The Virgin's Guide To Climbing at Joshua Tree
First Time Climbing the Tree? Here's the Beta.
Whether you are coming to Joshua Tree to rock climb, hike, watch birds, look at plants, or work (it's a great photographer's location), a little bit of information goes a long way in making the trip more pleasurable.
This guide, though geared toward rock climbing, contains plenty of tips for other park users, much of which will not be found in commercial tour books: So—even if you could care less how they get the rope up there, or think those crazy climbers are all gonna die—read on!
These tips can be divided into several parts:
- Getting to Joshua Tree
- Pitching your tent
- Gearing up
- Climbing and finding partners and guides
- Joshua Tree amenities and attractions
1. Getting to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park (JTree), in San Bernardino County, is 140 miles east of Los Angeles, 175 miles northeast of San Diego, and 215 miles southwest of Las Vegas. If you're coming from LA or areas to the west of Jtree, Interstate 10 brings you to the park near the city of Indio. From points east, enter from roads intersecting Hwy 62, which is also called Twentynine Palms Highway.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles: How Do I Get to JTree?
The closest airport is in Palm Springs, but it is a small airport and flight/car rental options are more limited than the other viable airports of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Las Vegas is my personal preference simply because I enjoy the quiet desolation of the Mojave desert, taking the back roads instead of interstates. Vegas also often has more frequent flights, and lower airfares and rental car rates.
There are three entrances to the park. The west entrance comes in through the village of Joshua Tree, and brings visitors to the most popular climbing campgrounds (Hidden Valley and Ryan campgrounds) and crags.
The north entrance is in Twentynine Palms. Head south on Utah Trail Road, and you'll come to the Indian Cove campgrounds and crags.
The south entrance is at Cottonwood Spring, and can be approached from the east or west on Interstate 10.
You have no car, you say? Well.... though you CAN get to Jtree without one, it likely won't be a trip of convenience. The Morongo Basin Transit Authority does have a bus that runs from Palm Springs International Airport through Yucca Valley and on to Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms (along Hwy 62).
Once you're in the village of Joshua Tree, you'll need to hitch a ride into the Park. Your best bet is to get off at the Park Boulevard stop and head to Nomad Ventures or Coyote Corner, which are right on the intersection. See if anyone is going your way. It's a 12-mile walk to the park gate from the highway and then another 8 to Hidden Valley Campground, so you really do want to find a ride. The good news is that climbers are usually happy to give rides if they can. Once you are in the park, make an effort to get to know people who are camping, and you may get rides into town or get them to pick up water for you when they go in.
Once in the park, post your need for a ride returning to wherever it is you'll be going to on the Hidden Valley Campground bulletin board, along with a way to reach you (your campsite #). Being flexible with travel plans is a good idea.
Slip In and Out the Back, Jack! Vegas to Jtree Via Cima/Kelso/Amboy
The back road from Vegas to the Tree IS THE way to go, unless you get nervous being away from cel phone service, convenience stores, highway driving buddies and the like.
You'll cut your driving time down, quite a bit, by taking this path, but be forewarned—it IS desolate. You will see a few fellow travelers, and each year the number grows, but don't expect help to appear any time soon if your car has a breakdown along the way.
There will be NO stops for food, gas or lodging unless you have brought your own. There IS nothing to represent functioning civil society along the way other than Kelso Depot, an old steam engine rail depot that has been restored, about halfway through the route. There, you can stop and pee, and if the depot is open, visit a cool little railroad/mining museum. The Smithsonian, it is not.
Since there are no gas stations along the way, realize that means there's not going to be anyone to ask directions if you're feeling lost. People have marked road signs just before the turning points, so if you pay attention and follow the subtle cues (like a big black arrow painted below the road name!), you'll make it without fail. Just keep in mind—the "towns" you'll head toward are Cima, Kelso, Amboy and Twentynine Palms, along with Joshua Tree National Park. Don't turn and head toward anywhere else, or you will find yourself back tracking several miles. The good news is that there really aren't that many intersections one can make a wrong turn at.
That said, it is a wonderful drive. The solitude is an excellent way to decompress from any stress you are running away from, and on the way home, it's a nice way to slink back into the faster pace you'll probably be returning to. The desert is an incredibly beautiful place, so do take some time to enjoy the scenery.
Also - watch out for roaming cattle! I have never seen any myself, but am told that ranchers DO have grazing permits in this corridor of land. The LAST thing you want to do is crash your car when you are hours from anywhere.
I have posted the driving directions from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree via Cima/Kelso/Amboy on my blog for your reference. If you intend to go that way take a look and copy the information.
Welcome To Joshua Tree
2. Pitching Your Tent
Finding a Site
Camping, and park access itself, involve fees which seem to be increasing quite frequently in recent years.
As of 2008, there is a $15 per car entry fee for the park, good for seven days. Yearly passes for Joshua Tree are $30, or $80 and gains access to all National Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Forest Service lands($10 for U.S. citizens over 62). There's also a 7-Day Single Entry Permit which costs $5, for one person entering on foot, bicycle, motorcycle, or horse.
The entrance booths are manned from approximately 8am to 5pm Sunday through Thursday, and as late as 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights.
Camping fees range from $10 to $15. There is a limit on the number of days one may stay. There is a 30-day camping limit each year, and only 14 nights total may occur from October through May.
Joshua Tree has several campgrounds within the park boundaries, the preferred favorite among climbers being Hidden Valley Campground. The likely reason is that there are so many classic routes within walking distance, which in the dirtbag days created the tradition of camping in Hidden Valley.
Campsites are nestled within the various rock formations, offering some privacy and protection form the wind for those who are thinking about those things. Speaking of the elements—during the cooler months, when Jtree is most heavily visited, some people prefer to choose a site that receives morning sun. Considering the temperature change from dark to dawn, this is ALWAYS of importance to me on a winter trip.
If you are traveling solo, you'll have your best chance of finding pick-up partners in this campground as well. People post their availability or need for partners on the bulletin boards, and hang out in the parking lot near Intersection Rock, hoping to meet others.
Ryan Campground is the second choice for climbers who want to be near other climbers (read: NOT camped next to the 30-foot RV with a cranking generator). It has less of the touristy/gumby social scene so evident at Hidden Valley, and if you prefer quiet nights but want to camp centrally located, it may be a better choice. Of course, you may still find a group of partiers has moved in next door, but at least you can make an attempt at finding a peaceful night's sleep.
Indian Cove, near Twentynine Palms, is popular for those who may be coming for just a short stay and intending to climb mostly in that area, or have found they prefer the slightly warmer temperatures due to the difference in elevation. Keep in mind there are no roads within the park connecting Indian Cove to other areas. You would drive back out to Hwy 62 and enter the park at the West Entrance in Joshua Tree.
Jumbo/Belle and White Tanks are actually quite nice campgrounds. Their drawback is the distance from the more popular climbing areas.
On Sharing Campsites
In season, particularly around holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Years, and Spring Break), it is often a "take what one can get" situation. Sites are limited, people are plenty. If you're arriving on Friday night or Halloween weekend, don't be surprised to find "Campgrounds Full" signs at each of the entrances. In season, DON'T ARRIVE ON FRIDAY NIGHT, or worse, Saturday, and expect to find a choice of campsites!
