I had a hankering to do some cross country hiking and solo camping in Joshua Tree National Park last month (April, 2012) and decided to head out into the beautiful Queen Valley area of the park.
I parked at the Geology Tour Road backboard and headed West on the California Riding and Hiking Trail that bisects the park. It’s an easy to follow path that I often use as a jumping off point for my backcountry trips.
The trail is easy to follow
After hiking about three miles I veered off the trail to the North and started making my way cross country through the scrub and brush. I had no set destination, I just wanted to wander about a bit and camp when I found an area that just “felt right”. I often find my best camping sites this way, just kind of let my primal instincts take over and guide me. Of course I had a compass, GPS and map, plus I had left word (and a map location) with friends and family as to the general location I was going to be hiking through.
I love just heading across open desert sometimes
After a few hours I came to a fairly open section of desert and decided to find a place to pitch my “bug hut” and settle in for the night. Selecting a small stand of creosote bushes to bed down next to, I dropped my pack and got ready to set up camp.
Nothing spectacular, just a nice stretch of open desert
This trip out I was testing two new pieces of gear: my new Leki trekking poles and my REI Pro 2 “Bug Hut”. I’ll do extensive gear reviews on these two pieces in a separate article, but suffice it to say I was VERY happy with both. The poles did help take pressure off my knees and back, and the bug hut was big enough to keep all my gear inside with me (as opposed to when I use one of my bivy bags and have to leave stuff outside exposed to the insects and elements).
The Leki trekking poles leaning against my surplus SA army rucksack
The REI “Bug Hut” is just that – a two man tent made of just light insect-proof netting that is great for fair weather camping. It has no rain fly so I was counting on using my rain poncho for protection if weather did come up. I love it because I can see all around me and also look at the stars as I lay there without the bother of having the myriad collection of desert insects that inhabit the land crawling all over me as I sleep.
- A quick note – many people ask me if I’m not scared at night sleeping alone in the desert and the answer is no, as long as I’m not IN a tent where I can’t see what’s around me. I often sleep without any tent up on rock formations, but if on the desert floor bedding down with the scorpions, ants, snakes and tarantulas I want some netting to keep them off me. Sure sometimes you’re spooked by some strange noise but as long as I can see what’s around me, it’s no big deal. Being “blind” in a full tent scares me.
(And for the record, most noises in the desert at night are small animals going about their business of survival, most big predators keep quite silent as they stalk)
The REI Bug Hut is light and easy to set up
The night was delightfully still and quiet, and I have to say I spent one of the most restful sleeps ever. I had planned on getting up during the darkest hours and try doing some spotting with my night scope, but once I hit that bed with the cool night breeze and gentle chirping of the crickets I was out like a light.
Dawn in the desert and time to get moving
With the breaking of the dawn I got up, ate, packed up and got moving back cross country toward the CA Riding and Hiking trail, then South to head back to the backboard and my jeep. I always get moving early in the desert as once that sun is up the temp starts climbing fast. Ever wonder why most animals in the desert are only active at dawn and evening? They’re no dummies!
Arriving back at the jeep I shucked off my pack, had a drink and dried my shirt (soaked from sweat after the brisk six mile hike) then headed out to home. If you want a nice easy hiking area to explore and camp in, I suggest the Queen Valley area, it’s at about a 4500 foot elevation so the nights are usually nice and cool even in the middle of summer, my favorite time for solo camping in Joshua Tree NP.
Get out and enjoy the desert, even if alone, just let someone know where you’re going and pack LOTS of water!
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