me know if you visit and see it! And if you absolutely must have one of your own, be sure to visit Da Smokey Store.
This shed is actually a community bathroom with a composting toilet. I’m familiar with this concept. There’s also a sink with a foot pump, just like I used before installing my hand pump faucet for my own sink.
Nearby there’s an outdoor kitchen, which actually came with the property when Aidan bought it. I didn’t put it to use myself, but it would definitely be handy for a larger or community meal, since whatever cooking facilities we carry with us are quite small.
The shower is truly amazing, and nearly worth the price of admission all by itself. The water gets hot almost instantly, and the pressure is quite good. The walls on all four sides are tall enough to cover your naughty bits, but just short enough to give people of average height a view of the surrounding desert. It’s a great combination of a camp shower with all the creature comforts of a sticks and bricks shower.
This is the mystery sink. You can pour stuff in it — grey water, pee bottles, whatever. I didn’t ask where it came from, or where it goes. Some things are better left a mystery.
Firewood is available on-site, but it’s not cheap, $10 a bundle, which is five small pieces. While firewood does grow on trees, it doesn’t grow here, so the price is correspondingly higher.
It was a good few days of hanging out here. People typically kept to themselves, except for Yellow Wolf, who camped next to me for a couple of nights while visiting her grandson who’s stationed at the nearby Marine base. Aidan and I also talked motorcycles a bit, as he rides and is seriously considering a Kawasaki KLR650 for his next ride. I offered to let him take mine for a spin to get a feel for it. He took me up on the offer, and returned with a smile on his face.
Van Life Campground: Joshua Tree is a great deal for van lifers either just passing through the area, or who want to explore nearby Joshua Tree National Park. In fact, Aidan’s old van is now a “room” that you can rent out and stay in yourself. This gives you the opportunity to try out van life with absolutely no commitment or investment other than the cost of the stay itself. It’s a great way to dip your toes in the water and see if this life is for you, without buying a starter van like I did.
Since campgrounds in the National Park are reserved through the end of time, I think your best bet is to stay here instead, and drive 15 minutes to either of the northern park entrances. Or, if you’re me, ride a motorcycle there. But that’s a story for next time.