You are hereRock Climbing Destinations: Joshua Tree National Park

Rock Climbing Destinations: Joshua Tree National Park

Rock Climbing Destinations: Joshua Tree National Park

Written by Rick Booth November, 2001 

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock

I have to confess that I am a diehard Joshua Tree enthusiast so this
probably won't read like an unbiased assessment of climbing at Joshua Tree
NP.  I essentially learned to climb at JTree and have wasted countless
hours of my so called life in this park climbing and hanging out with my
friends.  I hope that some of this enthusiasm is contagious and others
will see this park as I do.

Joshua Tree National Park is located about 25 miles north of Palm Springs,
California.  The park started out as a monument and was largely ignored by
most of the outdoor community.  In the late 60's a man by the name of John
Wolfe started going to Joshua Tree with his friends to climb on the rock
there.  The second printing of the original guide is dated 1973 and
contains only 76 routes, which are rated by the thankfully defunct F
system.  Some time later, Mr. Wolfe published two other guides to the
monument after he and others put up numerous routes.  Since Joshua Tree is
close to Los Angeles the LA based climbing community discovered the
monument and the number of routes put up during the seventies and eighties
accelerated rapidly.  At about this time Randy Vogel took up the guidebook
challenge and in 1992 published what is probably the definitive guidebook
and contains about 4000 routes!  This book is reprinted by Falcon
Publishing and is a tad out of date since there are now an additional
largely unrecorded 2300 new routes.  During this time other elements of
the outdoor community discovered the monument such as the road biking
crowd and photography crowd.  In addition, the astronomy enthusiasts can
be found at many of the group sites when the moon is not up at night.  It
is also a popular destination for '"snow birds" and their motor homes. 
The park has experienced tremendous interest in the last twenty years,
however, during most months the main visitors are casual tourists and rock
climbers.  The peak visitation season is the spring when the flowers
bloom.  In the early days I could expect to have a good chance of finding
a campsite at Hidden Valley campground on a Saturday morning.  Now it can
be difficult to find a site anywhere in the park when arriving Thursday
night during the spring!  In 1994 the monument became an official element
of the national park system.

This park is a desert region and the main part of the park is situated at
an elevation of about 4000 feet.  The elevation ranges from about 2500
feet to over 5000 feet.  This is the range at which the Joshua Tree grows. 
The lower elevation is in the Indian Cove area (map of campground) and this can represent a
significant increase in temperature compared to the main part of the park. 
Joshua Tree is located at the transition zone between the Colorado desert
and the Mojave desert and treats the visitor to wide open vistas.  The
desert is not devoid of features, however.  For the climber there are a
large number of rock formations that range from 30 feet or so tall to
several hundred feet in height.  This means that most routes are
approximately one pitch in length but there are several formations such as
the Astro Domes, which support many multi pitch routes.  The rock is a
weak variation of granite called quartz monzonite.  It is very, very,
crystalline and most cracks tend to have sharp crystals sticking out of
them.  Tape for the hands is almost mandatory, even for accomplished crack
climbers.  In most places the rock is solid, however, there are parts of
the park where the rock is poor.  The poor quality rock tends to have lots
of surface crystals which can break off.  In spite of this there are many
high quality routes at Joshua Tree.  The face routes are often
characterized by mind boggling friction moves for both the hands and feet.

Intersection Rock
Intersection Rock

For the casual visitor the main attraction is the concentration of Joshua
Trees that grow in the park.  The Joshua Tree is a yucca, as it turns out,
and the yucca is a member of the lily family.  Go figure.  There are a lot
of other desert attractions here including the big horn sheep, ringtail
cat, kangaroo rat, coyote, bobcat, the super cool desert tortoise, hares
and rabbits, lizards and chuckwallas, and a variety of pack chomping mice
and other rodents.  In addition to the Joshua Tree there are other yuccas,
a huge variety of cactus, various other shrubbery including Mormon Tea and
Creosote Bush, and a selection of birds including the roadrunner and
cactus wren.  The curious roadrunner is a special treat to see.  If the
weather produces the right combination of winter rainfall and spring heat
the flowers in the spring are spectacular.  The park has other features of
interest.  The Keys view road takes you to an overlook of the Palm Springs
area and the most noteworthy feature visible is the very obvious San
Andreas Fault!  The park was at one time home to several ranches and
mines.  Ranger led visits to the Keys Ranch house are available and a
short hike brings you to Barker Dam.  The Queen mountain area is the home
for several mineshafts and the remains of a stone bunk house.  A short
walk from the Wonderland parking area brings you to a stamp mill used to
process ore.  The 49 Palms Oasis is an easy hike from the 49 Palms Road,
which leaves route 62 between the Indian Cove turn off and Twenty Nine
Palms.  Water runs out of the ground at the oasis and this compact area
supports many very large palm trees.  Perhaps the most interesting
peculiarity is the Philosophy Stones.  These are located about three miles
down a dirt road that is accessed from the Quail Springs picnic area.  A
Swedish immigrant made his homestead there and proceeded to carve many
pithy sayings into the flat rocks.  Perhaps he was bored or lonely or
maybe he had just run out of boulder problems to do!  There is a trail
that ascends Ryan Mountain and another trail system that goes up Queen
Mountain.  All of these features are of interest for something to do on a
rest day or if pinned down by poor weather.