Such an arrival brings up the question of whether a campsite is occupied and whether it can be shared.
It is tradition in Jtree that if someone has placed an article prominently within the campsite, it means "Occupied." This practice harkens back to the days when people came for the winter, without cars or much else. They might have a sleeping bag and pad stowed in a rock crevice.
So, if you see a fuel canister or similar thing set lonely dead center on the picnic table, think real hard before making yourself cozy, thinking "Wow! I can't believe this great site is the only one open!"
People generally ARE willing to share, though they aren't obligated to do so. The park rule is two cars per site, and three tents maximum. On weekends, the car limit WILL be enforced, and the ticket was $50 per offense as of spring 2008.
If you do find a couple of people willing to share their site, you should offer to pay for the nights you will be there and don't impose yourself. They may be fun people you find yourself laughing over beers with around the campfire but that doesn't come free with the territory. YOU were the one who didn't know the deal and arrived too late.
What to do when other people don't know the deal and arrive too late? A few years ago I was camped in my regular spot, the Stem Gem site. I had a two-person tent staked out, quite obvious to anyone driving past. The end of the picnic table held my stove, fuel and a few cooking items, and I had a huge cache of wood stacked next to the fire pit.
What a surprise it was to me to come home just after dark one Saturday night to find a big cooler plonked on the table bench right next to my stuff. With all sorts of cooking stuff littering the tabletop.
I looked around and saw the perpetrators. They had staked their tent RIGHT in front of Stem Gem, one of the most popular boulder problems in the park.
"Hmmm," I thought to myself. "How rude."
Of course I knew they had arrived late and moved in to what was one of the best, most obvious choices available. I generally am more than happy to share my space. But when I heard them talking and giggling in their tent, clearly not asleep yet, I thought it was pretty odd they didn't come out to say hi and ask if it was okay.
It annoyed me considerably that they had taken over the picnic table, and I expected they were tourists because they parked themselves in front of an obvious boulder problem. But I really found it unacceptable that they didn't at least pop their head out of the tent.
Finally, a young woman comes out and says "We thought this spot was open. There was no tag on the post." (The park service has posts near the parking spots where one 'tags' the site with their payment stub. I had been in town, getting cash among other things, and had not yet placed the tag.)
She seemed to be a bit brazen in the assumption the site was theirs for the taking and eve seemed to be implying I was in THEIR site! It also was evident that her cowardly boyfriend in the tent had sent her out to do the dirty work. This did not go over well with me, and I let it be known. After all, a tent, a stove, and a pile of stacked wood should be indicators enough that the site was occupied.... But I let them stay.
Don't be that sort of person. It's just poor style on all counts.
Expecting Peace and Quiet?
The campgrounds can be noisy at night. People party and drink beer. What can you do. I'll tell you one thing: going over and asking them to quiet down usually won't make much of a difference. If they were considerate, they wouldn't be bellowing out into the night sky at midnight in the first place!
But in the morning is when it's most obvious ... The desert is cold until the sun makes a show and begins to warm things up. To wit, many people sleep in a bit later than others might expect. Sound carries easily amongst those rock formations (as you no doubt may have noticed the night before....what a surprise to find your next door neighbor wasn't the culprit and that it was the crew of young guys ten campsites down the road!).
Be considerate of others. You may be limited with time on vacation and want to be on the rock at sunrise. But it's extremely likely that those around you are hoping to sleep at least until 8 am and let the sun warm them before having to race out in the cold for their morning pee. Especially if you might be needing a bit of beta on the area—good routes, how and where to find them, things like that—it's nice if you haven't peeved the one you're asking help of by waking them up to banging pots and shouts of how awesome the trip is going to be....
There are fees to camp in the park. $10/night at Hidden Valley as of spring 2008. Especially on weekends, a ranger will be by to check for that little payment stub on your post! They are very nice about it, but they do take note. If you prefer not to be on the ranger radar, you want to avoid obvious things like appearing unwilling to pay for your campsite. Just saying.....
When Campgrounds Are Full
Where do you go when there's "no room at the inn"?
One can camp in the back country within the park. The Boy Scout Trail is one option. Coming form the West Park Entrance, pull into the parking area 0.7 miles past Trash Can Rock (Quail Springs). To legally camp, one must sign the back country registry located near the trailhead, and camp one mile from the trail. No open fires are allowed.
There are other back country trails, of course, but this IS the Virgin's Guide to Joshua Tree, after all...
Outside of the park, there are other options, from primitive camping to motels and rental homes.
For dirtbags and those with limited means, "The Pit" is often a good choice. Located right in Joshua Tree, it allows the conveniences of town. Don't get the wrong idea from the website, which is outdated. The Pit IS primitive camping with no amenities, including any campground host. There is no trash receptacle nor privy. Pack OUT what you pack in, as far as trash goes, and make plans as to how you will manage your personal toilette. You need to keep a low profile, and park vehicles or set up tent or bivy in the lower portion of the site. Do NOT park/camp on the upper ridge area.
There are also places you can camp on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) acreage nearby. Located north of Hwy 62, just east of the village, is a dry lake bed available for multiple uses, including camping. Again, practice "Leave No Trace" ethics if you camp there, or you will likely find yours have been erased when you return.
This area is used by other recreationists, which may include ATV's, radio-operated flying planes, and target shooters with semi-automatic firearms.
If sleeping on the ground or in tents is going to be a problem for you, there are various motels along Hwy 62 between Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. Check the local Chambers of Commerce for the listings of motels and other businesses.
- Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce
- Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce
- Twentynine Palms Chamber of Commerce
For those who want privacy and the comforts and conveniences of a home setting, contact Joshua Tree Vacation Homes and reserve Sahara House if it's available. Run by a local climber, it's located near the Indian Cove entrance, and is fully equipped with all the amenities.
For those who really want to make a trip to remember, reserve a cabin or suite at the 29 Palms Inn. The Inn (formerly The Oasis) a series of rustic wood-frame and adobe cabins built in the early 1900s, each with a magical charm all its own. Their website goes into great detail for each abode and is worth taking the time to peruse simply to know about such a place.
If you've talked your not-so-outdoorsy loved one into a climbing trip for your anniversary, this is one way to make the trip a more romantic getaway.
3. Gearing Up
Outdoor Adventure and Gear Shops in JTree
There's always something you forgot to pack, whether it's sunscreen or one of your climbing shoes. The good news is that outdoors shops are reasonably close to the West Entrance of the park. You'll need stove fuel anyway, if you are flying into the area. Keep in mind that stores close early!
Nomad Ventures is one of those climbing stores where you can get anything you need to have a great time in Joshua Tree. The staff is knowledgeable about the area and happy to give you good information. The spacious store has a wide selection of climbing gear, technical clothing, camping supplies, climbing guidebooks, and other outdoors-related reading.
Get your stove fuel here, AND if convenient, drop off your unused fuel when you head out if you can't take it with you. They'll offer the partial canisters to other visitors who may be able to use it. That person might be you!
- Nomads is located right on the corner of Hwy 62 and Park Boulevard (the road which leads to the West Entrance of JTNP). Hours vary depending on the day of the week and season, so make note of them when you visit, to avoid missing them when you need something.
- Coyote Corner is just across the street from Nomad's. They do have a small selection of climbing/camping gear but that's not really their niche. Coyote Corner is more of a social place. You go there for showers, to fill up on water, to use the wireless internet, and get tourist-with-a-flair t-shirts, gifts and other items. Need a nifty cowboy style hat? Coyote Corner's where it's at.
- JTree Outfitters is geared more toward the backpacker, hiker, and camper. They, too, have a selection of gear for purchase, but what makes Joshua Tree Outfitters great is their gear rental program: tents, sleeping bags, bouldering pads, folding camp chairs, and who knows what else. They've got it available for rent at reasonable cost.
There's a Super Wal-Mart in Yucca Valley. You can't miss the sign as you near in on Hwy 62. They carry camping gear, as you might expect to see at a Wal-Mart.
Where's the Water?
Water, water, everywhere? Not in the park, there isn't.
There is NO WATER available within the park, EXCEPT at the West Entrance, Oasis Visitor Center (Twentynine Palms entrance), and Indian Cove Ranger Station.
At the park entrances, you slot a quarter into the system and get a certain volume of water or a certain fill time (whichever is used up first). Have your water containers ready to go so as not to waste the water in between filling jugs.
Coyote Corner has a water tap in the back of their store, near the shower rooms. You can fill up your water there, and leave a donation.
Nomad Ventures also has a water spigot outside, and they do not mind climbers using it. The location is on the south side of the building, near the back.
Of course, one can also buy water at the convenience stores on Hwy 62 or supermarkets in Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms.
Plan accordingly! Stay hydrated for health, performance and safety, especially in the springtime when the sun and heat can sap your strength in minutes.
An old rule of thumb was to refill any time one went into town. Better to have a bit extra water than find yourself having to make the trip because you ran out.
Stock Up with Gas
Here's an idea: Check your gauge and top off your tank before heading into the park! The drive between there and most campgrounds is 12 to 20 miles one way. Consider that you may also be driving to various crags to climb, and that it can easily slip your mind to fill up on a run into town when you're tired and hungry from a day hard at play.
It's easy to burn more fuel than you expect to, with the slow speed limits and winding roads. The last thing you want is to discover you absolutely NEED to go into town for gas before thinking about doing anything else.
And I can tell you - again through personal experience - If you DO run out of gas, be prepared to shell out FIFTEEN DOLLARS for a plastic gas jug at the Valero station. A USELESS $15 jug because it doesn't even come with a spout.
Actually, I didn't find this out by running out of gas. But it's a long story and this lens is already quite lengthy. Suffice it to say, a down sleeping bag AND a full set of cams were doused by the vomiting spray of one of these cheap-sheet jugs.
WalMart in Yucca Valley may not be such a price gouger of people under duress, but it's a good 15 miles further down the road(and then back again...) to get there.
FEED ME! Food Around Joshua Tree
There is no food in the park, unless you are the type to show up at someone's campfire just as they're about to fix dinner. The drive into town may or not be reason enough for you to stock up before arrival.
There are grocery stores in Twentynine Palms and also in Yucca Valley.
The town of Joshua Tree has no large market, but does have a a few quick-stop gas, beer and soda stations. There you can get chips, microwave burritos, and basics like white bread and peanut butter, Chef Boyardee-type canned foods, and noodles-in-a-cup heat-and-eat meals. As of spring 2008, a Subway sandwich shop had taken up space as a franchise in the gas station store at West Park Boulevard (main entrance to JTree) and Hwy 62 (but go to Sam's Market for a much better sub sandwich!).
In Joshua Tree, there is a Farmer's Market on Saturdays, from 8:00am to 2:00pm. The location is 29 Palms Highway (Highway 62) at Turtle Island between Hillview Rd. and Sunset Rd.
In Yucca Valley, there's a health food store (Sue's Health Foods) with a selection of dried bulk items such as hummus and split pea soup, excellent for use in camping. It's at 56840 29 Palms Hwy, Yucca Valley, CA 92284, (760) 365-1158.
4. Climbing and Finding Partners and Guides
Route-Finding and Getting Back to Terra Firma
What the climbs of Joshua Tree lack in vertical height, they make up for with exposure and adventure. And then some. This is not the place for a new or timid leader to be pushing their limits, nor for those without a plan, and lacking experience, to just come and give it a shot. Certainly you can find plenty of people to give you some helpful hints, but if that's your agenda, be humble in asking and grateful for the assistance.
To start with, the park is very large and crags are widely spaced. Due to the sheer number of documented routes (more than 7,000 served!), and an unlimited amount of new routes possible, it can be very easy to become disoriented. At first, many of the formations might look similar: sort of like piles of mega-sized dinosaur duty. The guidebooks in print are already inches think and heavy, and simply cannot accommodate the sort of detailed topographical maps that make a walk in the park as simple as connecting the dotted lines.
One main road, Park Boulevard, runs through the majority of the park and winds its way around the various formations. Nature dictates, to some extent, where man may roam, but the Parks Department engineers also want drivers to slow down, and created the roadway with that purpose in mind. Thus, when you come upon a formation, what you think is North could actually be an entirely different direction. There's no moss growing on trees to help you out, although one who is aware certainly CAN read the natural signs and discern their direction.
Because of these things, it may be difficult to know exactly WHICH face you are looking at—or even which formation. Some people even get lost looking for Hemingway Buttress, finding themselves looking up the massive face of the Lost Horse Wall and wondering where the hell Poodles Are People Too runs.
Once a formation is confirmed, the first-time visitor still isn't out of the woods, or off the scramble, more accurately. Lines indicated on photos in guidebooks are vague, and if the picture is shot form an angle just a few degrees off from your viewpoint, they're not always easy to discern.
Those smallish piles of rocks in the photo, that seem to be laying along the cliff base? In reality, they're probably a lot larger; maybe as big as a bus. There's a lot of them, and to get to the start of some climbs, they need to be navigated by crawling over, under and around. Fun, but not always a straightforward approach, to be sure! Be careful as you move; the bigger they are, the harder they fall and a huge boulder could very well be balanced on a pinpoint that, pushed just right, sends it into play.
By far the easiest way to dip one's hand into the cracks and get the rubber to meet the routes is to follow someone who knows their way around. Not only do they already have an idea as to where the formations and routes are located, they probably can keep you in or out of the sun, wind and shade as desired. Considering the weather extremes that fluctuate throughout the average DAY in Joshua Tree, this is not a luxury to be taken for granted!
Of course, not everyone is interested in having their hands held. The person with good orienteering skills, an ability to read a route, and common sense will find JTree an enjoyable adventure which can be as easy or challenging as they like. However, it is still a good idea to allow yourself extra time in getting between routes, and also getting on a few easy climbs to become accustomed to the sometimes tricky gear placements, widely spaced bolts, and meandering walk-off descents.
Sport Climbing in JTree
Guess again. Though many face routes ARE bolted, they are by no means what most people consider to be sport climbing routes. The ethics in Joshua Tree are old school and adhered to. Climbs are put up from the ground up and bolts are drilled at stance. Some bolts are spaced widely enough that if you blow it, you will be hurt or hit the ground.
Not only that, just because a face climb is bolted, there's no guarantee you'll find a bolted anchor at the top. If there is natural protection available, that is what your expected to use. On some extremely popular routes, you may find those bolted anchors, but don't assume they will be there.
So - when there's no bolted anchors up top, nor any trees to throw a rope around and rap off, how does one get down?
