Though its Seussian vegetation will have you on the lookout for lorax crossing signs, California's Joshua Tree isn't some arid novelty. When it became a national monument, in 1936, visitors flocked to this park to marvel at the palm-lined oases, spring wildflower blooms, and dueling desert ecosystems (J-Tree is the meeting point of the higher Mojave Desert, to the north, and the Sonoran Desert, to the south). But the real draw is the rock: thousands of acres of bizarre monzogranite formations that have become the climber's winter playground of choice.
EXPERT ADVICE: "A walk through the Wonderland of Rocks is like your own little adventure," says Mark Bowling, director of the Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School, which meets just inside the park's west entrance. "Find a drainage and follow it in." The more than nine-square-mile Wonderland is a grove of rock spires and mounds, interspersed with yuccas, Joshua trees, and creosoteand even the occasional abandoned gold mine. But if staring up at the rocks leaves you itching to stand on top of one, sign up for the school's Basic Rock Climbing Weekend, a $390 four-day beginner's class that will give you the skills you need to scale some easier routes.
CRASH PAD: Run by the Joshua Tree Climbers Association, the Joshua Tree Climbers' Ranch is an 18-acre campground that lies just outside the park, providing a haven for climbers, thanks to support from the American Alpine Club. You've got to be a member of one or the other to camp, but in true dirtbag fashion, membership to the JTCA is free. climbersranch.com