Sunday morning at Black Rock campground, Joshua Tree National Park
Peregrine fille, my 1982 Vanagon Westfalia, and I went on our first camping trip together over the weekend, along with students from a course I teach where weekend hikes and camping trips are part of the syllabus — but not required. This is a nuts and bolts report.
The weather forecast called for rain on Saturday, and again maybe on Sunday. I’m used to winter rain in the lower, Sonoran desert, which is usually a manageable affair, so I told students to ignore the forecast and keep our reservations at Black Rock campground in Yucca Valley.
I left San Diego at 2:00 on Friday with plans to take back roads over the mountains and into the desert. Alas, I took a wrong turn on a back road and added 65 miles to the trip. By the time I got to Indian Wells it was raining, and when I got to the campground it was raining harder.
Peregrine fille ran well. She is aircooled, which requires some regulation of the air passing by the engine to keep it cool. I haven’t yet found a thermostat in the junkyards, to do the regulating, so I was alarmed to watch temperatures drop under 180 degrees as I headed downhill on long grades. But other than that, she ran quite well. It wasn’t until the return trip that my psyche fully adjusted to being in third gear on interstate grades, but when it adjusted the bus and I were happy together.
Friday night’s storm was fierce, shaking the van and drenching the students’ tent with rain that came in sideways, under the fly, and then settled on the tent’s bathtub floor. I had the top of the Westy popped and was just alarmed by the fierceness of the storm. Otherwise I slept fine.
On Saturday we drove into the park. For risk management reasons I cannot take students in the bus when I drive it, which made the drive into and around the park a little lonely. But I hadn’t been in the park since 1964, when I was a lot younger. I was really excited by what I saw, and I rued the many times that I’d disdained Joshua Tree and driven by it to go to Arizona.
All day Saturday the sky was blue but the wind blew cold. We found places in the lee of big boulders to hike around and take pictures.
Back at camp later, I felt a little guilty cooking and eating inside. Everything worked, including the Dometic fridge, known for its poor performance, although I wasn’t giving in much of a workout when ambient temps were between 30-50 degrees F. But I think it may have helped keep the camper warm at night.
After supper I invited all five students to come in out of the wind. They had made brownies in a dutch oven, so we enjoyed those and played “Catch Phrase,” an electronic game that required a change of batteries.
They all went back to their tent around 8:30 and I went to bed. It was snowing, but the rangers had promised me it wouldn’t amount to much. At 10:00 the students awakened me: their tent had collapsed from the weight of the snow.
At this point, they had had enough, so they packed up and headed back to San Diego. I went back to bed in the camper and awoke to a winter wonderland. It was so beautiful that I have yet to find words for it. This is what a writer does, of course – find words for things. So I have a bit of work yet to do.
I broke camp and headed home against a brutal wind, especially on the 15 through the windmills. Once I got past Banning, though, and on to the 60, it was clear driving.
- The thermostat, which I’ve mentioned. I may have to break down and buy one new.
- The fuel pump needed a bang to get going on the first morning in camp, but not the second
- The gear shift didn’t want to do R or 1st when cold. Everything else was fine.
- My new tires were superb. There was a lot of wind, but those tires kept me stuck to the road throughout.
- At 55 mph on the highway, with the iPod playing through the cassette deck, everything seemed really smooth. No sense that I was driving a woefully underpowered, overweight, 30-year old vehicle.
- At 30 degrees, with plenty of wind, the camper is cozy inside even with the top popped. I have no auxiliary heat, so this was a nice surprise. It wasn’t warm of course, but all I had to do was step outside for a second to realize how warm it was.
All in all, a good first weekend. Next month, the Grand Canyon. Yippee.
Meanwhile, I hope to add some more nuanced reports to the blog.