Off the Grid at Agua Caliente


Days before Thanksgiving, the hum begins. It's pressure, it's excitement, it's stress, anxiety, joy, determination, loneliness, nostalgia, merriment, and sometimes fear. No matter what the holidays and the year's end bring, it always arrives in a noisy cacophony of emotions, mental checklists, and memories.

And yet, this past weekend, it was completely quiet.

Our friends Bonnie and Jason are camping pros and this year they decided to do Thanksgiving, turkey and all, out in the desert, at Agua Caliente County Park, about two hours east on the 8. While Ryan, the dogs, and I celebrated with Ryan's parents in San Diego on Thursday, we decided to camp out with Bonnie and Jason in the days following Thanksgiving.

I thought camping would be a good way to muffle all the seasonal noise that always seems to drown out the long Thanksgiving weekend. I just had no idea how good it would be.

Truthfully, we weren't fully committed to going until Friday morning and even then we weren't sure we'd stay more than one night (should we be Black Friday shopping?, the decorations have to go up, I should probably stay in bed since I have a cold, our friends are in town, the dogs might be a hassle...).

So we didn't pack much: the air mattress, some blankets, the pillows, our bathing suits, alcohol, a book each, dog bowls, a water dispenser, toiletries and enough clothes for two days. By 3pm we were on the road and per usual, we arrived in the dark, around 5:30pm, at their sweet partial hook-up site 8A.

Brewer had a ruff night

The first night we sat around the fire, drank beers, and ate leftover pumpkin pie. We took the dogs for a walk in the dark, along with a black light to go scorpion hunting. I attempted drunken yoga under the moonlight, falling down time after time, and miraculously never landed on a cactus. 

We watched Cockneys vs. Zombies on a projection screen Jason had set up. We fell asleep under the stars after I spent 5 minutes arguing that Orion's Belt was part of one of the Dippers (it's not). 

The second day we read our books in camper chairs, took naps, walked the dogs. Ryan, Jason and Bonnie went off to shoot targets while I stayed back to read and hike through the desert with Brewer and Banjo. Jason cooked us a delicious dinner on the open fire. Then we tied the dogs up and went to sit in the therapeutic spa, one of the campground's two mineral water pools.

The spa is heated to 102° and is adults only from 6-9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. We soaked in there until it was too hot, changed and headed back to camp, and for Bonnie and I, back to bed, while Ryan and Jason watched another zombie movie.

We packed up this morning and were home by noon, and it wasn't until about 40 minutes away from the campsite that I had cell phone service again.

As soon as the buzzing of delayed texts, alerts and emails began, so did my stress. But I'm trying to hold onto the total blissed out feeling that I started to get used to yesterday afternoon. Between being off the grid and desert-enforced laziness, camping at Agua Caliente was probably the most perfect way to ease into the chaos of the end of another year.

 Drinking St. Archer's while attempting to do yoga in the desert in the dark... 

...don't try this at home. 

Agua Caliente Campgrounds
39555 Great South Stage Route of 1849
Julian, CA 92036
Park phone number: (760) 765-1188
Reservations phone number: (877) 565-3600
Reservations Site: