I spent the last three days in the desert and two of those days were spent in Joshua Tree National Park. The boy spent a good part of his life about 40 minutes from the park but had never been in. When we decided to play in the park for a couple of days I knew that getting a guide book would be a good idea because there is no cell service in the park so looking up things on All Trails would not be an option for us. This also is not a park you mess around with. Having grown up with the desert so close and having spent so much time in it, I know how brutal the desert can be. It will change it's mind in an instant and a gorgeous, calm, Spring day can turn into howling winds, extreme temperatures, and even flash floods.
In the two days we were there the mornings went from calm and perfect to 30 mile per hour winds very suddenly, we knew this was a possibility because we had checked weather day of and checked with the rangers beforehand but a lot of people we saw in the park were clearly underprepared for this kind of weather, especially if they were considering anything more than the nature trails. Since we enjoy day hikes but didn't want to push ourselves too hard this trip, planning was essential and because of this I picked up this guide book, Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide by James Kaiser, at REI.
I liked this guide because it was simple, straightforward, and gave more than just hiking or just geology or just ecology. It's a great guide for your first visit if you aren't looking to do too many aggressive hikes or any major backpacking. Because we were not climbing, I did not use the climbing section of this book so I can't really comment on it at this time. But overall, everything else this book provided really elevated our experience in the park.
If you are looking for a guide for strictly hiking in the park - this probably isn't the guide for you. We did three trails that could be considered hikes and one nature trail over two days but we know there is a lot more available for advanced hikers than what is listed here. But, as I said before, this is a great book if you are planning a short trip to the park and want to plan some light hiking, find great places to eat, and see some incredible sites.