The peak climbing season runs through the months of November and December
and March and April.  The fall months are usually warm and more or less
wind free.  The spring months are usually warm but tend to have more wind. 
The months of January and February tend to be cold and windy. 
Nonetheless, weather trends can change these averages.  Everyone I know
has some weather horror story for Joshua Tree.  I have climbed in short
sleeves on Christmas and I have also spent Christmas admiring the six
inches of snow on the ground.  It can vary greatly.  In spite of this
variation I have made trips to Joshua Tree every month from November to
April for the last several years.  Probably the hardest problem to solve
at Joshua Tree is to determine where to climb depending on the weather. 
This means that when it is cold the north facing or northeast facing
routes are out.  In addition, the south facing or west facing routes are
generally out when it is hot.  This means the Lost Horse Wall is toast
when it is hot and both the North and South Astro Domes are frosty when it
is cold.  The climber can take advantage of the big elevation difference
between the main part of the park and Indian Cove.  If it is cold and
windy "up top" then it will be warmer in Indian Cove.  The Indian Cove
area also has better wind protection.  Perhaps the best cold weather
climbing area is the "Corral" at the head of Rattlesnake Canyon.  There is
never any wind at the Corral.

For the climber the best feature of the park is the variety of routes
there.  Since it is an old park and the early route developers were
ordinary people there are a large number of routes in the 5.5 to 5.9
range.  It is a great park for beginners and intermediate climbers.  This
doesn't mean there aren't any hard routes in the park!  Take a look at
"Stingray", 5.13d, or "Equinox", 5.12d, and you will realize that there
are some world class routes at Joshua Tree.  The Vogel guide contains
descriptions of about 4000 routes.  These are spread around the many
formations in the park.  The Vogel guide is "Joshua Tree: Rock Climbing
Guide, Second Edition", Chockstone Press (now reprinted by Falcon
Publishing), ISBN:0-934641-30-7.  A more recent set of guides has been
published by Alan Bartlett.  These are published and printed by Quail
Springs Publishing and are probably only available at climbing stores. 
The following description of routes starts at the Joshua Tree entrance
from the town of Joshua Tree.

