Are you camping if you have a thermostat, a walk-in shower of your own and linens suitable for a four-star hotel?
That question may occur as you putter around the grounds of AutoCamp Joshua Tree, a luxury “camp” with 47 Airstream trailers that started checking in guests in January but isn’t quite finished. (The swimming pool is due for completion in late March.)
The location, about 125 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, is clearly aimed at couples and families with the outdoors on their mind and more money than time. And it will win many over.
It’s already fairly busy, perhaps because AutoCamp can draw from previous guests at its Yosemite, Russian River and Cape Cod locations. (Others open soon in the Catskills and near Zion National Park.)
If you’re offended by the idea of paying $300 per night to sleep in a trailer, even a gleaming, curvaceous one, you’d best stay away. (Or head for the Hi Desert Motel or Safari Motor Inn, both nearby, very basic, and under $100 nightly.) If you’ve got a few dollars and you’re drawn to the idea of a desert setting with simplified logistics, creature comforts and family-friendly features, this could be your place. I stayed a night and made these notes:
The location: AutoCamp’s 47 Airstream trailers and eight rectangular units (the size and shape of train cars) are spread out on a largely flat 25-acre property just north of Highway 62. Guests check in at the clubhouse (a.k.a. lobby), which rises from the sand and sage like a Midcentury Modern Quonset hut. If Brad Pitt hired Frank Gehry to make a desert bunker from military surplus material and then had Design Within Reach bring in some furniture, you’d get something like this. The property is one mile from the center of tiny downtown Joshua Tree, six miles from the national park’s west entrance.
The vibe: It’s a shiny comfort bubble in a harsh landscape. The clubhouse includes a groovy, ’60s-style, stand-alone fireplace and a counter for ordering food, beer and wine. The patio, where musicians sometimes play at dusk, includes heated concrete furniture. There’s a communal fire pit (fed by gas), and a rack of mountain bikes you can borrow. To cart your luggage to the trailers, the camp provides little red wagons. Dogs are welcome ($75 each, maximum of two).
Desk attendants were notably alert, upbeat and helpful, and they stay on duty all night. In the lobby store, you’ll find McConnell’s ice cream at $15 a pint, s’mores kits for $15, extra firewood for $20, a deck of playing cards for $18.
“The Airstreams are amazing, but it would be nice if there were some more activities,” Mina Choe, 35, of San Francisco, told me. When she booked, she had expected the pool to be open. Arriving, she was affronted by the absence of cornhole. But soon she was huddled at a picnic table with friends, pointing out the color of the sky and sipping Fireball Cinnamon Whisky.
The units: If you’re 6 feet tall, you’ll duck a little to enter. But the inside felt roomy to me. The 31-foot-long trailers are basically three-room suites: First you step up into a kitchenette/sitting-room area with microwave, little fridge, kitchenware and gray futon couch. (Each unit can handle up to two adults and two children.) To the right, you find a surprisingly spacious bathroom (shower, no tub). To the left, a bedroom with built-in nightstands, charging outlets everywhere and a door to allow for family privacy.
Besides a big, firm bed, the bedroom includes a skylight, clerestory windows and a wall-mounted television (though cable service wasn’t activated yet when I visited). Solid Wi-Fi. The white walls and many windows add to the sense of space inside, and the wall-mounted thermostat makes clear that you’re not roughing it. Outside, each unit has a small, gray picnic table, a pair of Adirondack chairs and a fire pit, where many guests roasted s’mores and some cooked steaks.
The food: I appreciated the free morning coffee and granola but found the prepared food pricy and unremarkable (turkey sandwich and lemonade: $18.59). You’re better off bringing ingredients (or buying some at the Saturday morning Joshua Tree Farmers Market) and grilling under the stars. Or you can buy an AutoCamp barbecue kit featuring organic boneless chicken breasts, cauliflower heads or a pair of New York strip steaks ($79-$85).
The price: The trailers average $300 to $400 on weekends, less midweek, with rates varying by location. (I paid $356.13, after taxes, for a Friday night on Presidents Day weekend.) The eight rectangular units, comparably priced, are slightly roomier than the Airstreams, and four are designed to ADA accessibility standards. To save on incidentals, try the Dollar General store a block away at Sunburst Street and Highway 62.
The bottom line: On a weekend family or friend-group splurge, I’d do this again, thanks to the stylish, comfortable trailers and attentive service. But even if cornhole and the bar beckon, nobody should stay in camp all day — the park’s boulders and Joshua tree landscape demand exploration.
If you go
AutoCamp Joshua Tree, 62209 Verbena Road, Joshua Tree, Calif., 92252; (844) 366-9715, autocamp.com
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