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A Very Joshua Tree January

Peaceful times, good hikes, and crisp days await winter adventurers.



    Getty Images
    Winter in Joshua Tree? It's prime time for the desert wonderland. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

    SUNNY, CRISP, ROCKY: The snowy scene is often the same. Picture a big lodge, some fir trees, a set of skis, an bench covered in ice, a frozen waterfall. The national parks aren't known for closing the front door in winter, but many of them go pretty dang cold come January, making them a destination for hearty 'n hale types. But a number of California parks stay golden, even in the heart of the chilliest month. Joshua Tree National Park is one, courtesy of its wild 'n rock-strewn desert location. True, a desert night can give any location on the planet an admirable run for sheer brrr-o-sity, but wintertime days tend to be downright glorious. That is, of course, if you like soft breezes, long views, and all of that yellowy-nice sunshine. So, what's to do around Joshua, when a big music festival isn't unfurling and the wildflowers haven't quite arrived? Why not go...

    SCINTILLATING STARGAZING: The Milky Way? Yep, it is pretty much a nightly thing above the arid region. The park people recommend arriving with binocs and a star chart. Or maybe a miniature telescope? It's deep space time, for sure.

    GEOLOGY MOTOR TOUR: This one's an 18-miler, taking people and their autos -- yep, you're on your own, adventurer -- by 16 distinct stops via unpaved roads. But bet you'll see some ridiculously picturesque back country along the way.

    KEYS RANCH TOUR: Joshua Tree is often depicted as being free from any homesteads or settlements, but this historic clutch of buildings tells a different story. There's a schoolhouse and store, even, so you'll get a full picture of life in the Mohave way back when.

    RANGER PROGRAMS: Like all parks, the programs are plentiful and diverse. Canyon walks and cacti talks dot the Joshua Tree schedule. Doesn't that sound like a little slice of sunshine, after the go-go-go holiday season? Yes, it does.