Desert Landscape
Desert Landscape

There are several areas between the entrance station in Joshua Tree and
the first clear land mark which is the Quail Springs Picnic Area (QSPA)
located on the right hand side of the road.  Between QSPA and the entrance
station are Lizards Landing and the Pet Cemetery.  The recommended route
is Pet Cemetery (of course), 5.11b.  QSPA is a popular beginners area and
all the routes there may be easily top roped.  The back side of the rock
has routes from 5.4 to 5.10 and the front side of the rock (towards the
road) has several routes that are considerably harder.  The Right Sawdust
Crack (5.8/5.9) will give the visiting climber good Joshua Tree jamming
practice.  Tape is mandatory on this crack!  This formation tends to be
very, very, crowded on weekends.  Many interesting routes may be climbed
by hiking into the desert about one half hour from the Quail Springs
picnic area parking.  These routes are on the Baskerville Cracks (Hound
Rocks) formation and further up the hill on the White Cliffs of Dover. 
Check out Right Baskerville Crack, 5.10a, Tossed Green, 5.10a, Crescent
Wrench, 5.10d, Popular Mechanics, 5.9, and Ace of Spades, 5.9.  These last
two routes are on the White Cliffs.  Both these areas are good shade
climbing areas and will be devoid of other climbers.  The next clear turn
off spot on the road will be a left turn into the Keys Corner parking
area.  This used to be just a wide spot on the road with parking but with
the new road going in it appears to be a turn off into a genuine paved
parking area.  Such is progress.  Parking here provides access to the
north end of the Wonderland of Rocks.  A fairly short hike will bring you
to Too Secret to Find, which is 5.10b, not 5.10d, if you can find it. 
Other routes in this area close to the parking area are modest and the
routes in the Grey Giant/Fortress area are a hike so allow for an early
start.  Further up the road from the Keys Corner parking area is the Lost
Horse area.  This is one of the large and well developed climbing areas in
the park.  Before the right turn onto the road to the Lost Horse Ranger
Station are several formations on the right hand side of the road.  Close
to the road is Lizards Hangout, which has several top roped routes. 
Behind this formation is Mel's Diner.  Check out the Mel Cracks, both
5.10c.  Also in this area is Dihedral Rock which has the JTree classic
Coarse and Buggy, 5.11b.  The turn down the road to the ranger station
will bring you to a gate or sign prohibiting further travel.  Park here
for the Super Creeps wall which has several hard routes.  Approximately in
this same area but closer to the main road is the Imaginary Voyage
formation.  This is opposite Lost Horse Wall.  Check out Imaginary Voyage,
5.10d, for a dose of slippery laybacking.  The Lost Horse Wall is very
popular and is always in the sun so is a good cold weather area.  The
classic in this area is Bird on a Wire, 5.10a.  Moderates on the Lost
Horse Wall include the Swift, 5.7, Dappled Mare, 5.8, and Roan Way, also
5.8.  Moving closer to the main road is the Freeway Wall area.  Cake Walk,
5.9, is terrific and so is Anacram, 5.10c.  There are many other good
routes in this area and it should be investigated especially when it is
cold.  There are several formations further down the road past the Lost
Horse Ranger Station, which can only be accessed by hiking.  Try Friendly
Hands, 5.10b, on the Jimmy Cliff.  Forget the Hill Street Blues area.  The
last reasonable formation that is easy to get to from the Lost Horse
Ranger Station road is the Banana Cracks formation.  Yup, the routes here
are Right (5.11a) and Left (5.10c) Banana Crack.

Continuing on the main road just past the turn off to the Lost Horse
Ranger Station is the Hemingway Wall, the IRS Wall, which is just up to
the left and behind the Hemingway Wall, the Dairy Queen Wall and Playhouse
Rock, which is to the left.  This area sports several classics.  Check out
Overseer, 5.9, White Lightening, 5.7, Poodles are People, Too, 5.10b, and
Head over Heels, 5.10a, on the Hemingway Wall.  The IRS wall has Tax Man,
5.10a, which is not to be missed.  Moderates on the Dairy Queen Wall are
Mr.  Misty Kiss, Frosty Cone, and the excellent Leap Year Flake, all 5.7. 
Playhouse Rock has an excellent 5.7, I'm so Embarrassed for You.  Further
down the road try the Red Burrito for a sound thrashing on the various top
rope problems.

The Old Woman
The Old Woman

Next down the road are the Hidden Valley areas.  On the left hand side of
the road is the campground and the right hand side of the road is the side
road to the Real Hidden Valley.  To the left of the parking in the Real
Hidden Valley is Turtle Rock, which has many easy and moderate routes in
the 5.3 to 5.7 range.  These are generally in the shade.  Turtle rock is
somewhat problematic to get down from.  In the real Hidden Valley try
Locomotion Rock for a selection of 5.6s and 5.7s.  Sports Challenge Rock
has Sphincter Quits, 5.9 and What's it to You, 5.10d, on one side and
Clean and Jerk, 5.10c and for hard men , Leave it to Beaver, 5.12a on the
other side.  Not to be missed is Sail Away, 5.8-, on Hidden Tower.  Always
crowded on the weekend.  The Brown Wall has a selection of 10s and 11s
that are always in the sun so is a good cold weather destination.  The
Thin Wall offers several routes, all which may be top roped, and is in the
shade later in the day.  The Sentinel has the outstanding moderate, Fote
Hog, 5.6, on the east side and the all time JTree mega classic, Illusion
Dweller, 5.10b, on the west side.  Tired yet? No? Then search out
Fisticuffs, 5.10b, Run For Your Life, 5.10b, Semitough, 5.10d, and
finally, Martin Quits, 5.10c.  That ought to do it.  For easy to get to
end of the day climbs there is Loose Lady, 5.9+, on Houser Buttress which
is straight out across the desert from the Hidden Valley Parking lot and
the Betty Jo Yablonski boulder (or top rope) problem, 5.10+, right by the
parking lot.

