Casino Camping or No Reservations
Ahh, the beautiful summer sun in Southern California. The catalyst of outdoor shenanigans and hideous sunburns that prey on the unsuspecting. To us, summer equates to camping so we won’t have to survive the frigid seventy degree winters of San Diego in a mere fabric tent. Could you imagine? Instead, we took a good look at the sun, packed up our gear and headed to the La Jolla Indian Campground in Pauma Valley.
The La Jolla Indian Campground is run on a first come, first serve basis. That’s right; there is no way to make a reservation at this reservation. This isn’t so bad, as it makes it easy to plan a camping trip on a whim while most other sites are all booked up until mid-September. In the same vein, it’s going to cost a little bit more. It will cost you about $35/night to set up camp here but at least it’s not a total bank buster. You just have to get up early enough to make it there before the high schoolers invade and, once you’re there, start drinking enough beer to keep small families away from your zone. Not too much beer, though. Otherwise the aforementioned high schoolers will be all over your home base like fire ants on a half-buried, honey-dipped cowboy. It’s a delicate system of balance.
This campsite is perhaps most popular for their lazy river, which allows you to float carelessly for about fifteen minutes from one end of the campground to the other. I don’t mean to carelessly throw around the word carelessly, because there are plenty of jagged rocks to avoid, but for the most part it's pretty easy-going. Tubes are available for rent on site, which will make the whole process easier if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not, the river is still a great place to cool down and to soak your toes. It’s also best to pretend you’re not terrified of whatever lies below the murky, green water. That is if you want to maintain a cool demeanor. We actually had an interesting conversation with one of the Luiseño employees who ended up dropping the bomb that the EPA was trying to shut down the river, but “It has always been like that.” No reason for that to change. Nobody is forcing you to jump in. My advice is not to worry about it unless you’re taking in mouthfuls of the questionable liquid. Just rip off your socks, get ankle deep, chill out, and watch the happy people and the occasional stray beer can float aimlessly down the cesspool. Oops, river. I meant river.
Most camping areas include a fire pit but our group wasn’t interested in using it as anything more than a landmark. Instead, the choice was made to cook in a discada – handily provided by our fellow camp mates. The discada is akin to a monster truck in the Mexican grilling world. The idea is to start with bacon and cook it until the bottom quarter of the disc is transformed into a popping pool of grease. Then, you use that grease as food-lube and spoon it over anything you cook. We ate everything from languiça to carne asada to hamburgers; all cooked in delicious bacon fat. The discada helps the food taste amazing, as you’d imagine, and also serves as a reminder to go for a light jog as soon as you make it back home.
This campground, I’m told, used to have a few very interesting hiking trails but their recent destruction put the kibosh on any nearby activities outside of the river. Sure, you could round up a team to embark on an expedition for the lost trails but rumors of unkempt poison oak will probably be enough to persuade you into hold down the fort. Instead, popular activities include talking, laughing, drinking, and subsequently passing out. Hacky sacks and Nerf footballs are also highly recommended.
Nightlife here is fairly ambient; good luck trying to hit the sack early. With no real security or direct observation, most people tend to stay up late and get rowdy. It’s not really a problem because you’re camping and in the pitch black night there's nothing better to do. Just don’t except a grasshopper to chirp you to sleep because it’s probably been squished beneath the open-toed sandal of a frat boy dancing wildly to Top-40 hit. There’s even a bar on site, which is an absolute rarity in the camping world and a subtle nod as to why everyone is here in the first place. The only employees you’ll see past the front gate are the daily Port-o-Potty cleanup crew. They’ll be there each morning to hose down whatever filthy mess the campers left overnight and to ensure that you wake up to the lingering smell of raw sewage. Don’t worry, it doesn’t last long.
The La Jolla Indian Campground is ideal for a sporadic camping trip despite its uncouth layout. It should also be mentioned that it you can find four casinos just about ten minutes away, which are an easy go-to if you’re craving for civilization mid trip. This ain’t the Ritz but it really shouldn’t be. Thirty bucks or so is a drop in the bucket for a summer weekend full of fun with friends, food, and family…and beer. Don’t forget to bring beer.