So this was our 5th camping trip in Joshua tree. This year, we went with our neighbors and celebrated her birthday. She booked a group site at Indian Cove Campground. Usually we just drive in and wing it (sometimes unsuccessfully).
Wow, this time it was awesome. First of all, the group sites were $25 a night. The individual sites in the park are $10 a night, PLUS the $15 fee to get into the park. The individual sites allow 6-8 people (we are 9 with just the two familes), and the group site we had allowed 5 cars and 25 people. We had 6 cars and 25 people. It was amazing. The site was HUGE - 6 picnic tables plus one in the middle for sharing. Plenty of space for 7+ tents. Rocks for climbing. Very close by toilets (still no water here). Closer to town for ice runs.
It was so awesome that my neighbor said "I'm going to book this for next year!" Well, I got home and looked - all weekends in the "not hot" months are already booked for 2015 spring (you can book a year in advance). I'm toying with booking a site for spring break - there is ONE site with TWO days available that week. Maybe. It's $50 for two nights.
We got lucky with the weather. It's the desert. It's hot. But the high was about 93 and the low about 65, and it could have been a LOT worse. They'd had a "cool week" so the first night was cool. It was already 82 the second morning when we left at 9 am. And we all hit our cars for some exploring in the one afternoon (AC), and hit up the store for ice cream.
The hard part about the desert is the constant need for ice. The thermoelectric cooler wasn't much of a help. We ended up buying a second small cooler. The other hard part is the toddler. Where we'd branched out to eggs and bacon last time, this time we were back to oatmeal for breakfast (just add water), turkey sandwiches for lunch (kept it on ice), and chili or quesadillas for dinner with raw veggies and hummus (of course I forgot the tortillas!) The other parents (who did not have to dedicate one parent at all times to chase the toddler, who wanted to climb everything) were more pros - they had gin and tonics, burgers, eggs, bacon, pancakes. Of course, almost every other kid had helmets for climbing except ours, and Nick's legs are totally beat up.
Still, the trip was fairly cheap. About $90 for gas, plus same amount for lunch on the road, ice cream, ice, and water. Not a bad price for two days of fun.