This other-worldly desert park, about an hour east of Palm Springs, can get even more unforgettable when you make time for a special guided experience. First, look up—way, way up—once the sun goes down for one of the world’s great natural light shows. Joshua Tree’s clear desert skies make it a premier place for stargazing, especially on moonless nights. Join a ranger-led night sky program to get a guided tour of stars, planets, constellations, and glimmering galaxies; check the schedule at the Oasis Visitor Center or Cottonwood Campground. Another way to broaden your experience: Take a field class. Desert Institute offers a wide range of topics, including desert survival skills, photography, painting, plant identification.
Experienced climbing guides offer lessons for all abilities—from novices to calloused and muscled rock stars—at this land of giant boulders and weathered stone outcroppings. To find a guide stop in at local climbing gear shops, like Nomad Ventures or Joshua Tree Outfitters, in the town of Joshua Tree, on the park’s north side.
For an in-depth exploration of the park without having to cover a lot of ground on foot, and to probably see features you’d never know about with a guide, consider taking a Jeep or Hummer tour with outfitters such as Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours. You will be showered with incredible information about plants, animals, geology, and Native American history—and if you’ve ever wanted to see inside an active earthquake fault zone, this is one of the coolest ways you can do it. The three-hour San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour will take you between the narrow walls of the water-carved slot canyons created by the seismic movement of the earth’s plates, and teach you about the culture and lifestyle of the Cahuilla Indians. Go during the cooler months (November through March) for the most comfortable temps on the open-air ride through the desert.