California… Knows How to Party: Amboy Crater, Joshua Tree, and Palm Springs

We left Arizona behind just as our first month of full-time RVing also came to an end. I’ve gotta say it felt longer than a month. Overall we did pretty well. We were only slightly over budget and had no major breakdowns or mechanical issues. We’re getting used to limited showers, and having to conserve electricity and water. I’m not yet to the point where I miss working. Not even a little.

I knew Snoopy’s brother Spike lived in Needles, CA, didn’t know he lived inside Subway though.

Up next we start our tour of California, beginning with the areas around Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. Jackie’s mom came out to visit for a week and rented a house in the city of Joshua Tree. On the way to Joshua Tree, we made a quick overnight stop at Amboy Crater. Amboy Crater is an extinct volcano just off Route 66 in the middle of the Mohave desert in southeast California. We chose this stopover due to the free camping (thanks again campendium), and the possibility of climbing to the top and peering inside an actual volcano.

Amboy Crater just off Route 66.

When we arrived, we found a small asphalt parking lot large enough for several campers. We pulled in-between two other campers and prepared for our hike to the top of a volcano. Our first mistake was to think that we could cover the four-mile round trip. I’m not sure why we thought we could since our hiking record with the kids is not much more than two miles. Our second mistake was to believe the temperature forecast. While the forecast was for high 70’s, the temperature measured at our camper was already in the mid-80’s.

As we started the hike, with black lava rocks all around us, the heat was oppressive. About 20 steps in we realized we weren’t going to make it to the top. We had consumed more than half our water in the first 1/4 mile of hiking and turned around long before we even reached the base of the Crater. This was a good choice as we later read about all the people who have died from heat exhaustion trying to climb the crater, some never to be found. The scenery was awesome though, and we saw lots of Desert Iguanas, Chuckwallas, and various other lizards. By the time we arrived back at our campsite one of the other campers was gone, possibly scared off by our loud, misbehaving children. At any rate, we took her spot in order to give our remaining neighbor some breathing room.

Our Campsite near Amboy Crater

We woke up the next day excited for our upcoming week living inside an actual house, showers, laundry, fast internet and of course Grandma time. The drive from Amboy to Joshua Tree was pretty with lots of nice desert scenery. The name of the town was on-the-nose since Joshua Trees were pretty much everywhere. We stopped at a nice Walmart for groceries and then settled in at the rental house. The house was great. There was a nice park right next door that the kids enjoyed immensely. Within a few hundred yards, a hiking trail led into the foothills south of town. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the trail until our last full day at the house.

Great views in Joshua Tree National Park.

The next day we visited Joshua Tree National Park. National parks rarely disappoint, but Joshua Tree was a real treat. In addition to forests of Joshua Trees, the park offers some terrific desert and mountain scenery. We toured the north side of the park and went on a couple easy hikes. The spring wildflower bloom was in full effect. To top it off the Joshua Trees were blooming as well. We can’t visit a national park without stamping our passports and squashing some pennies so we did that as well. The only real downside is that the park was pretty busy, even during the middle of the week. Could have been a spring break thing, but the towns surrounding the park are all growing like crazy, so I think the secret’s out.

Not to be confused with Joshua Trees, Yuccas abound in Joshua Tree National Park.

The following day we made the trek down to Palm Springs where Grandma treated us to a visit to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The boys love zoos and the Living Desert provided them with hours of entertainment. The highlight had to be feeding the Giraffes, which they both got a kick out of. The zoo specialized in African and North American desert animals. In other words, any animal that won’t die in 120-degree heat. No polar bears here, but lots of other interesting creatures. While in Palm Springs we also had our first experience picking up an Amazon order from an Amazon locker. No issues there, punch in a code and lockers magically open. Quite convenient for travelers. We had ordered some RV stuff, as well as some presents for John’s upcoming 4th birthday.

Feeding the Giraffes at the Palm Springs Zoo.

Besides zoos, swimming is probably the boys’ second favorite activity, so the next day we headed to Desert Hot Springs for a dip. The town of Desert Hot Springs is about halfway between Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. There are several options for soaking in Desert Hot Springs, some adults only, some clothing optional. We chose to buy day passes at Desert Hot Springs Resort and Spa since it was kid friendly and had a large assortment of pools with various temperatures. There were 8 pools total, including one shallow kids pool perfect for the boys. We swam for several hours, then stopped at McDonald’s for a quick lunch. There’s a rumor that Desert Hot Springs is a drop-off point for area prisons. I’m not sure if it’s true, but it’s plausible. As we were leaving, the lady in the car next to us was flipping a pocket knife open and closed west-side-story-style. The hot springs were nice, but I’m not sure there’s any other reason to set foot in Desert Hot Springs.

Some of the many springs in Desert Hot Springs.

The next day was a chore day for me. The generator had been starting a little bit hard, so I decided to perform a tune-up. I changed the oil and replaced the spark plug and air filter. So far she’s starting much better. I also had to replace the RV’s fresh water connection, as it had been leaking slightly. While I repaired, the rest of the family visited the world famous crochet museum. That night Grandma babysat while Jackie and I went out to the local Mexican food joint ‘La Palapa’. It was expensive, but I guess that’s California for you. The food was good though. I can’t recommend the $14 ‘large’ Margaritas.

World Famous Crochet Museum
$28 worth of Margaritas?

We celebrated John’s birthday the next day. It was bittersweet to not be able to have friends over to mark the occasion, but having Grandma around helped. In the morning we visited Pioneertown, just west of Joshua Tree. Pioneertown was originally founded in 1946 as a fake western town for Hollywood. After the western movie craze had passed, San Bernadino county took possession of the town, and now it’s open to the public. The highlight for the birthday boy was riding the hay bale with a saddle on top. We took in the sights of Pioneertown for a couple of hours, snapped some touristy photos and went home to continue the birthday festivities. Jackie and Grandma made a professional looking Snoopy cake, and we ate pizza for dinner, John’s favorite.

Riding the hay bale at Pioneertown California.
Can’t beat a Snoopy cake.

On our last day in Joshua Tree, we tied up some loose ends including finishing up laundry, haircuts for the boys and I, and preparing the RV to move again. I ran the trail near the house. Wish I’d found it earlier. We played at the park one last time and said farewell to Grandma. Overall Joshua Tree and Palm Springs was a nice little vacation inside our mobile mini-retirement. Having unlimited hot water and free laundry is a luxury we’ll be missing for the next several months. Up next: Death Valley!

Sayonara Joshua Tree.

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