One of the lovely ocotillo plants in Joshua Tree National Park.
Tent camping in the desert during the summer months is not for the faint of heart. After a Vermont winter filled with more negative degree days than I can count on my fingers, the desert felt like being trapped in a sauna. We could have bypassed these extra hot spots, but Arches National Park, the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Joshua Tree were too spectacular to miss out on. With our spontaneous style of traveling, we wandered on south and were ready to handle whatever came our way!
Welcome to Arches!
Arches National Park, UT: Arches is the home of over 2,000 documented natural stone arches. It is in fact the densest concentration of them in the world. To be an official arch there must be a hole of at least three feet in any direction, with no width requirement. It hit 105 degrees while we were here. Scorching! The best way to beat the heat is to visit the park early in the morning or just before sunset. Spend the hottest part of the day scoping out one of the many museums and informational centers or catch up on work in a local coffee shop. We camped off of Klondike Bluff Road, basically in Arches backyard! There is something extra liberating about setting your tent up in the middle of the desert. We felt like we were on another planet and it made us forget about how sticky we were!
The Delicate Arch, Arches National Park. Totally out of this world!
It's honestly hard to capture how extreme the Grand Canyon is!
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ: The Grand Canyon sure was grand! The park map states that it, “overwhelms your senses,” and I would have to agree! This canyon is absolutely massive and stunning. It is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Erosion sculpted this remarkable landscape which began with the two-billion-year-old rock found at the bottom on the canyon. I am continuously in awe with the power of natural forces. While visiting we camped at an amazing spot called Marble Canyon; pitched our tent right on the top of a glorious canyon. Thankfully this beautiful spot had a lovely breeze, plus, we got there late and left early, so we didn’t experience the full power of the sun. I accidentally stepped on a cactus while getting out of the tent to go to the bathroom at night. It took a couple of weeks to finally get the prick out. Wear sneakers and really watch your step!
Camping on Marble Canyon thanks to Campendium's fabulous free camping database!
Hop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle!
Zion National Park, UT: Zion is an enchanting place, it is no wonder that it is the most visited of the National Parks. A canyon carved by the Virgin River and time, this park provides visitors so many opportunities to explore. Walk through the river, hike Angel’s Landing, or enjoy a shorter walk off of one of the nine Zion Canyon Shuttle stops! The shuttle is free and operates on a “shuttle only” road— which we thought was a brilliant way to keep tourist safe from traffic accidents and reduce the carbon footprint from heavy vehicle traffic. My advice after visiting, bring plenty of water and come to this park with an attack plan! There are so many adventures to choose from!
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV: After touring through Zion we kept driving. We figured it wasn’t worth setting up our tent while the sun was still blasting down. This led to a miserable camping night at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, it was nearly too hot to fall asleep. As we set up our tent, around 8:00 PM, the thermometer read 103 degrees. It might have dropped to 95 degrees that night, but it didn’t make a difference. Lake Mead is in rough shape (at least the area we rolled up to). If any readers live in that area, what can we do to help? The amount of trash everywhere was upsetting. Our furry cat companion was not thrilled by the number of dogyotes (offspring from coyotes and domestic dogs) roaming around there either.
We were ready for a motel break!
Joshua Tree National Park, CA: The ocotillo plant won my heart while we cruised through Joshua Tree National Park. It resembles desert coral with its wild branches reaching up towards the sky. Runner up are these fuzzy teddy bear cholla cacti! One of Joshua Tree’s unique features is a splendid Cholla Cactus Garden, found around where the Colorado Desert and Mojave Desert meet. There is a nice little quarter mile loop giving visitors a quick taste of the 110-degree heat and a peak at the 10 acres of adorable chollas. The desert adaptations made by the various plant and animal species in these extreme environments is quite radical! After a predominantly air-conditioned cruise through Joshua Tree National Park, we beelined it out of there to get closer to the significantly cooler California Coast!
Cholla Cactus Garden
Reflecting on our experience camping with cacti, our main piece of advice is to be prepared. Fill your water bottles and water reserves every chance you get. Early mornings and evenings are the best times to be outside. This is applicable during camp setup and breakdown too. Remember, Turtle Fur has you covered with headwear! Keep the sun out of your face with a trucker! We will definitely be revisiting these parks with adventure plans during a time when we can more comfortably and safely enjoy the visit.
Ultimately, we had a love affair with the desert. With an ecosystem unlike anything we are accustomed to, this camping experience was fabulously unique.
Watch your step!
Photo credit: Jason Gerhart @fresh_world_press