It's a little-known jewel in the National Park system. It attracts the likes of rock climbers, star gazers, and those who have a penchant for the mysterious. Joshua Tree National Park in southern California is all of these, and it offers some great boondocking opportunities on top of it all.
East of Palm Springs on the I-10 corridor, most folks simply "miss" the park as the blast on by, no matter the direction they're headed. That might explain the low visitation rates--less than 1,300,000 folks visited the park in the last recorded year (2006). While that may sound like a lot, in terms of other national parks, those numbers are small--Grand Canyon entertains more than 5 million in an average year.
So what's to see at Joshua Tree? Well, our bet is on (believe it or not) the Joshua trees. A park biologist comments that these oddball trees (a member of the lily family) look like something out of a Dr. Suess book. Indeed, they bear a creepy profile, are well known for poking rock climbers, and bear a huge, white blossom in springtime. These characters are slow growers, the tallest Joshua tree in the park is but 40 feet tall, and estimated to have lived 300 years to make it to that height. Other desert plant dwellers are on display, including stands of ocotillo (oak-oh-tee-0h) bushes, jumping cacti, and other plants with points.
As we said, rock climbers delight in the park, but they aren't the only ones who love the park. Surrounded by little in the way of "civilization" the park is also an excellent place to get in the dark and see the night sky. With less "light pollution" than many places, you'll see stars you've never even imagined existed.
OK, what about boondocking? There are several established campgrounds about the park, most all of which could meet the designation of a "boondocking spot." We stayed up in the park's north center end in the "Belle" campground. Plenty of Joshua trees to gawk at, and lots of big rocks. While the park specifically warns against bringing big rigs into Hidden Valley campground and group camps, our experience suggests larger RVs will be happier in Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds. These latter two charge $15 per night (water available and a dump station) while the others are $10 per night.
Too pricey? Clever boondockers have found a free spot just south of the park's boundary. On both sides of the access road leading up from Interstate 10 there are flat and fairly level areas where even big rigs can roll in comfortably. Still, you'll be in sight (and hearing range) of the Interstate, so be warned.
Visit the park's website here.