Mom Report – Joshua Tree National Park April 2018
We already have a write up that goes into the more technical details about visiting Joshua Tree National Park but I wanted to provide a “mom’s perspective” of the same trip for how to do Joshua Tree with your toddler. I have much different concerns than Michael does when we are planning a trip since I am trying to account for all of Ava’s needs, so this post is targeted at addressing all of the little extras that need to be considered when traveling with kids.
Joshua Tree Guide for Kids
It was only about a 2 hour drive for us to get to downtown Joshua Tree, but in toddler time that is a LONG time. We tried to accommodate her by leaving at 5 AM so we could transfer her to the car seat and hopefully she would fall back asleep for the majority of the drive. As I have learned with Ava, just plan on things not going to plan. We had only put her Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Puppy and a stuffed animal within her reach. It turned out she played with the puppy a bit, but mostly just played with her feet and stared at the scenery for the entire 2 hour ride.
We stopped and got coffee and breakfast. I made sure to give her a chance to run around a little bit in the coffee shop courtyard before we walked across the street to The Crossroads Café for breakfast. It is a tiny place, but we were able to get a table in the middle that allowed for ample room for a high chair. They have a kids menu, and I think it was around $4 for 1 egg, 1 slice of bacon, and 1 slice of toast for her.
Hidden Valley Trail
After breakfast we hopped back in the truck and headed into the park. Our first stop in the park was Hidden Valley Trail. There are vault toilets at the trailhead, but I can’t really imagine taking a little one in there myself. We put Ava in our Osprey Poco AG Plus backpack and hit the trail. I really loved this trail because it was easy and had lots to look at. It had great rock formations, wildflowers, cacti, and some wildlife. I would say if Ava was maybe 2 or 3 we would have just let her walk instead of carrying her in the backpack.
We stopped once along the Hidden Valley Trail to let Ava get out and stretch her legs and wander around a bit. The rocks of course aren’t great for new walkers, but we were able to find some large relatively flat rocks to hang out on. She really was most interested in sitting in the sand and playing with it. As a word of caution, the sand out here has much bigger pebbles than playground or beach sand, so if you have a kid that eats sand be alert. I had to stop Ava from trying to eat sand a few times.
Barker Dam Loop
After Hidden Valley we drove over to the trailhead for the Barker Dam Loop. By now it was around 10:00 and close to when Ava normally takes her nap. We started the trail with her walking. That worked okay for a bit and she really enjoyed the freedom, but it was a pretty busy trail and she was holding up traffic. Once we put her in the backpack she fell asleep within 10 minutes. For kids that do manage to stay awake, the petroglyphs and the actual Barker Dam area would probably be pretty interesting to them.
The Wonderland of Rocks
This was probably my least favorite part of the trip. By the time we started it was a little after noon and it was pretty warm even though there was some breeze. We put Ava in the backpack, but she definitely was getting sick of being trapped. She didn’t whine, but she wasn’t her usual smiley self either. There was no good place along the trail to let her out to explore, so we got to the Wonderland of Rocks and quickly hurried back to the truck.
Geology Tour Road and Berdoo Canyon
By the time we got done with breakfast and got on the road it was a little after 9. Ava was tired from not getting enough sleep the day before so she passed out early on along the Geology Tour Road. The sights are probably not something kids are going to care about much and there aren’t really good places to stop very often. If you are taking this route to get to Berdoo Canyon then plan on having to try to keep kids entertained for most of the ride. You can read more about our trip in our detailed report.
Once we got to the Berdoo Canyon part Ava was awake and seemed to be having a good time. I sat in the back with her on the return trip since I knew she would be awake and it was a long drive back up Berdoo and the last bit of Geology Tour.
We got out and walked a little ways in the canyon and looked at a few wildflowers and some cool patterns in the rocks. If you have kids that area a bit older they might be more interested in the rock patterns and thinking about how the rock can have so much variation.
Skull Rock Trail
After our driving adventure we had lunch and a break at camp before setting out to do Skull Rock Trail. You can start the trail in Jumbo Rocks, so we put Ava in the backpack and strolled over to the trailhead. It was more up and downs than the other trails we had done, but was still a very easy trail. For the first half of the trail there were signs posted along the way with information about the flora and fauna and how the area was formed.
Setting up Camp
The ARB awning was amazing! Michael was able to set it up in less than 3 minutes (and this was his first attempt) for near instant shade. We then setup the Pack N Play under it and put Ava in there with a few books and toys so we could set up camp. She had enough room to move around and was excited about the new scenery so she let us have a good 15-20 minutes to get started on setting up camp. Setting up camp was pretty easy since I had everything organized it big plastic bins. We’re used to camping in areas where bears are an issue and since there were no bears we got a little bit lax on this trip. The squirrels will steal your food if it is not within arm’s reach or in a hard plastic container. You have been warned.
Bedtime was less than pleasant. Ava was over tired and not happy with being in an unknown place. Normally we can read her a story then toss her in her Pack N Play and not hear a peep out of her. She decided to cry for probably 20 minutes on and off before falling asleep. I’m sure our neighbors were afraid she’d do that all night, but luckily once she was asleep she was fine. By the second night she had adjusted to the fact that the tent was “home” and she went to sleep without much fuss at all. I am hoping that now that she knows the tent is okay she will sleep better for future camping trips.
The low was in the mid-50s when we were there so I dressed Ava in fleece footy pajamas and put a receiving blanket and a warmer flannel quilt on her. She stayed under her blankets all night. Around 2 AM I stuck my hand under her blankets to see if she was warm enough and it was like a little oven in there. We left the rainfly on our REI Kingdom 6 tent on so that it covered about 3/4 of the tent and left the door closest to Ava closed. The door on our end of the tent we left open to the screen portion. Keeping Ava warm enough was one of my major concerns, so I’m glad that I now have this experience to have a better idea of what kind of layers I need for her.
When we were hanging out at camp it was great to have our large REI Kingdom 6 tent for Ava to play in. It has lots of storage pockets so I was able to keep diapers and other necessities handy, but out of her reach. The tent gave her plenty of space to run around a bit without me having to be directly on top of her.
Jumbo Rocks was lots of fun because there were all kinds of rock formations to climb on. Michael or I would carry her up on a formation and then find a flat place to allow her to play. As a word of caution there did seem to be quite a bit of broken glass in these areas, presumably from people sitting on the rocks and drinking at night. So let your little ones roam, but keep a close eye on what they are trying to pick up.
I decided not to bring any type of high chair along thinking Ava could either sit in her REI Co-op Camp Chair – Kids or on my lap for meals. Unfortunately, she decided this was the time to get an extra independent streak and not want me to feed her anything. I ended up putting a lot of her dinner in the pocket on her bib. I like the STJÄRNBILD bibs from IKEA. She could then just pick up whatever she wanted and eat it. If you have the space a high chair might not be a bad idea, I am definitely strongly considering bringing it for our next trip.
We will definitely camp at Jumbo Rocks again, but I think we’ll wait until Ava is a bit older and can scramble up the rocks on her own. Overall, our trip to Joshua Tree was a success and I am excited about more adventures with Ava. I think it was a valuable learning experience that will make our upcoming trips to undeveloped areas less stressful.