Heading out of the road to the Real Hidden Valley and back onto the main
road puts you right at the Hidden Valley campground area.  The road has
been re-routed here and the parking lot directly across from the Real
Hidden valley road puts you into a parking lot for access to Intersection
Rock.  Access to the campground and the dirt roads exiting the campground
is now about 100 yards further down the road.  Intersection Rock is the
home of many of the first routes in the monument.  A beginning leaders
challenge is Mikes Books, 5.6.  Other good routes here are Left and Right
Ski Track, 5.11a and 5.10b, Overhang Bypass, 5.7, North Overhang, 5.9, and
The Flake, 5.8.  Across from Intersection Rock and the formation closest
to both the campground and the road is the Old Woman.  Check out Toe Jam,
5.7, Bearded Cabbage, 5.10c, the Geronimo Finish (if you can get to it),
5.7, Dogleg, 5.8, and the JTree mega classic Double Cross, 5.7+.  The next
formation on the west side of the campground is the non-descript pile
called the Blob.  Popular and crowded routes here are Mama and Papa
Woolsey, 5.10a and 5.10b, and the Hobbit Roof on the boulder slightly
further west.  The remaining rocks surrounding the campground are Outhouse
Rock and The Wall.  The popular route here is Chalk Up Another One, 5.10a. 
On the dirt road that used to head east from the campground is Chimney
Rock.  There are two interesting routes here.  The first is Loose Lips,
which apparently was so loose it fell off so don't be looking for that
one.  The other route is Pinched Rib, which has two bolts and started out
as 5.7, went to 5.9, and is now 5.10b.  Another testament to the
sturdiness of the quartz monzonite.  A little ways to the east is the
Cyclops.  This has a nice beginner route called the Eye, 5.1, and is a lot
of fun.  Another interesting route here is Leaders Fright, 5.8.  A #2
Friend will ease your fear.  This about covers the Hidden Valley

There is more good climbing outside the campground.  By parking at the
campground or off the road (if you can) you can get to Steve Canyon (pun
intended, I am sure) which is just to the northwest and is near the road
heading in the direction of Joshua Tree.  Super Roof, 5.9, is a blast,
Grain Surgery, 5.10bR, will provide a serious pucker as will Sidewinder,
5.10b.  This used to be rated 5.9 and I am not sure what happened. 
Rounding out your Steve Canyon excursion should be The Decompensator of
Lhasa, 5.10d, whatever that means.  From the north end of the main
campground loop head northwest or so on a trail to find The Wall of
Biblical Fallacies.  Hard men and women only.  Across from here is the
Rollerball formation.  Jump on the classic Rollerball, 5.10b.  The
overhanging roof at the end is easier than it looks.  Due north of the
campground is Rock Hudson (another pun) and is the home of the JTree mega
classic Hot Rocks, 5.11c.  Hard men and women can head out from here to
the northeast to the Peyote Cracks rock which is the home of many 12s and
13s.  Needless to say, I have never been there.

Big Al cranking on Wage and Price Ceiling (5.11)
Big Al cranking on
Wage and Price Ceiling (5.11)

The turn off to the Hidden valley Campground now continues on to Keys
Ranch and Barker Dam.  This is now paved road.  Driving down the road will
bring you to a new junction.  To the left is the road to Keys Ranch and
just off of this road is access to a huge parking area located where Echo
Tee used to be.  This is the Echo Rock and Echo Cove area.  The big slabby
looking formation in front of you is Echo Rock.  Echo Rock is the home of
many moderate 'clip and go's.  Try Double Dip, 5.6 (needs a big piece for
the flake on the bottom), Try Again, 5.10c, the classic Stichter Quits
(aka Black Tide), 5.7, Stick to What?, 5.9, Forbidden Paradise, 5.10b,
Quick Draw McGraw, 5.10a, and the Falcon and the Snowman, 5.10b.  Not to
be missed is Heart and Sole, 5.10a, which is the best route on Echo Rock. 
Further to the right is Popes Crack, 5.9.  This is a solid 5.9 crack lead. 
Opposite Echo Rock to the west is the Touch and Go formation.  Touch and
Go, 5.9, is about the best 5.9 crack in the park.  This area is always in
the shade so look for a warm day for this route.  Further down the road to
Keys Ranch is the Echo Cove formation.  This formation can offer good
climbing no matter what the temperature.  It just depends on which wall
you want to work on.  On the outside facing the Echo Tee is CS Special,
5.10b.  Inside the cove are a variety of climbs.  The most fun is Big Moe
(as in Big Dynamo), 5.11a.  This can be easily top roped and can provide
endless entertainment watching your friends come flying off the dyno move. 
Then it is your turn!  By walking around Echo Rock you can get to the
Candy Bar area.  This area has many routes at all levels.  The last area
of interest here is the Rusty Wall.  Drive down the road past Echo Cove to
the gate for Keys Ranch.  Park here.  The Rusty Wall is the big reddish
wall to the west.  The right side has O'Kelley's crack, 5.10c with a 5.11
entrance move (why is it rated 5.10c?).  On the left is Wangerbanger,
5.11c.  Both are excellent.

