2016  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT

 

   
 
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   CAMPING AT TWILIGHT DUNES RV PARK ON  
29 PALMS MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND
COMBAT CENTER IN SO. CALIFORNIA

SUNDAY, MARCH 20

 
"The City of Twentynine Palms, California, in the southern Mojave Desert . . .   
serves as a gateway community to the nearly 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park
on the south and the 1,100-square mile Marine Air Ground Task Force Combat
Center on the north . . . the world's largest Marine Corps training base."
 
~ Twentynine Palms city website homepage
 
 

We're on the move again.

After spending almost five months at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground north of Yuma, AZ, we moved 225 miles north and west to this Marine base close to Twentynine Palms, CA on this date.


Following our Cameo on US 95 toward Quartzsite, AZ, with the Castle Dome Mtns. in the distance

It was fun to be on the road again!

We were looking forward to exploring Joshua Tree National Park, the whole reason for coming here. We made a quick scouting trip through the park from south to north a couple months ago and decided that we'd like to spend time hiking, cycling, and sight-seeing in this unique area in the spring -- before it got too hot and when some wildflowers are blooming.

In this entry I'll briefly describe the trip from YPG to Twentynine Palms, the RV park on base, and a little bit about what goes on at the base. Another entry will show photos from the town of 29 Palms (yeah, I like to abbreviate that!). Most of the entries from this area will show scenes from the national park.

THE DRIVE FROM YPG TO 29 PALMS

We knew from our January scouting trip that it would be a slow drive on the narrow, winding road through the national park hauling our 36-foot 5th-wheel trailer to get to the Marine base so we used the quicker route that we took going home that day:

Imperial Dam Rd. east to US 95, north to Quartzsite, west on I-10 to CA 177, north to US 62, west to the town of 29 Palms, and north on Adobe Rd. about five miles to the main gate of the base.

I marked our route in yellow on the map below. The red dot is the approximate location of the RV park on the Marine base. The boundary of the base isn't marked on this map; it covers much of the large "empty" space on the map above the town of Twentynine Palms. Note the bright green area below town, the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park:

 

 
There are lots of little mountains in the distance along this route.

We can recommend all parts of this route for big rigs, although caution is needed through all the dips for washes. Go too fast and you'll bounce all over the road or maybe even bottom out.

The roads were all pretty smooth. The only heavy traffic this Sunday morning was on I-10.

Jim maintained a fairly consistent 57-62 MPH the whole way while hauling the Cameo. I followed behind him in the Odyssey minivan at a discreet distance. Traffic was able to pass us OK on all of the two-lane roads, even when we were behind another fairly large rig:

It took us a little over four hours to drive 225 miles with two stops. The weather was perfect in this arid desert terrain, with pretty blue sky and wispy clouds, as we climbed about 2,000 feet net elevation to the Marine base.

I saw several kinds of wildflowers that are new to me along the way, including this part of a large clump of dune primrose at a roadside pullover:

I loved all the yellow brittlebush, creosote, and palo verde flowers that were in bloom, providing a bit of color in the harsh desert environment:

 

Jim got a copy of the Marine base newspaper, which has a page full of flower photos that are in bloom right now at Joshua Tree.

That really inspired me for my intended hikes and our drives through the park. It's amazing how many flowers are blooming with so little rain in this area of the country. It's a good lesson in nature's adaptability.

TWILIGHT DUNES RV PARK

As with most military RV parks, this one is open only to active duty military personnel, military retirees, National Guard, reservists, 100% disabled veterans, and DOD/NAF civilians. I don't know about guests; some places allow them but most don't during their busy seasons.

After a week in this RV park, we had ambivalent feelings about it and I wrote the most negative review on the MilitaryCampgrounds.US website of any that I've written previously. There are some very good things about it and some not so good.

First off, this was originally a mobile home park for base personnel. It was converted to an RV park in 1999. That's why the sites are so large -- see next photo of our site -- and there is a covered concrete parking area and 6x8-foot shed at each site. Those features were appealing, as well as unexpected, when we first saw the RV park on our January scouting trip.

We loved having the shed for a week because we could lock our bikes, ladder, lawn chairs, fuel cans, etc. in it when we weren't using them. We sure could have used that at YPG for five months!

On the other hand, the sites are sand with a small concrete pad 20-25 feet away from the RV entry doors, instead of right next to or under the campers. Not only are those "patios" inconveniently located, they aren't even covered.

Most of the long-term folks living in the park put wooden pallets by their doors to avoid tracking sand or mud into their rigs but that looks pretty tacky. We put our two lightweight outdoor rugs between the door and the vehicles and crossed our fingers that it didn't rain or get too windy while we were there. There wasn't any rain but it was indeed windy some days.

There are 80+ sites. The 15 pull-thrus were full when we arrived. After checking in at the lodge we were able to drive through the park and pick any of the empty sites to use.

Jim chose the spacious back-in site shown in these photos partly because he could pull through from the street behind us; no one occupied the spot behind us or on our off-doorside while we were there:


As good as a pull-thru site with no one behind us!

We knew that hot sun, high winds, and dust are a problem here -- as at YPG -- so we also considered site orientation when choosing a spot.

