The last time Catherine and I went to Joshua Tree we managed to snag a last-minute campsite in Cottonwood Campground. The campground’s southern location means it’s less crowded than many other spots, a wonderful added bonus for two solitude seeking campers.
Cottonwood has 62 campsites and several modern amenities for indoorsy types like myself including; potable water and flush toilets (true luxuries in the desert). Like most campgrounds, Cottonwood has two rings of campsites that can accommodate tent only as well as RV campers.
Our first stop on arrival was of course the bathroom. On this particular weekend a very generous person left a partially used bottle of lavender soap in the women’s bathroom, which I will note here had two stalls and one sink. I never thought I’d have such admiration for a bottle of lavender soap, which I should clarify, is my least favorite smell in the world, aside from poop and vomit of course. But there’s something about camping that really makes you stop and appreciate the little things, even when they’re tainted with the offensive smell of pine and flowers. So I must say thank you to the kind lady who left us her stinky soap, I used it many times and was grateful to have clean, de-greased and de-grimed hands all weekend.
After our pit stop we pitched our tent, realized that someone (read Kristi) had forgot the camp chairs in the garage (luckily there was a picnic table) and decided to take a stroll around our new neighborhood. In truth this is one of my favorite parts of camping. It’s guaranteed entertainment, and the more camping you do the more you begin to recognize the ‘types’ of campers that are out there.
I’m particularly fond of the hard core RV-ers who manage to set up multiple living areas, covered dining rooms and sit-out porches for evening tipples. My inner indoorsy camper often looks at such sites with envy, that is until the next morning when I get to watch the whole house come down to the studs, an operation that takes infinitely longer than deflating a sleeping pad and packing up a tent.
RV sites aside, most of the campsites at Cottonwood have little nooks and crannies to place your tent as well as a picnic table and fire ring. I’m afraid that without our camp chairs we had to sit on blankets just below our fire, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a lovely dinner followed by some gooey s’mores. This did give us a chance to see a little kangaroo mouse up close which I have to admit totally freaked me out at first, but then he was kinda fun to watch. Be warned that there are lots of mice in the desert so be sure to pack away all of your food at night unless you want to share with the critters.
On this particular night there was plenty of cloud cover, hiding what is usually an incredibly bright night sky. Even with all the cloud cover we didn’t need our headlamps during our midnight bathroom break. I can’t even imagine how bright and sparkly it must be on a clear evening. I suppose that just gives us one more reason to return.
We had a lovely sleep in our little cocoons and woke to bright light streaming into our tent. One of the drawbacks to many of the Cottonwood sites is their lack of shade. We attempted to mitigate this by placing our tent strategically so that the morning shadow of the scrub would give us a little reprieve, but that didn’t last long. Within a couple hours our orange tent was flooded with light and warmth, the desert does cool down at night after all so it wasn’t too hot…yet.
Since Catherine is the expert French press coffee maker I put her to work while I assembled our breakfast of Irish soda bread with butter and jam, cheese and fruit. Not a bad way to start the day really.
Checkout time at Cottonwood is noon, so after a leisurely breakfast, several cups of coffee and some reading we started packing up and headed off to some nearby trails for some hiking. Camping in Cottonwood was amazing. Every time we drive to Joshua Tree I am struck by the huge spaces filled with alien trees, plants and boulders. It really is unlike any place I’ve been. I used to think that of the desert as a place you drive through on your way to something better. Thankfully time spent in Joshua Tree and other desert climate national parks has taught me otherwise, and I’m truly grateful to have learned that lesson.
If you’re looking to extend your trip into a multi destination road trip check out Nightborn Travel’s Ultimate Southern California Road Trip for Hikers and National Park Enthusiasts