From the Echo Tee junction now go right.  The next left turn off this dirt
road goes to the new parking area for Barker Dam.  Most stuff accessible
from here is of average interest with the exception of the Killer Cracks
area.  To get to this area head towards Barker Dam.  Look to the left and
after 50 yards or so after the trail starts from the old dirt parking area
a break will be apparent to the left.  Go through there.  The Killer
Cracks are around to the right.  Fists of Fury, 5.10a, and Enter the
Dragon, 5.9, are exercises in fist jamming and chimneying.  Nasty. 
Further around in this area is the Gunsmoke Traverse boulder problem,
5.11+.  Bring a couple of Coleman lanterns for cheap after dark
entertainment.  Going further down the road past the Barker Dam turn is an
unmarked left turn.  This is the road to the parking for access to the
Wonderland of Rocks.  It is not paved and not marked as of November, 2001. 
If the parking is packed here it is easy to park in the new Barker Dam
parking area, however, do not hike out past Barker Dam to get to the
Wonderland.  Brutal.  There are some nice routes right by the Wonderland
parking lot but the main attraction here is the Wonderland itself.  Head
out on the trail to the east from the parking lot and tend to the left
past an old ranch house ruin.  This trail goes out for about 20 to 30
minutes of hiking and then pops out into an open area.  To the left will
be the obvious Astro Domes.  On the South Astro Dome are Hex Marks the
Poot, 5.7, My Laundry, 5.9, the JTree mega classics Solid Gold, 5.10a, and
the run out Such a Savage, 5.11a.  Just around to the right is Piggle Pug,
a tough 5.10c layback.  Further to the right is the North Astro Dome which
has the JTree mega classic, Figures on a Landscape, 5.10b.  The Astro
Domes are in the shade so a warm day is usually required.  Cruising down
the wash past the Astro Domes will bring you to Lenticular Dome.  Here is
the best 5.7 in the park, Mental Physics.  To the left of Mental Physics
is a puckering 5.9 face route, Dazed and Confused.  In this general area
is the Freak Brothers Dome (which is unmistakable) which has the only
route rated R for the follower, I Can't Believe It's A Girdle, 5.10a. 
Cruising further down the wash, generally northwesterly, will bring you to
Diarrhea Dome.  On the back side (north) of this dome is the Bighorn
Mating Grotto.  The routes here are about as good as it gets and none of
them are to be missed.  These are Dangling Woo Li Master, 5.10a, Book of
Changes, 5.10b, Morning Thunder, 5.10d, and Caught Inside On A Big Set,
5.10b.  The last I knew my friend Al changed the Book of Changes by
breaking off a big chunk so it isn't 10b anymore.  There is much more in
the Wonderland but these routes are a good selection of what the
Wonderland has to offer.  From the entrance to the road to Barker Dam
there appears to be large rock formations on the hillside to the south. 
This is the Comic Strip.  Routes of interest here are the Comic Book,
5.10a, and Alice In Wonderjam, 5.9, which is the hardest 5.9 crack in the
park.  Also in this area is Watergate Rock, which has many moderate 5.7 to
5.9 face routes.

Return to the main road back through the Hidden Valley Campground and head
to the left (east) to continue your tour.  The next major feature is Cap
Rock, which is right by the turn off for Keys View.  Try Catch A Falling
Star, 5.8.  The next feature on the main road is the turn off for Ryan
Campground.  To the left of the campground is the obvious Headstone Rock. 
Check out the SW Corner, 5.6, and Cryptic, 5.8, for two JTree classics. 
These are usually crowded on the weekends and can be amazingly cold even
in the sun.  The Ryan Campground is in general windy which is usually not
a problem unless it is cold.  Continuing further down the road several
formations show up on the left (north) side.  This is the Hall of Horrors. 
Opposite the Hall of Horrors on the hillside is Saddle Rocks, home to
another JTree mega classic, Walk On The Wild Side, 5.7+.  On the front of
the Hall of Horrors close to the road are Lazy Day, 5.7, Cactus Flower,
5.11b, Dog day Afternoon, 5.10b, and the 5.10c butt cutting roof problem,
Grit Roof.  Going around the back into the Hall itself you will find The
Exorcist, 510a, and Diamond Dogs, 5.10a, both JTree classics.  Finish your
Hall tour by climbing Jane's Addiction, 5.11b.  The fixed pin is gone.