Our site had no shade from trees, just a small tree near the paved driveway. Our door faced east so we had shade there in the late afternoon from our rig. Because the living room bay window faced south we kept those blinds closed in the afternoons on hot, sunny days (mostly upper 80s F. while we were here). The west wind was on our off-door side, which was preferable.  

We appreciated the spacious site, with plenty of room for the car and truck next to or in front of the Cameo (or in the carport). The rig on our doorside was about 35 feet away.

Sites in this RV park don't have a table or grill, and fires aren't permitted. That was the same as YPG.

Garbage service is different here than any other military campground where we've stayed. Instead of taking your own trash to a dumpster, each site has a container for recyclables and one for garbage. Visitors put the containers at the curb on Tuesdays to be picked up by the same trucks that pick up residential garbage.


Sure liked the convenience of that shed!

This RV park is very cost-effective, especially for California. The daily rate is $25, weekly is $154 = $22/day, and monthly is $350 = $11.67/day, which is less than YPG. However, it's going up to $375/month on April 1, 2016 = same as YPG per month.

The cost here does NOT include cable TV and WiFi, however. If they want either service, folks have to purchase that separately from private vendors. We got plenty of stations here with our camper antenna so we had no need for cable. And we're already used to using our own MiFi card or smart phones to get online because the WiFi at YPG was pathetic most of the winter.

SUNSETS

We had some colorful sunsets during the winter at Yuma Proving Ground but it was hard to get decent photos of them in the RV park because of all the fencing, buildings, stored campers, etc. I never did go out to the LTVA or conservation area to get unobstructed sunset pictures.

It's much easier to get good sunset photos from our site at this RV park. The panorama most evenings was stunning in every direction, which was nice.


Jim, Cody, and Casey chill out one evening at Twilight Dunes.

I took series of pictures of sunsets several evenings from the street in front of our site.

To the west the colors morphed from yellows to oranges to pinks to deep reds. The sky looked turquoise. To the north, south, and east the clouds were shades of pink against deep blue.

AROUND THE BASE

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) at Twentynine Palms is a long name, appropriate for this huge base I guess! Most people just refer to it as "29 Palms Marine Base."

During WWII this was a Navy auxiliary air station. It became a Marine training center in 1949. Its main purpose now is to train troops for deployment to the Middle East. The arid, mountainous Mojave Desert terrain mimics terrain in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

For more information about the base, this is the official Marine Corps website link.


View south toward Joshua Tree NP, which is a couple thousand feet higher in elevation than the base

Military retirees and other visitors have access to certain portions of the base but not most of it. During our stay we drove, walked, or cycled most of the streets and roads where we were allowed in the cantonment area.

One of our goals the first day we arrived was to hunt for places to walk the dogs, play ball with Casey, and ride our bikes.

We found at least four fenced dog parks, three in nearby housing areas and one just a couple blocks from our site. That made us happy until we went into them.

Unfortunately, the three dog parks where we took Cody and Casey during our stay had a lot of dog poop lying around, which isn't sanitary for dogs OR humans. We watched both young and old dog owners fail to pick up their dogs' poop there and even on the residential streets and streets in the RV park.

It was the worst we've ever seen at any of the three dozen or more military campgrounds where we've stayed across the country.

Because of the unsanitary conditions we didn't stay very long at any of the dog parks or go back a second time to them. We didn't walk the dogs or play ball with Casey as much as usual, and it's the main reason I gave a partly negative review of the RV park. 

The base does have lots of miles for us to ride our bikes -- bike paths, residential streets, and business streets -- so Casey got to run along with Jim with the Walky Dog attachment on cool mornings:


Casey runs alongside Jim through one of the nice residential areas on base.

Another disadvantage of the RV park is its noisy location close to the main thoroughfare coming into the base. Despite all the houses, duplexes, quads, and barracks on base, many folks live off-base and drive in early in the morning for work.

We didn't think about that when we chose a site but, thankfully, the one we chose was about as far from the road as we could have been.

We talked with fewer RVers here than most military campgrounds where we've stayed, partly because we were gone a lot to Joshua Tree but also because there were so few other retirees. Most of the people in the RV park are residents -- active duty singles and families plus base employees who can stay as long as they are assigned to this base.

That's also much different than the other military RV parks where we've stayed, which are predominantly occupied by retirees or vacationing active duty families.

While we were staying at the Marine base we shopped at the commissary (larger than some but not as nice as the one at Kings Bay Sub Base in St. Marys, GA, for example), looked around the MCX store (base exchange), and did laundry at a busy Laundromat next to a gas station (no laundry facilities in the RV park).

I doubt we'll ever go back to this area again or stay at this base if we do. Our only reason for coming here was to visit Joshua Tree, and we're glad we did. However, we saw and did most of what we wanted to see and do at the park in one week; it's very interesting but not a park we'll want to visit repeatedly like some others.

The drive wasn't too bad from the base to the north entrance of Joshua Tree but there are private RV parks that are closer to the north and west entrances that might be nicer. We chose the Marine base because it was less expensive and the sites were so big. We usually like to stay on military bases when we travel.

The most convenient camping is inside the park but, as at many other national parks, our camper is too big for campsites built so many years ago and the sites were reserved long before we decided to visit Joshua Tree. That's becoming more and more of a problem for us.  

Next entryintroduction to Joshua Tree National Park as we hunt for trailheads, assess the roads for cycling, and check out the campgrounds

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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