Road trips from Southern California: California deserts
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( Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times )
Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree
Distance: 145 miles one-way
Spectacular granite formations, plus unique desert plants, make Joshua Tree National Park a rock star. Climbers from around the world scramble across its boulder fields and ascend its spires and pillars. They're joined by hikers, campers, nature buffs and families -- about 1.2 million visitors annually. A favorite spot is Hidden Valley, a recreation area concealed by huge boulders. Its surreal landscape of jumbled rocks and pinyon pines is popular with climbers and families during the day and with stargazers at night. The evening sky astounds visitors with its brilliance. Where else can you see a zillion stars framed by the stark limbs of the Joshua tree?
Info: A seven-day vehicle permit costs $15. Hidden Valley Campground has 45 spaces; nearby campgrounds include Ryan, with 31, and Jumbo Rocks, with 125. Info: (760) 367-5500, www.nps.gov /jotr/index.htm.
-- Rosemary McClure