Returning to the main road and continuing east brings you to Sheep Pass
itself.  This is the location of the group campsites in the upper park. 
Once past Sheep Pass the road heads across the expansive Queen Valley at
an elevation of 4400 feet.  There are one or two dirt roads leading away
from this main road.  The most important one is the Geology Tour Road. 
Going left will bring you to the Queen Mine area and the Queen Mountain
area.  These are obscure and somewhat problematic to find, however, a trip
to The Cirque Of The Climbables on the east side of Queen Mountain is well
worth the aggravation.  Supposedly Walt's Rocks with lots of high quality
routes are up over the top of Queen Mountain but I have yet to meet anyone
who has actually found them.  Going right on the Geology Tour Road brings
you to a wide open desert area.  The rock formations are a hike from the
sides of this road.  Many are out of view of the road itself so it is best
to go with someone who has been there or be prepared for some thrashing
around.  There are many excellent routes in this area and is a great place
to go when the park is crowded.

The author on Wage and Price Ceiling (5.11)
The author on Wage and Price Ceiling (5.11)

Driving past the Geology Tour side roads on the main road brings you to
the Jumbo Rocks area.  This is the location of the very large Jumbo Rocks
campground.  Most climbing in this area can be approached by parking in
the campground.  To the south is the Zebra Cliff.  Excellent routes here
are Cut Thin to Win, 5.10c, Around The World, 5.10b, and Zebra Dihedral,
5.10a.  Across the road from the campground is Conan's Corridor.  This is
usually in the shade.  Check out Gem, 5.8, Colorado Crack, 5.9, and
Spiderman, 5.10a, which is about the hardest 10a crack in the park.  Tape
up.  Moving down the road brings you to the Live Oak area and the Split
Rocks area.  The Whispering Wall is usually in the sun and requires some
wandering around to find in order to avoid the raps from the Pope's Hat
formation.  The Split Rocks area is far more interesting.  Hiking to the
east brings you to Future Games Rock.  This wall is usually in the shade
and has the JTree classic Invisibility Lessons, 5.9.  Other good routes
here are The Bendix Claws, 5.11a, Continuum, 5.8+, and Disappearing Act,
5.10c.  Hiking to the west brings you to the Rubicon Formation, home of
the 5.10d crack, Rubicon.  A little further to the east is Isles in the
Sky.  Check out Bird of Fire, 5.10a.  There are many other routes here. 
Wander through Brit Corridor and Cling or Fling Corridor for routes in the
shade.  Leaving the Split Rocks area and going left down the main road
again brings you to the Cottonwood road junction.  This paved road goes
out past Belle campground, White Tank campground, the dirt road to Stirrup
Tank, and then goes a long ways down hill to the Cottonwood campground and
the interstate 10 entrance.  Cottonwood campground is at a very low
elevation and is near the route 10 interstate entrance.  An interesting
cactus (cholla) garden is passed on the right on the road to Cottonwood. 
For the climber there are many interesting routes at Belle and Stirrup
Tank, and to a lesser extent at White Tank.  These areas can be an escape
from the crowds since most climbers seem to avoid these areas.  If you
avoid the turn onto the Cottonwood road you continue on the main road. 
This passes by the Oz area.  This area has been recently developed (in the
last 10+ years) and it is problematic to find formations in this area.  It
usually involves a bunch of boulder hopping.  This is another area
requiring a guide or the determination to deal with a bunch of thrashing. 
Several high quality 10s were put up by my friend Al in the Emerald City
area and are well worth the hike.  Check out the Rattler, 5.10c, and Snake
Book, 5.10d.  Further down the road is the Twenty Nine Palms entrance
station and soon you are back on route 62 in Twenty Nine Palms.  Go left
(west) to go in the direction of Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley.

Whew.  That is a lot of routes in a lot of areas.  But we are not done
yet.  There is the Indian Cove area, which is distinct and disconnected
from the main part of the park.  This is a very good area for beginners
and intermediate climbers.  There are a lot of easy to difficult routes
that may be top roped.  The short wall is the easiest to work with and has
the easiest routes.  It is also fairly easy to set top ropes on the Feudal
Wall.  More relatively easy routes may be found in the Indian Palisades
corridor.  Most of these routes must be lead.  The route Water Moccasin is
rated 5.4 and is really about 5.6/5.7.  Beware of old 1/4 inch bolts in
this area.  In general the formations close to the road will be popular
and will draw the usual weekend crowds.  These include Billboard Buttress,
Dos Equis Wall, Pixie Rock, King Otto's Castle and Moosedog Tower.  Check
out We Dive at Dawn, 5.8, and Driving Limitations, 5.8, on Billboard
Buttress.  My favorite is Moosedog Tower.  The best windy and cold area in
the park is the Corral wall.  This is approached from the picnic area at
the end of the road heading east out of the campground.  There are many
other fine routes in this Dodge City area and the rest of Rattlesnake
Canyon.  Expect a lot of boulder hopping and thrashing to find the routes
in this area.

