You are hereBook Review: Joshua Tree National Park Guide Books

Book Review: Joshua Tree National Park Guide Books

Reviewed by Rick Booth January, 2001 

There are several guide books to the rock climbing in Joshua Tree National
Park.  The original books were written by John Wolfe.  I am fortunate to
have a copy of the second printing of the original guide book to what was
then the National Monument.  It is 80 pages long and describes perhaps 200
routes.  Many now classic 11's were originally described as aid routes! 
Now, there are over 4000 routes in the now National Park and more are
added all the time. 

There are two sets of guide books to Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP). 
The first guide book of interest is "Joshua Tree Rock Climbing Guide" by
Randy Vogel.  This was published by the Chockstone Press in 1992.  The
Chockstone Press was apparently sold to Falcon Publishing and now this
guide book has been *reprinted* by Falcon.  The now orange and white
Joshua Tree guide book is a reprint and there is no new information in the
reprinted guide although some numbering errors may have been corrected. 

Randy Vogel's book is probably the essential basic guide to own.  This
book describes all of the climbing areas in the monument with one notable
exception.  The guide is partitioned into the various geographic sections
of the monument and there are hand drawn maps at the beginning of each
section illustrating how to find the various rock formations.  The routes
are documented with pictures of many of the formations and the routes are
sketched out on each of the photographs.  Using the guide book is fairly
easy.  If you are in an area described by the book it is easy to go to
that area and read about the routes available.  On the other hand, if you
have a known route in mind then the index allows you to find the route and
then go to the page and route description of that route.  The only serious
problem with this guide is that hand drawn maps usually leave out too much
detail to accurately find anything specific especially if there is no
picture printed to illustrate the route(s).  As an example, I have been
going to Joshua Tree for over twenty years and to this day I have no idea
how to find "Room to Shroom" and there is a picture for that route!  That
said, if you are an occasional visitor to JTNP then this guide is the one
to have.  It is reasonably accurate, contains most of the routes, and is
the lowest cost of the two options.  Mr. Vogel has published two other
guides for Joshua Tree and they are "Joshua Tree Select", 1990, and
"Joshua Tree Sport Climbing", 1992.  These two guides are also published
by Chockstone and are likely out of print as of today. 

The other guides are by Alan Bartlett.  These are partitioned into seven
separate sections in seven books.  The claim is it makes for less weight
when packing into the various sections of the park but I suspect the real
reason is the guides could be released over the years while Mr. Bartlett
worked on new sections of the park.  Since each book runs about $10 the
cost of the seven sections is about $70 which is about twice the cost of
the Vogel guide.  The Bartlett guides are, however, a very useful addition
to the information store of the serious Joshua Tree aficionado.  These
guides have been released over the years of 1991 to 1998 by the Quail
Springs Publishing Company which is located in the town of Joshua Tree. 
The Bartlett guides do not contain any photos but the topo descriptions of
the routes are better and more accurate than the route descriptions in the
Vogel guides.  I once thrashed myself on a supposed overhanging offwidth
5.10d described in the Vogel guide only to discover that the route had no
known first ascent as pointed out by Mr. Bartlett.  Without the
photographs, however, finding formations and routes with the Bartlett
guides is very, very, difficult.  The one section of Joshua Tree climbing
not covered by the Vogel guide is the Chiriaco Summit area which is
described in the "Rock Climbs of Pinto Basin" guide by Mr. Bartlett. 
This section of the park is of interest if you are at JTNP during the
winter and the weather has gone bad.  Chiriaco Summit is lower and warmer. 

Another guide of interest to JTNP is "Joshua Tree Bouldering" by Mari
Gingery, also by Quail Springs Publishing.  With the latest bouldering
craze the second edition of this guide is a handy addition. 

All guide books seem to have their limitations.  Joshua Tree is so popular
we are fortunate to have two guides to the park.  Both sets of guides are
valuable sources of information for the dedicated Joshua Tree climber. 
For the occasional visitor the Vogel guide is probably the one to choose. 

Finally, there are many ways to visit Joshua Tree.  Camping is available,
most of it for no cost.  Visit the Joshua Tree web site at to find
the latest information about camping at the park.