At the end of October, we spent my 30th birthday camping in Joshua Tree. We always camp on our birthdays and we’ve been to Joshua Tree twice before. The first time was eight years ago for Jesse’s birthday in February. It rained the entire time and the wind almost took our tent with us in it, but it didn’t deter me from falling hard for Joshua Tree and camping in general.
The second time we went for my birthday four years ago. Keep in mind that late fall is a popular time of the year and all the campsites in the national park are first come, first served. On a warm October Friday, we packed up the truck with delicious food and all the gear for a comfortable stay. We pulled up to the entrance of the park as the sun set with big smiles ready to find a campsite and settle in. The ranger laughed in our faces, the campsites were full. He handed us a slip of paper with a crudely drawn map directing us to free, open BLM land where we could set up camp about 20 minutes away. It was dark and our enthusiasm waned as we followed the map down a dirt road. We found a place to set up the tent, entirely unsure of where we were. In the morning we woke to find we were sleeping in the middle of a dry lake bed, expansive salt flats and no one else around for miles. At the time I was so bummed about our foiled camping plans, but waking up in the middle of a Martian planet made the experience worth it.
This year we planned ahead and got to the park late Thursday morning (by Thursday afternoon the campsites in the park were full). We found what I believe was the best site in the entire park. In the secluded White Tank Campground, site #4 is tucked away from the other sites in a room made of rocks. The weather was perfect, dry and breezy, mid 70s and hazy during the day and low 60s at night. We relaxed the entire weekend, ate good food roasted over the campfire, took afternoon naps in the open tent, hiked and climbed as much as we could, ascending to the tallest peaks in sight, clambering over rough granite boulders piled high. When the sun set, we laid on a blanket and took in every sparkle in the moonless sky.
I have a lot of thoughts about turning 30, mostly positive, but I think those musings will stay in my journal. I will say I’m happy to be 30, really happy. I feel settled and grounded, flexible and optimistic, wise and thankful. It feels good.