Getting to Joshua Tree National Park requires a car since there is no
transportation service inside the park and transportation to the park is
problematic.  To get close to the park you can fly but a car will need to
be rented in order to get to the park from the nearest airports.  The
nearest airport is at Palm Springs but I have yet to use this airport due
to the outrageous costs associated with flying into Palm Springs.  A
better bet is Ontario airport.  It is about an hour and fifteen minutes to
Yucca Valley from this airport and maybe an hour and forty five minutes to
the central part of the park itself.  The park is located off of route 62,
or the Twenty Nine Palms Highway, which leaves interstate 10 a little east
of Banning.  Route 62 winds uphill to the town of Morongo Valley and then
further uphill to Yucca Valley.  Yucca Valley used to be a sleepy little
burg with one traffic light on the road.  Not any more.  This town is a
popular retirement community with all sorts of facilities.  This has
brought a lot more traffic lights.  Further down the road is the town of
Joshua Tree itself which has been pretty much unchanged in the last 25
years with the exception of the addition of two stop lights.  Even further
down the road is the town of Twenty Nine Palms, home to the Marine air
training base, which is unchanged in 25 years.  The west entrance to the
park is in the town of Joshua Tree.  This is the loop road and traverses
the park and eventually comes out in the town of Twenty Nine Palms.  The
main entrance and visitor center is in Twenty Nine Palms.  For those
driving from the SF bay area it is about 8 to 9 hours of driving,
depending on how much lead is in your foot, and the fastest way is through
Barstow and on into Yucca Valley via state road 247.  For those driving in
from Red Rocks in Las Vegas take the road to Ludlow in Essex on interstate
15.  Essex is one gas station.  From Ludlow head toward Amboy on route
66(!) and then head south again toward Twenty Nine Palms.  This is all two
lane desert driving.  Fast but desolate.

There are plenty of restaurants and other stores close to the park.  The
three towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twenty Nine Palms are close
to all the entrances to the park.  For camping and climbing equipment
needs try Nomad Ventures (760-366-4684) which is right near the turn off
of route 62 to the west entrance to the park in the town of Joshua Tree. 
Supermarkets include Vons and Food-4-Less in Yucca Valley and Stater
Brothers in Twenty Nine Palms.  There is now a K-Mart in Yucca Valley for
other items.  Showers may be obtained in two places in Joshua Tree, Coyote
Corner (760-366-9683) right at the turn off of route 62 to the entrance to
the park and the Safari Motel (760-366-1113).  Showers may also be
obtained at the gyms in Yucca Valley, the last I knew.

During the winter months the sun goes down early and it gets cold in a
hurry.  Only the die hards stay out in the campgrounds and cook dinner
when it is 20 degrees F and a gale is blowing the campfire flames dead
horizontal.  Not for you? Then check out the many restaurants in the
area.  Starting in Yucca Valley there is Stefano's (760-228-3118) for
Italian food, Din Ho (760-365-4353) for Chinese food, Brigitte's
(760-365-0121) for German food, Edchadas (760-365-7655) for Mexican food,
Fish and Brew (!) (760-365-1284) for fish and chips and other fish dishes,
and All American BBQ (760-365-1663) for barbecue.  Try the Route 62 Diner
(760-365-6311) for breakfasts.  This is also a Harley Davidson dealership
and is a fun place to visit.  All of these are on the main highway and are
all fairly good, however, don't expect LA or SF standards here in the high
desert.  One of the most interesting places in Yucca Valley is Pappy and
Harriet's (760-365-5956) in Pioneer Town, which is about two miles north
on Pioneer Town Road leaving the main highway towards Morongo Valley. 
This is a burgers and steaks restaurant and bar and features live country
music.  Fun and off the beaten path.  Moving down the road to Joshua Tree
there is Arturo's for Mexican Food and Royal Siam for Thai food.  The best
place in the area is the Crossroads (760-366-5414), which is on the main
road near the west entrance to the park in Joshua Tree.  Lots of variety,
even food for vegetarians, and a great beer selection.  Sometimes live
music.  This is a new place and has become instantly popular.  Across the
street from the entrance to the park is the Country Kitchen.  This is a
favorite locals and climbers hangout for breakfasts and has been there for
years.  Finally in the town of Twenty Nine Palms there is another Edchadas
for Mexican food and Andreas, which is the cheapest greasy spoon you will
find.  Good for breakfasts.  It should be noted that there are the usual
selection of fast food places, especially in Yucca Valley, if your tastes
run that way.