Walk This Way
The traditional way to get off formations in JTree is to walk. Rap anchors were placed only when there was no alternative descent route. Some very popular routes(Walk on the Wild Side, as an example) are now outfitted with bolts, but don't take for granted that there's an express ride back to the ground.
Some walk-offs are very exposed and may include a 5th class move or two. The Bong, a 5.4 popular with many newish leaders, has a descent with a move that makes getting off more committing than leading the route. More than one person has set up a cordelette sling and rapped those few feet rather than make the move unaided. Just because a route is on the lower end of the ratings scale doesn't mean the walk-off is of a similar level.
What About Protection?
The guidebooks on Joshua Tree do not advise protection ratings (G, PG, R, and X, as has become popular in some areas). Just because you can see a continuous crack doesn't mean the climb protects easily and thoroughly.
Joshua Tree cracks and pods tend to be flaring, which can make getting good pro more challenging than what you may be used to at your local crag. The rock is also extremely crystallized, which means a placement that seems bomber may actually be useless, if you take a hefty whipper.
Strawberry Jam (5.9) - Outhouse Rock, East Face. Hidden Valley Campground
After stepping over a chasm onto tenuous footholds, this leader wants to quickly get a good fist jam to gain security. Strawberry Jam got it's name when the first ascensionist topped out and saw what those all that jamming did to his hands.... The classic 5.9 route is in the Hidden Valley Campground section, on the Outhouse Rock formation.
Good Guidance: Climbing Guidebooks and Online Beta
The easiest way to get a lot of climbing in, for a person at Jtree their first time, is to have a real-live human being familiar with climbing in the park to show you around. Of course, not everybody wants this, but it is quite easy to hook up with someone at least a little bit at the beginning of a trip, if desired. Or stop by your neighbor's campsites and get a little bit of help.
Unless you are quite confident in your abilities, it really is a good idea to have one of the many published guidebooks along to help navigate. I've talked to many people out there who didn't want to shell out the cash, and what they saved in money was wasted tenfold in time.
The place is simply so vast, so spread out, and so full of similar-looking terrain, that one can easily become disoriented. The beta available off the web or from others in town or around the park, which seemed so simple when you got it, tends to be not so easy to figure out in reality.
Going by the Book
As I just wrote, there are many climbing guidebooks written about Joshua Tree. They all have their pluses and minuses, of course, and everyone's got an opinion as to which ones are worthwhile.
I've linked some of the books available through Amazon.com below. Nomad Ventures in Joshua Tree carries them, and a good number of additional books as well. Here's what I know(or don't!):
1. The Trad Guide to Joshua Tree
Many climbers who would know consider "The Trad Guide to Joshua Tree" to be an excellent resource for someone visiting Joshua Tree for a one time, or time-limited, trip. The book focuses on the most classic moderate routes and provides detailed information helpful to the person unfamiliar with the park.
Many people say this is a great book for the person who is probably not going to be making return trips to Jtree, or for someone on a tight timeline who wants to get in as much climbing on classic routes as possible, and leads within the 5.5-5.9 range.
The book is well laid out, detailed and accurate. One downfall, especially for the person relying on it during a weekend in prime season, is that the routes are THE most popular ones in the park, and so you can anticipate someone may be there before you. With only a small list of routes (because they're also varied from 5.5 to 5.9), you could easily find yourself without a route to climb when, if you had a more thorough book, you might easily see there are options just round the corner of the formation.
2. Rock Climbing Joshua Tree
Randy Vogel has compiled an extensive guidebook covering the entire park. Updated editions are broken down by area, but as of autumn 2008, only Joshua Tree West is available in stores. If you want to climb extensively throughout the park, "Rock Climbing Joshua Tree" is an excellent resource.
Rock Climbing Joshua Tree is the earlier version of Vogel's books. It includes routes throughout the entire park, certainly enough to last a lifetime.
The book is quite good, and considering the sheer number of routes included, one should not expect to have their hand held. The book does not detail the "sun condition" on the formations as the newer version does, so one would have to....think for themselves about such things.
Rock Climbing Joshua Tree West: Quail Springs to Hidden Valley Campground. This is Randy Vogel's most recent guidebook, an update to Rock Climbing Joshua Tree.
It the most comprehensive book available for the areas covered, with details on descents, and when formations are in the sun and shade. As the title says, it covers the western area of the park, to Hidden Valley Campground.
The book begins with a fairly detailed history of climbing in JTree, which is quite interesting. The history is not complete though, and will continue in the upcoming guidebooks which will cover other areas in the park.
And there's the drawback of this book; it does not include areas east of Hidden Valley (such as Echo, Sheep Pass, Hall of Horrors, Jumbo, etc.). The next book is due out either fall of 2008, or early 2009.
3. A Complete Bouldering Guide to Joshua Tree National Park
A Complete Bouldering Guide to Joshua Tree National Park by Robert Miramontes is an excellent bouldering guidebook. It may be out of print, but often used copies are available. Nomad Ventures may still stock the book.
As is standard for Joshua Tree, the guidebook divides the park by areas. There are many boulder problems listed right in Hidden Valley Campground, as well as Real Hidden Valley and the surrounding areas. If you are interested in bouldering at all, it is a book well worth getting your hands on. Details are good, and considering the countless boulders that abound in the park, the author does a surprisingly good job at mapping them out for ease in navigation.
4. Ian Bartlett's Guides
lan Bartlett has authored several guides for the park, and broken them down in separate editions for the various area—Indian Cove, Hidden Valley, Lost Horse Area, Central Joshua Tree, West Wonderlands, etc. Many old school climbers seem to have these as their choice, and I've been told they are fine books: accurate, with decent topos, and particularly nice because of the smaller size. With the areas in Joshua Tree being so far flung, it's very unlikely that a person needs to have more than one or two of the books in a day. The rest can be stowed in the vehicle or at camp when not needed, and the weight savings is nice, if more a psychological savings.
Where There's a Will, There's a Way: Online Databases
As mentioned earlier, some people don't want to pay the price for a guidebook. Everyone has their own reasons as to why they wouldn't want a guidebook, but I can tell you I have run into more than a few such people all too thrilled to borrow my guidebook for a day(if I am climbing with someone else and can spare it).
Think twice about believing you can simply rely on, or even remember, word of mouth details, or ask others when you're at the crags. Chances are good they will be about as familiar with the place as you are, and with the crags as dispersed as they are, you don't run into people as frequently as you might expect.
However—if you insist on going the non-guidebook route, you can get quite a bit of detail on nearly every popular route online. You won't have any map overviews—which are REALLY helpful—nor a topo pointing out routes on the formation. But....well, it's better than nothing.
What these databases really excel at are providing a little more detail about the actual climbing on the routes. Whereas a guidebook often will not advise information such as particular gear likely to be used or beta about crux moves, the stuff abounds on the internet route databases.
As with anything in climbing, consider that the information may be wrong, you may actually be on a route different than you thought you were, or that your ability may be different than those who have provided notes on the route.
Mountain Project's route database is equipped with a nice tool to help you plan your trip. You can enter parameters such as ratings, style (bolted, gear, toprope) and number of stars designating route quality and let the site compile a list based on your criteria. This is a great resource to take advantage of in addition to using a guidebook, of course.
