Last year my family had planned to go camping the day after Thanksgiving, however, our dinner plans feel through. Our family made a last minute decision to head out on Thanksgiving Day and enjoy our holiday dinner in the trailer. I will admit, the thought of cooking Thanksgiving in a RV was a little daunting. Surprisingly, it ended up being super easy and turned out delicious!
My one big mistake last year was choosing a campground that had a fire restriction. Combining that reality with the fact there wasn’t hook-ups, made “lights out” pretty early. Additionally, I didn’t research my destination very well and we were left wondering what to do during the day. It was a reminder that research is key!
Since last year was so fun, our family decided we would enjoy Thanksgiving in the trailer again this year. This year’s destination… Joshua Tree National Park. When I was researching campgrounds within the park, I learned that only two can be reserved during the busy winter season: Indian Cove and Black Rock. Both would have made a great home base, but I went with Indian Cove. Troy had tent camped here many times and always had a great experience. Knowing holiday weekend reservations can be tough to secure, I made ours 6 months in advance through www.Recreation.gov. I verified there wasn’t fire restrictions and there would be plenty to do!
Tip: Booking ahead is key to get the best spots. By the time we got to Joshua Tree National Park, every campground in the park was sold out.
We left home late morning on Thanksgiving Day and ended up sitting in traffic. The kids were content with their books, Brain Quest cards (educational questions) and their tablets so we all made the best of it. We arrived at Indian Cove Campground around 2pm and what a beautiful campground it is. Nestled amongst steep rock formations, the campground is a rock-climbing wonderland for all ages. Sandy, open desert of yuccas and creosote bushes adds to the scenic beauty. Our site was #52, a cool spot that had open desert on one side and some smaller boulders on the other side. The kids had plenty of room to run around, and had their own rocks to climb. They were scrambling up the rocks before Dad had the trailer backed in!
Tip: These rocks are very rough. Mia learned the hard way by running a leg alongside the rock and got a pretty good scrape. Long pants and sneakers work best and don’t forget to restock your first aid kits!
I called the kids down from the rocks to make some festive Thanksgiving place-mats for our holiday table. I prepared the “place mat” by folding in half an 18″x12″ piece of construction paper (I would recommend a slightly smaller size if you have it), then I cut along the folded edge to 1/2″ to the end of the paper. Next, the kids cut strips of their favorite fall color construction paper and weaved the paper strips under and over to create the pattern. Last, they cut and glued down ends, and voila! We had beautiful and colorful place mats!
It was time to start cooking! Both years I have chosen to cook a turkey breast as it is really the ONLY thing that will fit in the tiny oven. Because the trailer oven can be unpredictable, I made a dry brine (a mixture of kosher salt and baking powder) and gave it 24 hours in the refrigerator before we left. This easy preparation ensures moistness even if overcooked a bit.
Tip: Cooking the turkey will take 50- 100% longer to cook than what recipes say. (This is the second year everything was done while we were waiting on the turkey).
Next step, preparing the side dishes. First thing was to peel and cook the potatoes (mashed potatoes are super easy in an RV). Once they were done, I moved the potatoes into a mixing bowl so I could reuse the pot for the stuffing. I used stuffing mix and added my homemade twist of 1/2 lb pork sausage, and 1/2 cup each of carrots, onions. celery. The stuffing turns out moist and flavorful. Finally, the turkey was done and we sat down as a family to give thanks and share a delicious meal! Of course, everyone was anticipating the homemade pumpkin pie (which was baked at home).
Friday, we awoke to a picture perfect day. Blue sky stretched undisturbed as far as the eye could see. After a quick breakfast and a packed picnic basket, we headed to the Oasis Visitor Center in Twenty-Nine Palms. Here, the kids got their Junior Ranger books (this would be their 2nd badge for Joshua Tree), and joined a ranger program talking about the geology of the park. After reviewing the park map, we decided to head to the farthest point in the park, Cottonwood Visitor Center, so we could hike the Lost Palm Oasis Trail. It is a long 48 mile trek on a two-lane highway to get to our destination. Of course we had to make a stop at the beautiful Cholla Cactus Garden (my favorite) along the way.
By the time we arrived at the Cottonwood Visitor Center, we were famished. We found some empty tables at the group camp site within the campground there and ate our lunch. We knew we would need the fuel for our moderately strenuous 7.2 mile hike. It was a quick 2 minute drive to the Lost Palm Oasis Trailhead at the Cottonwood Spring parking lot. We were all surprised to see Aspens, whose leaves had turned, quake next to tall palm trees.
The trail leads off on a relatively flat course as it winds through a beautiful landscape of boulder mounds, yucca and even patches of Ocotillo. Some of the trail follows sandy washes where footprints of other hikers helped to guide the way. My favorite wash was down through this shallow canyon which provided some welcomed shade (even though it’s winter, the sun is warm). Finally, we arrived at a bluff overlooking the hidden oasis. It was then that I realized that getting down to the oasis wasn’t going to be easy. There didn’t seem to be a set trail down, rather we had to scramble down the steep, rocky ledge to the bottom. We found ourselves a large boulder and took a quick break and enjoyed some “Cuties.” Thank goodness for those! We failed to bring enough water and all of us were parched on the walk back. The kids did great, but for me… that last mile was difficult.
We returned to the truck for the long 50 mile plus drive back to camp. The beginning of sunset was beautiful. Layers of purple, grey and blue were hovering over the hills in the distance. It was mesmerizing. We were all pretty much lost in our own thoughts on that lonely drive. Mia was so dog tired, she fell asleep. We made it back to camp right at nightfall and thankfully we had leftovers to heat for dinner. No one had the energy to do much more. Right after we finished eating, the kids actually asked to go to bed!
Saturday was another beautiful day. Family vote was unanimous – we would stay around camp and relax. The kids created a “rock store” with their camp friend, Masarat, while I caught up on some reading in my comfy camp chair. There was time for bike riding, bocci ball, art and completing Junior Ranger books. We packed a picnic and drove to the east side of the campground to a picnic area with some huge boulders for exploring. We also made a drive back to the Oasis Visitor Center (only 7 miles away) for the kids to get sworn in as Junior Rangers before heading back to camp.
Tonight was the night we would enjoy a campfire and time with our telescope. Unfortunately, soon after Troy got the telescope set up, a film of clouds had covered the sky and by nightfall, the moon was the only thing readily available to view. As soon as the sun went down, the pleasant breeze we had enjoyed all day turned into a gusty wind. When the sand started blowing, we hurriedly packed up all of our outdoor equipment and headed in for the night. That was the smartest thing we could have done! By the time midnight arrived, the wind was howling.
When we opened the trailer door in the morning, we could see the yucca in our campsite lost a branch and Drake’s forgotten flip-flops had blown across camp. The wind was still gusting which made breaking camp that much harder. We really just wanted to get on the road so instead of cooking, we stopped for breakfast at Crossroads Cafe and Tavern in the town of Joshua Tree. We had a bit of a wait, but the food was delicious (I had Huevos Rancheros). It was a slow, gusty drive out of the desert, and then we hit rain as we got closer to home. Our family felt lucky to enjoy picture perfect weather for our Thanksgiving Holiday.
Please visit the Business Directory for more information on Indian Cove Campground and to learn more about which RV sites you should select.