Aiguille du Joshua Tree
Aiguille du Joshua Tree

There are a lot of campgrounds in the park itself.  One campground that is
a handy place to know about when it is crowded is the Blackrock
Campground.  The road to Blackrock Campground exits from the town of Yucca
Valley towards the south.  It is opposite Old Woman Springs Road.  There
is no access to the park from this campground.  It is mostly dedicated to
people interested in horse back riding and the $10 fee applies here.  This
campground may not fill up.  The camping in the park itself is at Hidden
Valley, Ryan, Jumbo Rocks, Belle, White Tank, and Cottonwood.  Hidden
Valley fills first, Ryan second, then Jumbo Rocks.  If the park is going
to be crowded the last sites will be out at Belle or White Tank.  Group
sites are at Sheep Pass and Cottonwood.  I am not sure if individual sites
are available at Cottonwood.  All of the individual sites in these
particular campgrounds are available on a first come first serve basis and
as of this writing are free.  Between the towns of Joshua Tree and Twenty
Nine Palms is the road that connects to the Indian Cove campground.  This
is also a popular camping area since sites may be reserved here for the
$10 per night fee.  Indian Cove also has about thirteen group sites. 
There is a lot of climbing in this area and is a good place to go when the
weather is cold and windy.  All of the sites that may be reserved are
available by phone at 800-365-2267 or over the internet at  One should be aware that there is no water in the
park.  Water is available at the entrance station to Indian Cove for free
but the Joshua Tree and Twenty Nine Palms entrances charge about $.25 per
gallon.  You will need your own water containers.  This system works
poorly since the timer is usually broken.  A better bet is to buy water at
the supermarkets in town or patiently pour water into your larger
container with a water bottle.

If you have chosen a cold and windy time to go to Joshua Tree and wish to
escape the campgrounds there are many motels in the area, especially in
the town of Yucca Valley.  For years the standard escape motel was the
Yucca Inn (800-989-7644 or 760-365-3311) in Yucca Valley but it has become
increasingly more expensive over the last three years.  Others in Yucca
Valley are the Super 8 (760-228-1773), the Sands (760-365-4615), the
Desert Sky (760-365-2886), the Desert View (760-365-9706), and the odd
Oasis of Eden (760-365-6321).  I only have personal experience with the
Yucca Inn.  There is a Best Western and a Motel 6 in Twenty Nine Palms.

Finally, I have some notes on the hazards of desert climbing.  Most people
ask me if I run into "lots of rattlesnakes".  The answer is "no".  After
years and several hundred visits to the park I have encountered about six
rattlesnakes.  With one exception they were comatose from being too cold. 
The other encounter was with a snake cruising off to wherever he was
going.  In general, snakes (and most of the other wildlife) will only be
encountered when venturing away from the beaten path.  I have only seen
them under these conditions.  There are other hazards to be aware of.  The
first is ticks.  These will also be encountered when thrashing around off
of regular trails.  The second is the various cacti.  The young prickly
pair cactus and young cholla cactus will be short and close to the ground. 
They will also be near or hidden next to ordinary desert shrubbery.  These
"ankle stabbers" will nail you through any normal sneaker or light hiking
boot or shoe.  Watching your feet in the open is important.  The cholla
come in two general varieties.  The first is a very prickly specimen that
will look sort of fluffy and is sometimes referred to as "teddy bear"
cholla.  It is not.  The second is a sparser looking specimen and has long
quarter inch in diameter stalks with sparse barbs.  This is "pencil"
cholla and is nasty.  It does not stand out as well in the dark or at dusk
when you are cruising in from the remote reaches of the park and is very
easy to run into.  The barbs from all the cholla easily break off from the
plant and leave the barb stuck in you.  I have found that the best tool
for removing this stuff is a solid pair of pliers.  The recommended fork
supposedly works ok but nothing beats being able to grab the barb and yank
it out.  A LeatherMan Tool is handy.  Finally, the desert is a delicate
environment in spite of what it looks like.  Please stay on the
established trails when you can.  Have fun!