Joshua Tree Climb is a website created and maintained by Jtree local Todd Gordon, and has not only tons of great information on the park but is THE source to go to for information on the latest new routes. There's also a discussion forum populated by helpful climbers who live in the area. They DO know the ins and outs of the back areas within JTNP, so if you like a little more adventure than most in your climbing, they can point you in the right direction.
RockClimbing.com's Jtree Overview is a similar database - listing routes by crag, rating and with comments by people familiar with the routes.
Finding Partners in JTree
Joshua Tree may be the easiest climbing crag in the states to pick up partners on the spot. With a little advance planning, one can put together a trip filled with quality climbing and an abundance of people to get out there with.
Between the months of October through April, the place is a revolving door of travelers coming from around the world. During holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas to New Years and Spring Break), the masses flock there. A good number of dirtbags also winter in the area and, of course, there is a local contingent of climbing bums.
Everyone has different styles. I'm not very good at meeting people on the spot, but many people simply take a walk around the campgrounds once they settle in and see who's around. Talk usually gets around to climbing fairly quickly and it's easy enough for both to see if you might make a good match, at least superficially. Routes are short in Joshua Tree and if things look like they aren't what was expected, it's easy enough to get out of the commitment.
There are bulletin boards located in every campground, and people often post their partner requests on them. If you are camped at a site in other than Hidden Valley Campground, it's a good idea to post at HV, as that is where the greatest concentration of climbers stay. It's also where people go to look for pick up partners, by checking the boards, walking the sites, or hanging in the parking lot of Intersection Rock.
Speaking of which, people do congregate in the parking lot at Intersection Rock, especially on weekend mornings. It's a popular place for those coming in for day trips to meet up with others, and also for the solo climber on the prowl for partners. Bear in mind that these are more the weekend-warrior sort of folks who come to Jtree frequently and it's not as laid back a way to partner up as other options.
Back to the bulletin boards: as mentioned before, Hidden Valley Campground IS the place to post. There are actually three or four bulletin boards in the place, and this can create confusion for those who aren't familiar.
The one that most people refer to when they say "I'll post on the board" is located in the central ring of Loop A, and the bulletin board is located next to the recycling cans. There is a secondary bulletin board near an outhouse situated between the campground and intersection rock, and that's where the confusion can come about. If you're looking for a note from someone and don't see it in one place, check the other!
There are some areas in the park very popular with top-roping groups, such as Echo Cove, the Atlantis Wall, Trashcan Rock and (in Indian Cove) the Short Wall. If you can't find anyone to rope up with, and really want to get on something, you can usually ask if you can run up a route someone has already got a rope on.
Setting up partners beforehand through internet discussion forums has become the standard for many travelers. Several sites, Rock Climbing.com, Mountain Project, and Summit Post, have forums specifically dedicated to finding partners. Supertopo has no dedicated forum, but if you are a seasoned climber and come seeking partners, chances are good you will get a response from some of the locals or other people who intend to be in the area at the same time.
What About Human Guides?
Perhaps you have only just started climbing, have the chance to take a trip to Joshua Tree, but aren't ready to get out there and lead routes or set up top ropes. Or, maybe you are traveling solo and have just a short amount of time to get the most climbing possible done.
The services of a rock climbing guide might be the right choice for you. Joshua Tree National Park allows three local guide services to work with clients in the park. Each of these companies offers a wide array of packages from a one-on-one day designed to attain your specific goals, to group courses in the basics of climbing.
The guiding companies that currently have license to guide in JTNP are:
- Cliffhanger Guides
- Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School
- The Climbing Life Guides
- Uprising Adventure Guides
- Vertical Adventures Rock Climbing School
If you are traveling from another part of the country, it might be possible that a guide service from your area also has an agreement allowing them to offer guide services in the park. In this scenario, the fee you pay will include the guides travel expenses, but for a trip of several days, it may be worthwhile to have someone you may have already worked with. or have checked out through your local network.
Bouldering In Joshua Tree
A pick-up partner whom I met in JTree had never been to the place before. He'd heard about the famous Gunsmoke Traverse and wanted to check it out, and so we headed over.
I showed him other nearby boulder problems, and also "The Chube." He watched as a few people tried the opening moves, each falling off about 2/3 way up. He then went for an attempt and sent it first shot. In approach shoes.
Joshua Tree is a bouldering mecca. The place seems to be built for it! With countless problems within a short distance of any direction you turn, days on end can be filled with climbing at just about any difficulty.
A Complete Bouldering Guide to Joshua Tree National Park by Robert Miramontes is an excellent guidebook, though currently out of print.
Probably the most well-known bouldering area in the park the Gunsmoke Traverse in the Braker Dam area. First completed by John Bachar, Gunsmoke is a popular place to go for socializing at day's end, as it receives the last of the sun. The golden hour also gets you beautiful photos!
Though there are several highball problems at the location, for the most part Gunsmoke has very clean landings, which also probably account for at least some of its popularity.
The area also is home to other classic boulder problems such as "The Chube" and "Streetcar Named Desire."
Hidden Valley Campground boasts numerous excellent boulder problems, such as Stem Gem and Caveman Problem, and Real Hidden Valley is a goldmine of bouldering where you'll find many of the old classics out up by the Johns - Bachar, Long and Yablonski - and other old school masters.
A portion of the east- (or west-facing) wall on the Gunsmoke Traverse.
A Few Good Tips for Your Hands
Jtree climbing ain't just about footwork. Watch your hands!
Putting your hands to rock in Joshua Tree is like wearing gloves with a 1000-grit sandpaper lining. The stone has....friction. And that's an understatement.
If you aren't careful, you'll blow the tips right off your mitts on the first day, and there goes the rest of your trip.
Can't have that happening!
Especially if you're bouldering, take it easy at first. Make your placements and stick them. Don't paw at the rock or you'll be sorry. Same with jamming the cracks. Many a person has found themselves with gobies and rock rash, putting themselves out of commission for days.
To really do things luxe, get a helping hand for your hands.
I've used Climb On, Joshua Tree Climbing Salve, and a few others; they're all good. Both Climb On! bar and Joshua Tree Climbers Salve are specifically formulated to help rehab the bruised and broken flesh that comes from hard climbing. Burt's Bees also makes a similar hand salve (not specifically for climbers), though I have not tried that product myself.
Both Climb On! and JT Climbers Salve are great. They both WORK, which is to say that once you apply the salve you'll feel lessened sting on your tenderized appendages, and see a speed record attempt for the healing of abrasions and outright gashes in the flesh.
Climb On! is a more solid bar, and leaves less noticeable coating, whereas JTCS has a slight greasy feeling for a few minutes. JTCS can be scooped out and really slathered on, which provides emotional support when you're really hurting!
Be sure to clean your hands before dabbing into the salves as they are wax-based. Any bit of dirt will become part of the mix, and like sand in an oyster's craw, is going to be an irritant.
For extra relief, before going to sleep at night, apply a good dose. Wake up in the morning refreshed and with renewed skin—ready to rumble another day.
Both Climb On! and Joshua Tree Climbers salve are available throughout the town of Joshua Tree, for sale at gear shops and gift shops; even the Crossroads Cafe carries one of the products.
Tips for Your Feet
Maybe you took it easy on your fingertips; how are your shoes holding up?
