South Astro Dome is a major rock formation in the Wonderland of Rocks region of Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Entering Wonderland of Rocks
If there is one thing that should not surprise anyone, it is running into another rock formation in Joshua Tree that surpasses all the rest in beauty and grandure. South Astro Dome is one such case. This incredible formation is well hidden from the view of the ordinary tourists who drive the paved roads of Joshua Tree National Park. In fact, you need to put a little effort into visiting this hidden treasure.
South Astro Dome is one of the largest granite formations in all of Joshua Tree. Its perfect dome shape will remind you of the golden domes of the Islamic world that you may have seen in movies. This impressive formation is about two hundred and fifty feet tall and at least the same in the diameter of the base.
In contrast to most of the Joshua Tree formations, South Astro Dome does not offer many cracks. It seems that weathering and other geologic conditions have left this formation pretty much in one piece. If you are mainly a crack climber you can come to South Astro Dome to praise and admire its great faces. You may even get tempted to become a face climber to climb on this one in a thousand rock formation.
The most popular Joshua Tree formations have at least one route that define the entire formation. To name a few examples, we have “Double Cross” on Old Woman
, The Flake
on Intersection Rock
, “Papa Woolsey on The Blob
and Solid Gold on South Astro Dome. Solid Gold is by no means the only route on South Astro Dome, but it’s by far the very best.
Featured route, Solid Gold, 10a
The history of climbing on South Astro Dome dates back to the late 1970s. It was during this early period that Solid Gold was first climbed. The first climbers on this route were none other than the legendary Herb Laeger and few other friends. True to his style and ethical standards, Herb climbed the route using ground up tactics and drilled, not from hooks, but from stances. This example makes one wonder what the first generation climbers in Joshua Tree were made of!
Solid Gold is two pitches long. The first pitch, rated 10a, follows a line of bolts up the middle of rust colored rock on the north east face. Looking at the photos on this page you may wonder why the fourth bolt is so far to the right of the rust lane. Well, here’s the story according to Herb Laeger:
As the small team of climbers were taking turns to lead the next stretch and drill for the next bolt, Michael Jaffe’s turn comes up. But when Michael gets to the third bolt, he finds it easier to go right and up. The rest of the group shouts up “Go Straight Up, Go Straight Up” to no avail. Michael drills for the fourth bolt where you see it. Note: A number of climbers have gone straight up from the third bolt skipping the fourth bolt all together, but I’m not sure about the rating on that.
You may also notice that the anchor for the first pitch is to the right of the ledge. This location is a good place to end up when you rap down from the top of the crack, which is the second pitch of “My Laundry, 5.9,” another Herb Laeger climb. This location also avoids any possible bird nests on the ledge. The second pitch of Solid Gold, also rated 10a, is not as enjoyable or popular as the first pitch. Most climbers either rap down from the end of the first pitch or climb the 5.8 crack that is the second pitch of “My Laundry.”
Thank God for my wife. Don Juan Boulder could have rolled right down the hill!
Shortly after the parking lot, take the left fork toward Uncle Willie's
Uncle Willie's Health Food Store
The hike into Wonderland of Rocks can be a lot of fun with incredible views of rock formations and valleys. The highlight of the hike is the view of the North and South Astro Domes from a distance.
From the western entrance to Joshua Tree National Park drive on Park Boulevard, formerly known as Quail Springs Road, for about nine miles to a major rock formation called “Intersection Rock.” Intersection Rock is a major landmark on the north side of Quail Springs Road with ample parking for visitors and climbers alike. This rock, true to its name, sit at the cross roads to “Hidden Valley Campground”, Barker Dam Road and the road to “Day use and picnic” area. Take the road toward Barker Dam.
To get to the trailhead to Wonderland of Rocks and South Astro Dome, drive about quarter of a mile past the Barker Dam parking on Big Horn Pass Road. This is a dirt road with a dirt parking area and a bathroom. From the east end of the parking area hike on a well worn trail for a hundred yards to a fork in the trail. Take the left fork and within a few minutes pass by the ruins of an old structure known as "Uncle Willie's Health Food Store."
Past Uncle Willie's, go left to the main wash coming down from the Wonderland area. Follow the trail next to the wash passing by a very small dam. After 25 minutes you will begin to see the two Astro Domes. To reach South Astro Dome locate a very large boulder to your left. This is Don Juan Boulder. Weave around rocks and bushes to get to this boulder. From here, the approach becomes very clear. You can either go up the valley then up and left to the base, or go directly left and up, through some cacti, to reach the left side of the base. You can follow the base, at some points very overgrown, to the base of Solid Gold and the remaining climbs of the east and north faces.
Typical Joshua Tree Landscape
Wonderland of Rocks Sun
Please tread lightly. The Access Fund has gone to great lengths posting trail marker for approaches to many of the more popular crags. Do you best to stay on these trails, and where you are forced to use a different path, choose the ones that rain can mend in time. Drainages make for good trails where there are no established trails.
Avoid stepping on native and fragile plants, and do not feed the coyotes. Coyotes are very much used to people and often hang around picnic areas and camp grounds in hopes of getting a hand out. It’s better to let them live their natural life.
Camping and Noise Considerations
Distant View of South Astro Dome from the approach trail
There are nine campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park. At the entrance to the park you are always asked if you would care to have a map and a brochure. The brochure will have plenty of information on the campgrounds and the map will guide you to many of the pleasant hikes throughout the park. You may even get the latest information as to availability of campsites. During the peak season (mid winter through spring) finding a campsite may become a major task. It is highly recommended to use the following link to get more information in advance.
Joshua Tree Camping
When you are camping with friends and sitting around the fire, it is easy to forget that there are other people trying to sleep in the nearby campsites. It is important to put yourself in their shoes. Keep the noise and music to a minimum and certainly not too much past 10 p.m. Your neighbors will smile at you in the morning instead of giving you dirty looks.
Fees and Food
My wife and I have had Thai food in many different restaurants and cities. This Thai place beats them all. In November when the number of visitors to Joshua Tree reaches its peak, this restaurant puts on a Thai Buffet, all you can eat for 16.00$/person. But, you must get there early, or be prepared to wait by the door for a table.
External LinksOld Woman