Joshua Tree in January Part 1 – Campsite Conflict

Sharing campsites
Peter at camp

My first trip to Joshua Tree was when it was still a National Monument. I arrived late on a Friday night with a crowded car of climbers there for our first time. It took us a moment to figure out that the “furry trunk” trees lit by our headlights were the giant cactus namesakes of the park.

This past Thursday through Monday, was my umpteenth trip to the climber’s playground now known as Joshua Tree National Park but it was my first trip there during the month of January.  A few weeks before my departure I had seen pictures of Intersection Rock and the surrounding area covered in snow. I was prepared for cold days, colder nights and setting up ropes for some newer climbers who were going to join the group.

As usual, J Tree surprised me and taught me again that you can never really know all there is about a place,  a group of people, yourself or your climbing abilities. Like Joshua Tree itself, my trip report will be structured a bit unconventionally and sometimes jump in time.

Matteo and Oberto

My friend Peter and I arrived in the park around 1AM, glad that we knew a campsite had been set aside for us by a friend. But when we got to our spot we were quite surprised to find a stranger’s car parked in the middle of two spaces, another campsite ticket placed over ours and a tent in the spot.

My stomach sank. It’s one thing to ask folks if you can share a site, but to take up all the car spaces AND put your ticket OVER another person’s ticket? That meant you had to have seen that the site was already taken. I really didn’t want to have to search for another site so late at night, and my friend Peter was also concerned because we were expecting more friends to arrive at this particular site the next morning.

Peter parked his truck on the side if the turn out, we set up our tents in another part of the same campsite and went to bed. Peter had read the ticket and told me that the guys were from Italy.  I started reviewing what little Italian I knew and wondered if I they would understand a very bad Spanish explanation of camping etiquette. I thought idly that if it came to it, a ranger could check the payment box and see who had paid first.

It was a cold night but I only woke up once to put more clothes on.

The next morning I opened my eyes to a warm, partially sunlit tent. I heard some voices outside and waited a little bit. I was chicken to be the first to step out into a possible confrontation and was still drowsy from the 1 AM arrival.

Instead of a dreaded Italian curse, I heard an accented voice say, “I’m sorry” and then heard Peter say something about it being ok but he’d be right back.

Turns out the Italian guys, Matteo and Oberto, had also arrived late at night (though obviously not as late as we had) and had thought our site was just going to stay vacant. They were very friendly and were from the Dolomites area in Italy. They had come to the US and bought a used car to travel in, hoping to sell it back when they were done. We swapped climbing route recommendations and cultural stories.

The $50 Ticket

“… I got a $50 ticket… they took my plates… $50!” I was half awake Sunday morning when I heard those words. From what I could hear through my tent and in between drifting off, someone had been reported on by some fellow campers, been forced to move to a different campsite, had their driver’s license plate number taken down and been given a $50 ticket.

I got more of the story from another climber who knew the person who got the ticket. Turns out there was a debate on who had gotten a site first,  a ranger than asked some folks in the site next door who had gotten there first and the neighbor incorrectly said the other guys. Ticket, etc ensued. All of this is third hand information, but I had clearly heard the unpleasant results in the morning.

Joshua Tree lesson learned: don’t prejudge a situation and don’t bring anger to a discussion if you can bring understanding.