With the megafriction one can get on just about any surface in Joshua Tree, it's not unreasonable to find yourself in need of more rubber than you've got currently available.
Maybe you needed a resole before you came and now, thinking you can eke out a few more days of use before sending them to the shop, find yourself with bald spots. Maybe you really could stand to improve your footwork....and it shows! Maybe you dropped a shoe during a walk-off and now it's gone, gone, gone. Amazing how deep some of those caverns in the talus fields go....
If you need shoes - the good news is there is help available!
The most obvious recourse is getting a new pair at Nomad Ventures. They stock a really good, diverse inventory and are happy to take the time and work with you to get a new pair.
During the climbing season, manufacturers sometimes run shoe demos at Nomads, so check in with them before heading to the Tree. Although you'll have some restrictions - picking up and returning the shoes within the time frame, for example - shoe demos give you a chance to try out new styles.
Nomads does have a used shoe bin, though I haven't checked it out. And, of course they stock Shoe Goo so you can make emergency roadside repairs.
Positive Resoles is the local resole shop. Drop off/pick up your shoes through Nomad Ventures.
Running Hot and Cold
Temperature extremes are the norm in the desert.
The desert tells you the truth whether you're interested in it or not. The sands act as magnifying lenses (silica IS the basis of glass, after all), reflecting the sun's rays onto rock formations made of similar materials. Once the sun passes over the horizon, it's as if a switch has been flipped off, and the heat quickly dissipates.
Especially in the winter months, be prepared for a very quick drop in temperature. A lovely day in the upper sixties can drop to low forties within the time it takes you to rap off a formation and get back to your parked car, so plan accordingly.
Layering clothing is the obvious solution. A good down jacket will become like a security blanket; you'll snuggle right in, happy to have it for nights in camp, morning preparations, and even on windy days when you're climbing on the shaded side of a formation.
Winter nights usually drop below forty degrees and can go lower. A good down sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees is a must-have if you're tenting or sleeping under the stars. Go with one rated to zero degrees and you'll be happier, especially if you don't handle cold temperatures well.
Some people boil a pot of water and fill a plastic bottle (Nalgene or similar), then slip that into the bottom of the sleeping bag fpr use as a bedwarmer. Of course, make sure the lid's not leaking. Another trick is to drape your down jacket over the lower portion of your bag. I have found this to be quite luxurious and much nicer than the Nalgene hot water bottle.
Of course you want a hat, not only to protect yourself from sunburn during the day, but to help retain heat at night.
Personally, I don't take to the cold very well, and I want to have a base layer on BEFORE the sun sets. In winter, once that sun dips into the west, it's just too damned cold to think about dropping my drawers to add that base! I'll toss the set into my daypack and change in some natural cranny at the crag before my last climb if the day. If I'm heading into town for dinner - I bring the long undies along! What a sense of richness, to wash up in a public restroom, brush my teeth and slip my base layer on before heading back to camp.
The Valero gas station at Park Boulevard and Hwy 62 has a decently sized restroom (as best as can be expected in a public facility) which one can use easily. Beatnik Cafe and Crossroads Cafe also have good bathrooms, though of course you want to patronize the place if possible.
Do You Feel a Breeze?
Joshua Tree can get windy. Sometimes REALLY windy. Batten down the hatches when you pitch your tent, and realize that a sunny, calm day can turn to afternoon windstorms without any indication the gusts are headed your way.
In most places where camping is popular, the ground is playa; hard-packed sand which may or may not be actual rock. You simply cannot drive a tent stake into the stuff. Bring accessory cord, and plenty of it, when you tent camp in Jtree.
There are usually large rocks and small boulders in the area surrounding the various campsites. Often you can tell where the person who was there before you staked their claim by the four or five small boulders that seem to be spaced in a tent-sized shape.
If you neglect this important component, a quick fix is to put some rocks (bowling-ball-sized) in your tent until you can tie down. It's a good idea to layer something beneath the rock in case whipping winds do strike. I had a brand new tent ruined in one afternoon's springtime wind and it was not a cheapie tent, either! The good news is that Campmor has incredible customer satisfaction standards, and refunded in full, no questions asked. Poles were bent, the seams were ripped out in three places and the fly had been sand-blasted; pinhole abrasions in several spots. A strong gale WILL pick your tent up off the ground, and with heavy rocks inside, you might find a ripped floor as a consequence.
If I haven't made it clear enough, I'll reiterate the issue; don't underestimate the wind! Coming back to camp on a windy afternoon it's quite normal to see pots, pans, bags of food and trash impaled on cholla spears and tangled amongst low-lying desert brush. Tents DO take flight, only to be stopped when they are....impaled on cholla, tangled in brush, or the winds die down.
If you see a neighbor's not been thinking, and the winds are making off with their gear, it's an accepted kindness in JTree to salvage what you can for them, as best you can. Most if us have come home, completely unaware there was any problem, and wondered why out kitchen supplies were all gathered in a pile, sandwiched between our cooler and a water hug with a few rocks completing the corral. It's nice to know people will watch out for each other.
Watching Your Back: Is JTree the Wild West?
It's not likely that you'll suffer the same fate at JTree as Worth Bagley, to whom the stone marker shown here was dedicated after he bit the dust at the hands of Bill Keyes, but common sense dictates a few things.
Personal safety isn't really an issue in the park. People are generally very friendly and willing to look out for each other. When a big wind comes ripping out of nowhere and everything you didn't tie down takes flight, it's likely someone else will go running to gather your goods and stow them more safely in your site. So, if you come back and see your tabletop's cleared, take a look in your tent before freaking out.
As for leaving gear out, there have occasionally been thefts. Infrequently, and not at the level one can find in some destinations, but it does seem like a good idea not to tempt fate by leaving your rack unattended, or electronic equipment in plain sight in your open tent.
In town, things can be more problematic. If staying at the Pit, don't leave your tent alone or you may find yourself with no place to sleep that night.
Car break-ins in town aren't rampant, but have been known to happen. It is a poor area, known for some problems with meth addicts. When leaving a parked car, stow away valuables and even things you wouldn't imagine anyone would steal. Lock doors, pickup shells, and campers, and try not to leave the vehicle in an isolated area.
Lions and Tigers and Bears?
No - not really, although if you are lucky you might see a bobcat! But even worse, the chipmunks and marmots are RUTHLESS! They WILL abscond with any food you leave out, and if they're thirsty, will gnaw through the thin plastic of your solar shower if they can get a grip on it.
One day a few years ago, I rolled into camp and noticed things seemed...off. I noticed my collapsible nylon dish bin was hanging from a tree branch instead of on the picnic table where I'd left it.
Thinking it odd, I didn't even NOTICE my missing cooler until I went to the wash bin and saw a brick of cheese stashed within. MY cheese. With a corner missing!
Whirling around I quickly scanned camp for the rest of my food only to see it missing in action. Upon further scrutiny, I began to find clues, in the form of cooler crumbs scattered about. Following the styrofoam trail, I managed to locate what was left of my cooler. It had been carried a good 25 feet away, to the lair of the bad guy apparently. Those bastids had ripped off an entire quarter panel of my cooler, they were such desperados. I never did find a shred of evidence of the entire pound of butter I'd bought. Gone without a trace.
The next night they chomped holes in my solar shower (which is how I knew to advise you not to leave it available). It was winter, and I woke to a miniature ice climb formed from the table bench to the ground, seeded by the teethmarks of the poaching varmints.
