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I think when you get the itch to sleep under the stars you start to think about your next camping trip, but when you get THE FEVER, you just have to drop everything and run.

A little episode of our adventure to Pine City

Saturday morning I was tamely enjoying a cup of coffee on the patio while thumbing through Backpacker Magazine’s most current gear guide.  As I read about the tester’s various adventures with ultralight synthetic sleeping bags and new battery packs that charge your backcountry devices five times without a plugin I started to get the itch.  By the time I had read about sleeping out under the stars in the new tents with built in lights and made it half way through the comparison of width variance of all the brands of trail shoes I had the full on fever.  Yes, just looking at the gear itself is a kind of porn for me, but more than that, Backpacker Mag. has a lot of gear testers who adventure in my region. So as I heard their stories about the Sierra Nevada mountains and the American desert spaces all I had to do was look out over the horizon and know that they were just over there there having all kinds of fun and I was just sitting on my patio like a bystander.

My dear husband steps out on the patio and innocently asks, “What are you reading?”  I peered over the edge of the magazine at him with what was probably a crazed, bugeyed expression and said, “I’ve got the fever!”  And being the love of my life that he is, he replied, “Then let’s go!”  So we did.  We readied the backpacks, chucked the kids in the car, drove to Joshua Tree, stopped at Subway for salami sandwiches for dinner/breakfast, and hiked out to spend the night under the desert sky.

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We walked into the “Pine City” backcountry area of Joshua Tree National Park just at dark. We hadn’t been out in this area before, so finding a camping spot in the dark was a bit of a challenge.  Avoiding the temptation to sleep in a nice, flat, sandy wash, we had just enough starlight to find a delightful, safe clearing to pitch our tent.

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jtmorningAside from the unavoidable intrusion of constant commercial airplane travel across the night sky, the desert starscape is transcendental.  I read that Joshua Tree National Park is one of the top 25 best places in the world to view the night sky.  It was fun being able to clearly identify constellations with the kids.  I’m not afraid of technology in the backcountry.  It definitely enhances the experience as did all technology throughout history (e.g., horse travel, binoculars, compass…).  And it is fun to use the Night Sky app on the iPhone to help map the heavens.

jtboulderingWe awoke to a wonderful little home surrounded by boulders that our 9-yr-old began scrambling the minute he emerged from the tent.  The 11-yr-old (trail name “Talk Show”) was tired and dragging so he plunked himself down in a camp chair to read his comic book and chill out.

Pine City is a series of boulder valleys and clearly a section of the park that sees a lot of water.  Sandy washes interlace amongst rocky outcroppings and trails left by water flow are etched into the sand.  Pinon Pine trees as well as all manner of green desert vegetation make this landscape unique.

jtcactusWe bouldered around for a few hours and goofed off with the barrel cacti then hiked out to try to hit a few of the kids’ favorite park locations before braving the traffic back to Los Angeles on this, our last day of Spring Break.  What an adventure!  I love the trips that take little planning.  Its like unwrapping a surprise gift.  No matter what you experience it is guaranteed to be a lot better than the nothing you had planned to do before.  It is so rare that we can take these kinds of backcountry trips as a family.  On this one weekend when nobody had a baseball game, nobody had to be at work, and the kids didn’t have school we got to experience something new together. The boys are now one backpacking trip closer to my master plan of having them ready to through hike the big trails with me as teenagers. I have visions of Machu Picchu, amongst other great trails, dancing around in my head.

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