“Typically people think of desert as vast emptiness, but in Joshua Tree you can climb rock anywhere from five seconds off the road to a few hours in,” says Mark Bowling. He should know. The owner and director of Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School and AMGA-certified guide has been exploring and teaching rock climbing in Joshua Tree since 1988. Beginners will want to sign up for his one- or two-day Basic Rock Climbing courses, which start with the fundamentals—how to put on a harness— and end with a 100-foot climb. If students want to take it further, they can add on a two-day Intermediate course ($150 per day).
Beyond the climbing, what’s so magical about this place? According to Bowling, it’s the Suessian blob-like boulders and Joshua trees. “The trees contrast with the light at that magic hour just before sunset and after sunrise,” he says. “The color changes and the landscape pops out at you.” Reserve a campsite at Indian Creek or Black Rock campgrounds ($15 per night; 800-365-2267) and be sure to BYO water—there’s none available in the park.