Besides the obvious predators, don't underestimate the coyotes. They'll sneak into your camp while you snooze away unaware, and make off with any provisions you may not have secured. Like foil-wrapped potatoes left to cook overnight in the campfire coals. Take my word for it: not only will you be out a good breakfast meal (I was planning on making home fries!) but the tattered bits of tin will be EVERYWHERE, and your responsibility to remove.
Coyotes have been known to attack dogs. They hunt in packs. Don't leave your dog unattended somewhere and vulnerable.
There are also rattlesnakes, though I haven't seen any. Watch your feet when talus hopping, and keep an eye out while walking the desert.
No Dogs Allowed: Are You Kidding Me?
Actually, dogs ARE allowed in the park, but the guidelines are so stringent they might as well be banned. As expected, dogs must be kept on leash at all times. And attended (no leaving the dog in your car, which could be deadly in any case, with the intense heat generated by the sun).
The problem really lays in the fact that dogs are "prohibited on trails and beyond 100 feet from legally open roads and campgrounds," as detailed on the official Joshua Tree National Park website.
So—unless you are an RV'er driving through scenic JTree and stopping only to read the roadside attraction signs, you're legally allowed to do little more than stay in the campgrounds with Fido or Feefee.
Nonetheless, as would be expected, people do bring their dogs to Jtree. Personally, I would get my dog certified as a therapy dog if I were going to be taking him regularly to such places that won't allow dogs decent rights. "Take THAT!" I'd think, scoffing at the laws all the way.... But, not everyone is so inclined. If this sounds more like yourself, do take care and precautions if your dog is not accustomed to the territory. Sun, snakes, cactus quills, boulder-hopping and just about everything in the desert is going to be rough on the dog's paws, skin and system.
Is JTree a Chosspile? Some People Love the Place. Others Despise It.
What have you got to say?
5. Joshua Tree Amenities and Attractions
Do You Stink?
I'm not talking about being a lousy climber. I mean - Pee-YOU!
The good news is that, with the low humidity in the area, a person doesn't really get all that dirty in Jtree. Heat up some water and sponge off and you're pretty much set.
But if you need/want a shower, the most well-known place to go is Coyote Corner. The cost is $3 for 15 minutes, which is plenty of time unless you dawdle. The showers are clean and functional, with good hot water and pressure. Still, I suggest wearing some foot protection, since many, many, maaaaany people have gone before you. And you know what climber's feet are like!
See the shopkeeper for payment and a key during business hours. The showers are located in the back, outside the building. Bring your own towel and soap.
There are also several natural hot springs within an hour or so drive from the park. At present, I have not been to any nor have I received good information, and so I will not provide anything further on the subject.
Dining in and Around Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree has a few restaurants that every traveler knows and either likes or disdains. These are:
61768 29 Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, (760) 366-8988
This is a mom and pop op that is, to me, a very special place. The people who run it are wonderful, gracious, hard-working folks. It's a smallish place, with delicious home fries. A bit of a greasy spoon, so if you are picky, do the rest of us a favor and stay away. They don't need your kind, if you catch my drift.....
61715 29 Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA, (760) 366-5414
This used to be THE place to get a good, simple meal and see who else is in town the same time you are. Alas, when the previous owner retired and sold the cafe, much of the old charm left too. At least for those who "knew it when..." The place has been completely remodeled, as has the menu, and many will mourn the loss of the Crossroads Ahi Tuna steak, seared to perfection, and served either as a sandwich or accompaniment to a wonderfully abundant salad.
Still, the New Crossroads IS worth patronizing. The new owners are onsite, working daily. They've added french fries as an option alongside burgers, and now offer waitperson service. Gone is the line-up for ordering which was probably the least-loved aspect of the old Crossroads. The new menu is perhaps not as attractive for vegetarians, but there are options. I've had both breakfast and dinner at the restaurant recently and I will say the food is good quality, and though not inexpensive, it did seem to be reasonably priced(one must stay in business, so let's not be too critical on that point).
61740-B 29 Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252 (760) 366-0400
Pie for the People brings gourmet-style pizza to Joshua Tree with a nice variety of pizza, available by the slice or whole pie. They also have calzones, salads, and deserts. In 2011, the place was enlarged to add seating, which is very nice on a cold wintery night after a day of climbing.
61599 29 Palms Hwy Joshua Tree, CA 92252 (760) 366-2923
Royal Siam is another of the visiting climbers' favorites. One night per week they run an all-you-can-eat buffet, which is what got them on the dirtbag map way back when, most likely.
A must-visit restaurant—at least twice on your stay in Jtree. Why twice? Because Sam's offers both great pizza AND REALLY great Indian food! Along with great sub sandwiches, if you want to pack a meal to bring into the park for the day. Compared to the well-known national chain option for subs, the price is about the same and the ingredients truly fresh and generously piled on.
- Palm Kebab Express is worth going to TwentyNine Palms for, if you happen to be headed to Indian Cove in JTNP. Palm Kebab Express is REALLY good! The shop is located just north of the highway on the east side of Adobe Road. Looks deceive: this is NOT a cheap franchise! The place is privately owned and operated by the owner. The food is freshly made, generous in serving size and a very good value at the price. Make it a point to try them out!
- On the opposite end of the fast-food pendulum is the 29 Palms Inn. Here's a description from their website:
You won't find a more delightful dining experience than at the 29 Palms Inn. Our menu features the freshest vegetables (from our own garden) and the best cuts of meat and fresh fish available. Our famous homemade sourdough bread is baked fresh daily, and we have a full-service bar with the very best wine selection in the Mojave Desert!
I have eaten there once, and it is definitely worth the effort if you want a good meal.
If you must, there are plenty of fast-food restaurants dotting Hwy 62 in Yucca valley, as well as some in TwentyNine Palms: McDonalds, Taco Del Sol, Applebees, Starbucks, etc.
Give it a Rest!
Who needs rest? I don't know! Personally I take my time getting up and out of camp each morning, and then take it easy on myself during the day. The rock ain't going anywhere, and I'm smart enough not to try to push 10 days of climbing into a four-day weekend trip. I travel solo and there's often a day or two I simply don't find someone to climb with. Rest days are just sort of built into my agenda.
Not everyone has such advantages, though. They may only HAVE those 4 days, or they may LIKE pushing themselves beyond the limit and then some. They could have family obligations or a non-climbing significant other becoming worn out too, from sitting around all day watching them yo yo routes. Or, they may not have realized just how damned out of shape they actually are....
There are any number of reasons people need or want to take a day off of climbing. The good news is that for such a place in the middle of nowhere, JTree and the surrounding area have plenty of unique and interesting things to do.
Within the park, there is hiking. Ryan Mountain and Queen Mountain Trail are great hikes.
Combine hiking with geocaching and discover the various stashes located within the area. Or - add your own cache for others to discover. Note: Fixed gear abandoned on climbing routes probably won't stick around long enough for you to get to log it into the system, so maybe better to stick to mini garden gnomes stashed in treasure chests and sequestered within carved out mini caves....
An late afternoon into evening drive out to Keys View is something grandma and the kids will enjoy, and so will you, because it makes them happy. Along the way are some of the areas oldest and largest Joshua Trees, which can be as intriguing a point of interest as you care to make it.
