Field Station Joshua Tree is the perfect homebase to explore national park

Anyone going to Las Vegas has seen the offramp for Zzyxx and perhaps had fun pronouncing the road’s name.

“Zzz-eye-zix,” one traveler may say to the other.

“Gesundheit” could be the response.

And that same traveler may have wondered just what was out there. In my novel, "Operation Scorpion," the protagonist spent some interesting moments at the Desert Studies Center located on Zzyzx Road, just off Interstate 15.

- Soon to be completed lobby entrance to the Field Station Joshua Tree, as seen on March 7, 2024.
- Soon to be completed lobby entrance to the Field Station Joshua Tree, as seen on March 7, 2024.

This column is not about the studies center (which was closed to the public for Covid, but is now taking reservations), nor is it about my novel (available where books are sold, of course), but instead, it is about another field station which I had the pleasure of visiting recently.

A field station is "a place where researchers can conduct scientific work, and they can be a touchstone for public discourse on scientific issues."

And who does not like a good touchstone?

Recently, I was invited to Joshua Tree to visit the AutoCamp, operated by AutoCamp Hospitality Group, which I wrote about in a previous column. As I was there, the Public Relations Manager, July Zaleski, asked if I would like to visit the company's new field station.

“Well, I have dinner arrangements with my lovely wife, Laureen,” I said. “If it’s out of state, I should call and cancel.”

July shook her head. “It’s 15 minutes down the road.”

Field Station Joshua Tree, located near Joshua Tree National Park, is described in the AutoCamp Hospitality Group’s literature as a place "designed as the ultimate experience from affordable accommodations to easy exploration. Field Station offers several room types, on-site guides, turnkey outdoor equipment rentals, retail, educational programming, Do-It-Yourself guided experiences, and an espresso cafe."

Since it had been a long day already, a nice jolt of espresso might do the trick.

“Now, you’ll have to use your imagination since the Field Station Joshua Tree will not open for a month or so. But we are taking reservations for May now, though,” July said. And it has been nearly totally remodeled.

There went my espresso, but soon, we were to check out this unique accommodation for desert adventurers visiting Joshua Tree National Park or other parts of the amazing Mojave Desert.

I hitched a ride with Taylor Davis, Vice-President of Brand Marketing, and off we were on State Route 62, or, as the locals prefer, 29 Palms Highway.

It was a rather informative drive to this new facility that was not entirely completed.

It turns out that the company was the brainchild of Neil Dipaola in 2013. An avid outdoor enthusiast and conservationist, Dipaola had a dream to share with all like-minded individuals.

“We need a place where like-minded individuals can go, enjoy wonderful accommodations, experience beautiful natural locations, easily converse with fellow adventurers, and of course, we must have an espresso bar,” Dipaola may have said - then again, he may not have, and I just made it up.

That sounds like a great place to kick up one’s heels while on vacation.

Thus, the AutoCamp brand was born and proved a good idea.

In a short span of years, the AutoCamp has grown to nine Airstream AutoCamps and two Field Stations - one in Moab, Utah, and the second in Yucca Valley.

His brand was so unique, inspiring, and well-accepted that the company has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Vogue, the Travel Channel, Bloomberg, and even in the renowned column Beyer’s Byways.

I had to.

“So what makes a converted motel into a Field Station?” I asked Taylor.

“It’s not just a remodeled motel,” she replied. “But a whole new experience our guests will receive when they get there. It is a place where travelers will meet other travelers and talk to each other about what they have witnessed during their activities.”

I would be the judge of that.

Turns out, Taylor was correct.

Back in the 1960s, a small motel was built for folks visiting the national park. Soon, there were so many visitors that the motel added on and on, giving the place a rather eclectic appearance. When we arrived, I wandered the property and immediately felt I had stepped back in time.

The original lobby and section of rooms connected to it had rock roofs, definitely 1960s, and I expected to see Dean Martin stumble out of the glass doors of the bar as he headed unsteadily toward the pool.

And speaking of the pool, centrally located within the complex's guest rooms, it is extremely large and inviting, with views of the Yucca Valley and mountains bordering the national park.

“We imagine our guests sitting by the pool during the hotter parts of the year and not just enjoying the water but talking with fellow guests about what they did during the day and perhaps making new lifelong friends,” Taylor said.

In my experience of camping, there are many times that conversations would occur with fellow campers about this or that. Most of the time, it was interesting, valuable, and worthwhile - especially regarding the local foliage.

“Don’t squat over there,” some valuable advice may be offered. “Ground is full of poison ivy.”

The remodel, or as the company calls it, upcycled and renovated version of the old Travelodge Motel, is very impressive.

It is modeled after the Scandinavian Industrial Design concept, otherwise known as the ScanDustrial. I have no idea what that means, but as I wandered through some of the completed guest rooms, it started to become clearer.

Each guest room is very large, whether it houses a Queen bed, King bed, or a room full of bunkbeds. There is ample space for each guest to store a lot of gear within the safety of their quarters—many of which also have individual bicycle racks in them. The bathrooms are roomy and beautifully tiled, giving a very upscale feel to the entire complex.

Besides a door leading to the parking lot,  each room has a door leading to impressively landscaped common areas, including sitting benches, pergolas, a huge firepit, the pool area, and winding rocking paths lined with the local plants.

An inviting addition will be multiple ‘plug-ins’ for travelers who use vans for their travels and thus do not need an actual room. The price of the van spot includes full usage privileges of the property, including laundry facilities.

“The goal is to invite our guests to spend as much time outside in a beautiful setting after a full day of adventure,” July told me.

It did not take much imagination to envision the completed Field Station, and I suspected that the local community would be thrilled to have such a new concept of hospitality in the neighborhood.

“As we retransition an old property into our plans,” Taylor said, “we contact local charities and donate furniture, light fixtures, and anything that may be of use to the people in the community. We don’t just fill up the local landfill.”

The concept is to minimize the human footprint by installing LED lighting throughout, thus minimizing electricity usage.

One of the most intriguing concepts is the remodeled lobby of the Field Station. I’m sure the company calls it something else more in line for outdoor adventurers, and if I was told, I forgot.

Jared Pearce, Senior Director of Retail and Foods/Beverages, showed up and explained that the lobby would serve many purposes for the station.

Future onsite restaurant for guests and locals to enjoy, as seen on March 7, 2024. No reason to go out after a day of adventure to search for a meal.
Future onsite restaurant for guests and locals to enjoy, as seen on March 7, 2024. No reason to go out after a day of adventure to search for a meal.

“We want the local community to feel at home here, as well as our guests,” he said. “There will be a full espresso bar and plenty of parking for the locals to stop by and enjoy the various food items available. One side of the room will be well-stocked with outdoor equipment, available for  rent or purchase from outstanding vendors.”

The lobby will have climbing ropes, hiking sticks, water bottles, knapsacks, and a variety of outdoor gear, along with maps of the National Park and surrounding areas.

Jared continued, “We’ll have a desk, similar to a concierge, where guests can arrange tours, no matter the size of the parties involved. We have great local tour companies that have agreed to work with us to ensure a person’s stay here is more than memorable but with a desire to return many times. And, of course, there will be a free water bottle-filling machine here, too.”

Of course, one can’t wander the Mojave Desert without being hydrated—that was my PSA for this column.

My tour was over, and even though the construction was not completed - my imagination filled in the rest, and I knew that this new Field Station would serve the community and travelers well.

John can be reached at


This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: Visiting Joshua Tree National Park? Make AutoCamp your homebase