Joshua Tree National Park

    After a winter-break wonderland of plastic trees and manmade explosives, it’s the right time you revisited some simple joys of human existence: blue skies, a warm fire and colossal rocks.

    Though Joshua Tree National Park’s 800,000 acres of desert — scattered with bedrock boulders and Seussical shrubbery — are anything but simple, they provide ideal ground for getting back to basics.

    Each of the site’s nine campgrounds offers something different: a spot between some gargantuan stone, a clear view of the desert horizon or close proximity to fields brimming the park’s namesake tree. Enter through Joshua Tree’s south entrance to avoid paying $15 for a vehicle pass, then head north: The coolest campsites are near the center of the park. If it’s just you and couple of friends, try White Tank or Jumbo Rocks. If you’ve got an entire posse in tow, try Indian Cove or Sheep Pass. Or, in the unlikely event that you’re traveling with cattle, they’re allowed at Black Rock and Ryan.

    Camping fees vary depending on where you choose to settle, but range from $15 to $40.

    There are lots of outdoorsy things to do at Joshua Tree besides drink beer at your campsite. If you’re into rocks that look like human skulls, you can visit Skull Rock (check the creative moniker). If you want to climb regularly shaped rocks, there are about seven different sites at your fingertips. Most of the park’s recommended day hikes are a breeze. It’s three miles roundtrip to a 49-palm oasis and four to a lost horse mine, and you can always hike up Mastodon Peak or Ryan Mountain to work off that holiday fruitcake flab.

    If you’d rather cruise the scenery in your four-wheeler, try the Geology Tour road’s rough path. Beware: The further you drive, the rockier the road. Plan to return around sundown — you won’t want to miss the desert’s flashy pink sunset anymore than you’d want to get stuck on the trail in complete darkness.

    Like any of California’s national parks, it’s better to visit Joshua Tree in spring or fall. But it’s not impossible to brave the desert sands in the winter; just make sure to bring extra firewood. And blankets. Like, five of them. There’s nothing like a temperature drop to ruin a merry round of campfire kumbaya.

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