Camping with Joe (Dec 2012)

It has been almost seven years since Joe left home to be on his own at college and now he is working full time, degree in hand, as a biologist protecting desert tortoises. During this passage into adulthood we have shared many outdoor adventures, enjoying wonderful father-son time together that others only wish for. Lucky for me, these trips are usually not my idea, but Joe’s. Trips that my son wants to do.

Earlier this month, Joe called and suggested we go car camping for a few days. Car camping would be in between the comforts of my tent trailer and the minimalisim of backpacking. I haven’t car camped in over twenty years. Joe also wanted to bring a “real” stove along with his Weber Baby Q grill so we could enjoy steaks and other great foods. Sounded good to me!

In spite of doing our trips in sunny California, we haven’t been blessed with great weather during our December outings. Poor weather aside, these winter trips do turn out successful. Now we aren’t talking about full-blown Midwest blizzards, but somehow we manage to end up in rain, or snow, or sleet, and rain in December. This year would be no different.

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Big Sur, December 2007: Plenty of rain on this trip, but we hiked a lot and had a great time.

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Anza Borrego, December 2008: Weather started out nice.

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Anza Borrego, December 2008: The good weather got lost, replaced with rain, sleet, snow and wind. But Joe is smiling.

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Cottonwood Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, December 2008: The snow was worse than Anza Borrego. We would be camping here this year too.

To keep logistics simple, we decided to camp at the Cottonwood Springs Campground in Joshua National Park. It is only 51 miles from my house. The campground is in the southern-most part of the Park and the least populated — and in winter has the warmest temperature — as it is located in the lower desert.

Joe arrived the night before our trip departure. We spend time visiting with Joyce and her sister Ruby’s family, leaving first thing the following morning. After stocking up at the grocery store with thick steaks, bacon, eggs, baked beans, and other man-foods, we were off.

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Warning sign at the self-service pay station.

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We paid the $15 per night fee at the self-service pay station and then set up camp.

Patton Museum

Once our camp was set up, I suggested we go visit the General Patton Memorial Museum at Chiriaco Summit, about 11 miles from our camp. Joe had never been there. The museum is close to Patton’s headquaters at Camp Young, where he trained American troops in desert warfare in preparation for the invasion of North Africa and combat with Rommel’s forces.

Returning back to camp, Joe prepared dinner and we enjoyed the sunset. Skies were clear and the night sky crisp and full of stars.

In the morning ominous clouds and biting cold greeted us. It was not going to be a good weather day. We decided to head up to the northwest end of the park and explore. Unfortunately the upper elevations were shrouded in an envelope of low clouds. Visibility at Key’s View was less than 100 feet. We dropped down to Hidden Valley, and hiked around the Barker Dam area in the rain. Making our way back to the campsite the clouds started to dissipate  but not for long.

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Temporary break in the weather gave us this rainbow. 

The storm was following us and it looked like the rain wasn’t going to let up. Back at our camp, we moved our cooking gear to a picnic Ramada in the campground. Of course, the rain stopped since we were under a shelter. With an eye to eating healthy food, Joe grilled 14 large chicken drumsticks and prepared large helpings of Bush’s Baked Beans. A little (well maybe more than a little for me) Cabernet Sauvignon wine complimented our attempt at eating health foods. The temperature was getting close to freezing so we cleaned up our gear and headed to bed, hoping the weather would clear the following day.

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Chef Joe. Notice the titanium wine goblet. 

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A golden sunbeam entertains us. No TV or iPod needed here.

Morning. Clear skies. Biting arctic wind. No way we could cook in this wind. We both stayed in our tents reading and waiting for the sun to warm things up. When it became obvious the wind was not going to stop, and the temperature was not going to cooperate, we decided to head to lower elevations in search of warmer weather and to hike some slot canyons Joe had never visited. Leaving our tents and chairs at camp, we headed off.

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Breakfast at the trail head. The weather is warm and NO wind! 

Slot Canyon Hike

Up the Main Canyon

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Entrance to the Slot Canyon

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Hiking the Slot

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Exiting the Slot

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As we approach the top, the wash widens.

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The top of the slot provides a view of Mt San Jacinto on the left and Mt San Gorgonio on the right.

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Looking back at the maze of canyons.


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Back at camp after a day of hiking the wind had died down, but it was cold. While Joe cooked another gourmet delight of thick steaks and trimmings, I built a roaring fire. It is rare for me to build a fire when camping or backpacking. But this was the kind of fire you would want when camping with your son. Warm and glowing, we spent a couple hours talking.

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Our last morning was the coldest yet. Don’t know what the temperature was, but Joe spilled a little boiling water on the table while filling my coffee cup. In a few minutes this small puddle of water turned into solid ice. After another excellent breakfast, again prepared by Joe, we packed up and headed home. Nothing better in life than camping with your son.