Another 'take it easy' walking tour is that of Keys Ranch. Guided tours occur at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from October through May. Weekday tours vary during the season and are listed on the /www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/programs.htm">Ranger Program schedule.
The Wall Street Mill Trail will be much more than you expected, as you step back into time and look at the remnant trappings of an ore mill. Here is beautiful boulder hopping, with easy walk-ups to high points nearby too.
If you simply cannot stomach the idea of such touristic ramblings, point yourself in any direction and go exploring for rock art and other signs of native habitation. See below for more on that.
Into UFO's? You're in the right place! Forget ghost stories: at night by the campfire, tell the kids about UFO's fabled to be prominent in the area. When one of the experimental aircraft from nearby 29 Palms Marine base soars through the night skies (they don't look like birds, nor do they act like planes), you've got backup to bolster your story.
The next day, make out to the Integratron. From the website:
The location of the Integratron is an essential part of its functioning. Its placement was chosen based on a complex set of theories involving the earth's magnetic field and the Integratron's relationship to the Great Pyramid in Egypt and Giant Rock, the world's largest freestanding boulder. In 1947, Van Tassel began operating the Giant Rock Airport three miles away from the Integratron, and in 1953 initiated communications with extra-terrestrials after a physical encounter at Giant Rock. He subsequently hosted 17 Spacecraft Conventions there for UFO enthusiasts.
Construction on the Integratron began in 1957, was funded entirely on donations. Howard Hughes was a large contributor to the project. How about that!?
Don't forget to check out Giant Rock, since you're in the neighborhood.
Do you like old western movies? Then Pioneer Town might interest you.
Arts appreciation more your idea of entertainment? Head over and view the murals in Twentynine Palms.
For sheer kitsch factor, there's always the World Famous Crochet Museum right in Joshua Tree behind Coyote Corner.
Also in the town of Joshua Tree is Instant Karma Yoga, where classes begin daily at 9:00am. Classes are $12 per class, or a card of twelve classes for $120(good for six months after purchase) brings the cost down to $10.
Got the shopping bug? 5.10 has an Outlet Store in nearby Redlands. Hours are limited: call for confirmation before making the trip. The address is 1419 W. State St., Redlands, CA 92373. Telephone: (909) 798-4222
Ever consider actually resting on a rest day? I didn't think so.... But maybe you're running short of reading material for the trip, and the guide book just isn't doing it for you any more. Head over to Ravens Bookshop, where you're sure to find something! Like any good used bookstore, a walk through Ravens takes you on a twisting and turning path through the stack. They've got ALL the categories covered, and a cool old guy running the place. Address: 69225 29 Palms Hwy, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277. Telephone: 760) 362-4900.
Meet the Natives
Not other climbers and tourists - I mean those from WAY back in the day!
Every person who visits Joshua Tree finds some aspect of the place compelling. Ask any number of people what they think of when you mention the park and they will invariably mention the bizarre rock formations, the namesake Joshua Tree, wildflowers in springtime bloom, or some other obvious feature.
If you ask them if they saw remnants of early human habitation, they'll likely reference Keys Ranch, Water Street Mill, or the Native American remnants of society located near Barker Dam. They know about these things by having read park-provided literature or by ambling along established trails.
On my first visit to the park, I was shown the huge amphitheatre southwest of Barker Dam, and was, as expected, intrigued. I knew there was more where that came from, and every trip I have made to Joshua Tree since has been one where I dedicate some portion of my time to wandering areas in search of more relics form the native peoples.
It is there: that I can tell you. Some things, things that will amaze all but the most insensitive, can be found much, much, more readily than might be expected. I'll not go further into detail, as many of the places I have come across are quite fragile. They don't deserve to be so readily obtained as to have your hand held online to find them.
When I am in JTree, anyone interested can come along with me and I'll show what I know, but other than that—if you find intrigue in such things, I suggest highly that you use your rest day to see what you can see.
The one photo above is of a Cahuilla grinding pit. Similar ones can be seen right on the Barker Dam/Water Street Mill Loop. They're well known on the tourist path. This one, which is actually about 5 times larger, is in a nearby area with just a bit less ease of access. I doubt anyone, including some very familiar with Joshua Tree's native cultures, could identify the location.
I have found handheld tools (and left them in situ) and also what appears to be somewhat of a "doctor's office." An open area under a grouping of rocks—well hidden and protected, yet with large openings that allow sunshine to light the space from sunrise to sunset—with large stones, obviously placed in what appears to be an examination area.
Look, and you will find. For an informational starting point, try The Native American Ethnography and Ethnohistory of Joshua Tree National Park. Learn a little beforehand, and enhance your experience as you go about the park.
What About Networking?
Cel service is spotty within the park (thank goodness - can you imagine if it wasn't?) Within the park, I have gotten at least poor reception on the stretch of road near Boy Scout Trail and also just before the west park entrance. Just enough to fool me into attempting to dial the phone while maintaining two bar-reception. Your experience may be different. Others have also said they can get service on Sheeps Pass Road.
- To get online, check in at the Joshua Tree Library, located just north of Highway 62 on Park Boulevard. There are three terminals available for one-hour sessions. Hours vary, so drop by and check the doorway where they are posted, or call (760) 366 8615. There is free wifi at the Joshua Tree Library as well as the libraries in Yucca Valley Library and Twenty-Nine Palms Library. Yucca's library is larger and more accommodating - lots of outlets and even two separate study rooms. The library in Twenty-Nine Palms unfortunately has only a single electrical outlet available for use with your own computer.
- Coyote Corner also allows use of their wireless connection, though it's strictly a BYO affair. There are long benches right out back, near the shower rooms, where you can settle in and while away whatever time it takes you to get your internet fix.
- Joshua Tree Saloon also offers wifi. Each booth alongside the eastern wall has its own set of electrical outlets. Top off a day of climbing in the sun with a cold brew and taunt your friends stuck sitting at home wishing they were there! The saloon is located at 61835 29 Palms Hwy, just up (or down) the road from Coyote Corner. They serve bar food and have live music some nights. I have spent a few sessions at the saloon myself, and find them quite accommodating.
- New to Joshua Tree in 2014 is the Joshua Tree Coffee Company, serving up great on-site roasted coffee and free wifi! The store is located in the courtyard just to the west of Pie for the People in downtown Joshua Tree. There is no indoor seating area, but tables outside are fairly plentiful and the signal is good.
- Park Rock Cafe which is connected to the JTNP Visitor Center near the corner of HWY 62 and Park Boulevard is also a good place for wifi. Pull up outside after hours, but when they are open, you can stop in, plug in, sip a drink or snack (not cheap, but good nonetheless) and get your emails. Please be considerate of other patrons and don't camp out if you see people looking for seats and your purchase has long ago been consumed.
- You can also get free wifi at The Natural Sisters Cafe, ALSO in downtown Joshua Tree.
Interconnectedness in JTree
Here is a list of SOME businesses and organizations in and around Joshua Tree, along with their websites(or at least links to their page on another site).
- Friends of Joshua Tree
Grass roots access group for JTNP, representing climbers.
Lots of information on this website created by a JTree local legend. This is THE place to go if you're looking to find out about the latest new routes in the park.
- Joshua Tree National Park
Official website for Joshua Tree National Park