This is the story of how Twitter helped me plan my surprise trip to Joshua Tree National Park in the 3 hours it took us to drive there. Yes, you read that right. I was surprised with the trip and immediately panicked because I’m an over-planner. For each activity we add to our schedule I plan a backup in case of weather, long lines, etc. This can be annoying to others, but I’ve totally embraced this flaw and rock it. So imagine my combined absolute joy at going to a new-to-me national park and utter frustration that I had no plans for our entire 4-day adventure! Keep reading below to see how Twitter helped me plan my surprise trip.
My husband recently surprised me with a trip to Joshua Tree National Park for my 35th Birthday. He loves to surprise me to mark big events in our life. For example, he surprised me with a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park for our one-year dating anniversary and proposed on the rim at Inspiration Point. I had no idea where we were going or what was going to happen, I honestly thought we were driving to Provo to hang out with friends. He’s great at surprises.
This time around, however, I thought he was going to surprise me with a day trip up to Provo to see those same friends from the proposal story. It’s a 5-hour drive each way and we honestly don’t mind ridiculous drives. They give us uninterrupted “us” time away from the daily challenges of our odd work schedules. I only found out about this “surprise” trip because he let a “maybe we will grab lunch with you” slip during a group text conversation after they said they wouldn’t be in Vegas at the same time as us for the Holidays.
Obviously, in my mind, that meant we were going to Provo for the day. Being the crazy planner that I am, I then invented a day trip to Mt. Charleston near Las Vegas so that we would both pack our winter gear and our nice camera. He, of course, played along with it. In reality, I just wanted to make sure we were warm in Provo and during any side excursions, I would be able to convince him to entertain from the road. No one actually expected me to drive past Valley of Fire State Park and the Kolob Canyons unit of Zion National Park and not stop in, right? Even more frustrating was that he wouldn’t lock down specific plans for our trip. He kept telling me”We need to be flexible for family stuff” – I was annoyed, lol.
The Actual Surprise: Joshua Tree National Park
This year, Hubs flew out to Vegas early to spend more time with family before me as I was delayed for work. We have done this on other trips as he always has more vacation days than I do. So, he picked me up in the rental car he grabbed when his flight landed. It was an SUV, which we usually don’t spring for, but he someone always gets upgrades, so I didn’t think much of it.
I then assumed that we would be heading directly to his parent’s house and grabbing lunch with them. I was wrong, of course. He said he wanted to do lunch with just the two of us to make up for being away on my birthday the day before. I was totally cool with this as I thought we would be seeing his family afterward. I should have guess something was up at this point, because of all the amazing restaurants in the Las Vegas Valley, he wanted to go somewhere south of The Strip. We avoid the entire area around The Strip on most visits because traffic is crazy and it is more expensive.
So we sit down to lunch at a new-to-us place in Town Square. When we are finishing our meals I ask if we are heading directly to his parent’s house. He then shares that we are, in fact, leaving directly from the restaurant to head to Joshua Tree National Park in California. I was shocked. I hadn’t even considered Joshua Tree NP an option! Once again, he had completely surprised me. He then informed me that it was a three-hour drive and he already has hotel reservations through Friday. When we got to the car, he told me to get started planning our trip. He knows me so well, lol.
Twitter to the Rescue
Due to the long drive across the desert, I knew my trip planning had to be quick. So, after 3 minutes on the Joshua Tree National Park website trying to absorb everything, I knew I needed to ask for help from my #ParkChat friends. So, I opened Twitter and sent out the following tweet:
HELP // Just landed in Vegas (my in-laws live here) and hubs surprised me w/ a trip to @JoshuaTreeNPS for my 35th birthday! I’ve done absolutely no research (my worst nightmare, lol) and need tips. We have a hotel and I’m still in a walking boot. What should we see/do? #parkchat
— Sara Beth (@InnerCompass) December 19, 2017
For those of you who don’t know about #ParkChat (read my post about it here), it’s a group awesome people who meet online to discuss national parks and public land every Wednesday. Outside of the scheduled chat, we use the hashtag on Twitter to ask a question, start discussions, and share items that may be of interest to the group at large. So, without a doubt, I knew that these amazing folks would be the perfect people to help me plan our trip in hurry. Of course, they pulled through and I had my first response before we had even crossed the state line! (Did I mention they were amazing?!) I’ve highlighted a few of these below:
Stop by a visitor center for a map and travel tips from our park rangers! There is one at the Oasis of Mara in the town of Twentynine Palms as you drive in from Vegas.
— Joshua Tree NPS (@JoshuaTreeNPS) December 19, 2017
We made our first park stop at the Oasis of Mara Visitor Center. They were great in helping identify accessible hikes for us!
So no long hikes? Luckily there are some lovely drives. Just driving through the park (Park Boulevard) is great. The cholla garden is an easy walk. The Geology Tour Road is dirt but can be done in a regular vehicle. Keys View will be chilly but what a view.
— Doc Hubbard (@HubbardJeff) December 19, 2017
We actually did everything that Doc suggested! We drove Park Boulevard our first night to get our bearings. Then, we basically hit the rest of his list during our stay. GOLD STAR for you Doc! :)
Cholla Cactus Garden is fairly accessible; sit in a campsite at Jumbo Rocks and read a book; watch for roadrunner and coyote (non-animated) along the road near the North Entrance Station.
— Scott Elliott (@ScottRElliott) December 20, 2017
We took Scott’s advice to hang around Jumbo Rocks and kept our eye out for critters. We saw both roadrunners and coyotes.
— Jeff Sullivan Photo (@JeffSullPhoto) December 19, 2017
We took Jeff’s advice to walk around White Tank Campground. I couldn’t make it all the way to the arch due to my ankle, but Hubs explored a bit more than me. Such a cool place to wander!
We suggest just taking the silence of the desert with the stars at night. We love getting all cosmic at JT. We can’t get enough of just hearing the peaceful sounds at night. Enjoy!!!
— National Park Geek® (@NP_Geek) December 20, 2017
We took National Park Geek’s advice to enjoy the silence of the desert at night. We sat under the stars, (tried to, lol) enjoy the eerie silence, and saw the milky way. It was amazing!
So, that’s the story of how Twitter helped me plan my surprise trip to Joshua Tree National Park in the 3 hours it took us to drive there. These suggestions (and the many others) were so incredibly helpful. They were thoughtful to the timing of our visit, the things I could and could not do in my walking boot, and the types of things people know we like to do based on their knowledge of us. Again, I am so thankful to have such an amazing group of people in my life. You rock #ParkChat-ers!
Shoutout to Joshua Tree National Park’s Social Media Staff
Did you know most national parks and forests don’t have full-time social media staff? From what I can gather through following personal accounts of rangers on social media, the social media role is picked up by whoever can squeeze it into their schedules. (I’ll save my rant about how this is such a huge miss for a future post, lol.) Knowing that it’s understandable that it’s still pretty rare these days to have official National Park accounts engage with individuals. Most, share informational updates (road closes, etc.), but rarely they go above and beyond (like @MidwestNPS and their crazy memes). So, I was pleasantly surprised when the social media staff for Joshua Tree National Park engaged with me on Twitter and provided some helpful insight.