Rock Climber at Joshua Tree National Park

Scaling Joshua Tree

Idyllwild instructor “afraid of heights” finds calling in Joshua Tree National Park.

Julie Pendray Hiking

Rock Climber at Joshua Tree National Park
Jim Dover climbs at Joshua Tree National Park. The 58-year-old's love for climbing began just six years ago.

Jim Dover says he was always afraid of heights. “I remember being in the elevator in the Eiffel Tower and being terrified.”

Yet the Idyllwild outdoorsman is among thousands who visit Joshua Tree National Park each year to test themselves against massive quartz monzonite boulders. Scaling the boulders, one step at a time, is therapeutic in more than one way. Dover says he now has a whole new lease on life teaching others how to climb.

“I think I’ve found my calling,” he says.

Dover is a street bicyclist, mountain biker, motorcyclist, hiker, and camper. He has managed hiking and bicycling stores. But his love for climbing started just six years ago.

“One day I was at 200 feet and looking out at Garner Valley, then back at my anchor, and being chill about the whole thing,” he says. “I knew the anchor was solid and the equipment was up to the task of protecting my life.”

About three years ago, when he and a friend were “unemployed and bored,” they took a single pitch instructor course. “I started practicing my skills with friends,” Dover says. “I realized that I enjoyed it and was apparently good at it. It gives me great joy to help people learn to climb.”

You can find Dover through Rock Climb Every Day, a website featuring classes for all levels of climbers and adventures like a day of rappelling. Buddy Nielsen of Echo Park recently spent a day with Dover alongside Erika Rogness of San Diego. Both are in their early 30s. Dover is 58.

Erika Rogness and Buddy Nielsen train together at Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park offers mauve sunsets and sunrises over vast desert landscapes.

“Jim was awesome to climb with, very knowledgeable, wonderful demeanor,” Nielsen says. “I love Joshua Tree. It’s a truly magical and sacred place. Climbing there feels like a moving meditation.”

Nielsen is a musician who has been climbing for a year, while Rogness is a recreational assistant for the Single Marines Program at Camp Pendleton.

“It’s not only nice to get away from the city, so I can enjoy the serene and calm desert, but the rock is easy to climb,” she says. “If you do crack climbing, prepare to have your hands cut up. It does give you a sense of accomplishment.”

Joshua Tree National Park climbing season continues through April. Access via Joshua Tree Village or Twentynine Palms on Highway 62 or via Cottonwood Spring, east of Indio, on Interstate 10. Contact Dover at [email protected] or

Jim Dover has been teaching rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park since 2016. This photo was taken at Yosemite.

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