Joshua Tree Weekend
To some, the term “weekender” or maybe “weekend warrior” seems derogatory. To us, that same term seems like a compliment and a goal; something to strive for. After a few repairs on the Upper Crust FJ Cruiser over the winter (both wheel bearings, rat damage repair, adding a new PRG snorkel and even more lights), we are finally ready to be back out on the road for 2016.
Our goal for the year is to camp at least twice a month, with one of those trips being a three-day-weekend. For our inaugural 2016 trip, we wandered down to Joshua Tree over President’s Day weekend.
The five and a half hour drive from Flagstaff down to the park seems like a drop in the bucket, due to the expansive desert views and hilly two-lane highway roads that make up the majority of the trip. We left after work on Friday and were able to set up camp on BLM land about 15 miles outside of the park by 9:30pm.
Saturday was the big park exploration day. We drove almost every mile of road in the entire park, stopping occasionally for a hike (when there was enough space to park) and often for a snack or photo opportunity. The park was packed, which was just fine with us, since we planned on camping on BLM land anyway. I was surprised at how few people were willing to camp boondock style in the rugged desert outside the park. Getting true peace and quiet in exchange for having to haul your own water seems like a no-brainer to me. No kids running around, no generators, no scent of pit toilets wafting into the tent… DUH!
Our favorite route started in the middle of the park. After hiking the Desert Queen Mine, we headed down “Geology Tour Road,” which eventually dumps out into Berdoo Canyon Road and into BLM land south of the park. It is a mostly tame dirt and sand track, with two or three technical rock crawling sections (rating 2.5 out of 5) that require good spotting on our stock-suspension FJ. We made it without even bumping a skid plate, thanks to Kristen’s excellent spotting (and my ham-fisted driving). The entire time we were on that road, some three or four hours, we saw maybe five other vehicles. We even saw a gorgeous stock 2014 FJ, but he bailed out at the biggest obstacle, opting to turn around rather that see what his truck can do… even though I promised him he could make it! Gorgeous desert views all to ourselves, we had plenty of time to stop and take pictures, most of which ended up being of the FJ next to groves of Joshua Trees.
After a quick run on the freeway to get back to the southern park entrance, we drove the entire length of the park to the north and camped about 5 miles from the highway on Gold Crown Road, which is BLM land north of the park. The drive south-to-north was just before sunset. We rolled the windows down, cranked the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy and enjoyed the scenic drive.
Sunday morning was a slow start, with blueberry pancakes on our (enormous) Camp Chef stove, plenty of coffee, and some time relaxing in the sun with a book. When we finally got around to breaking down camp, we drove back into the park for a quick lunch in the wind, some clambering around the really cool rock formations, and then headed out; our weekend cut short by the boss calling Kristen back to work for an 8am shift on Monday morning.
Overall, the trip was a huge success! We had to be careful with fuel consumption, though. The FJ gets about 13 miles a gallon with the tent up top (and full time 4 wheel drive) and only has a 19 gallon tank. That translates to a 200 miles range per tank (with a 50 mile reserve), which meant we spent plenty of time stopping for fuel. Maybe a secondary fuel tank is in our future…