North Wonderland of Rocks

Main Index

Ellsmere Island hillside with Hidden Tower

Introduction (this page, mainly 2D images)

Nolinas blooming, North Wonderland of Rocks April 2015

Additional North Wonderland Galleries

Special: Nolinas Magnifique

Special: Joshua Trees in Bloom

Brownie Girl Dome to The Seitch

Joshua Tree bloom, North Wonderland of Rocks April 2015

Mustang Ranch & Bear Island

Outward Bound Slab to Financial Wall

Hidden Dome, Ellsmere Island & Gilligan’s Island

The Middle Kingdom

Outer Mongolia

Timbuktu Towers and Superdome, North Wonderland of Rocks

North Wonderland Approach

Timbuktu & Atom Smashers Rocks

Willow Hole & Grey Giant Area

Parking Lot Rocks Rocks



Trek dates, 2015: Mar 20 ♦ Apr 24 ♦ May 16

North Wonderland with Grey Giant at left

THE NORTH WONDERLAND OF ROCKS comprises an extensive landscape of formations and inselbergs, many of them having colorful names and popular, sometimes extremely difficult climbing routes within the rock-climbing community. The main parking lot is located at Keys Corner, named after William Keys (1879-1969) whose family ranch, now deeded to the National Park Service, is located nearby. The 8-mile Boy Scout Trail begins at this point.

To the south of the parking area stand Roadside Rocks, three humorously named boulder configurations, popular because they are only a few hundred paces away.

On this Introductory Page, readers will find a sampling of mainly 2D images.

Extensive 3D coverage of the various areas in will follow in the associated Galleries. Clicking the links above, or on the individual titles below, will take you to your chosen page.

1. Brownie Girl Dome to The Seitch

I covered the Brownie Girl Dome to The Seitch area on March 20 and April 24, 2015. Joshua trees were blooming copiously the first trip; by the second, only a month later, they’d developed seed pods and almost none were seen in full bloom anymore. However, by late-April on the second visit, many of the small cacti were blooming, as were some startlingly beautiful (and in one instance, bee-covered) nolinas.

Once on the trail from Keys Corner Parking Lot and heading north-northeast, visitors will see the Brownie Girl Dome area close at hand, about 500 yards away. A photogenic multi-peak hill, Brownie Girl comprises a fair number of outcrops and inselbergs, with rock climbing routes developed on: Brownie Girl Dome, New Jersey Dome, The Deli, Bobcat Rock, The Seitch, and Patch Dome, while out on the plain lie Mustang Ranch and Bear Island.


(Hover mouse over photos to see Caption. Click to Enlarge or right-click and SAVE LINK AS to save full-size image.)

2D ♦ Views from the Brownie Girl & Seitch Formations


2. Mustang Ranch & Bear Island

The Mustang Ranch and Bear Island rock climbing formations lie a few hundred yards east of Brownie Girl, and are backdropped by the tall, imposing rock pile on which Gilligan’s Island, Ellsmere Island, and Hidden Dome protrude (see illustration above) These are so close at hand that you feel you could almost touch them.

 3. Outward Bound Slab to Financial Wall

To your right off the main trail lies a small valley containing Outward Bound Slab, Financial Wall, Breaking Away Cliff, while tucked back up the canyons behind Outward Bound Slab are Greenhorn Dome, Keys Point, The Convenience Store, The Looking Glass, plus a few others. This view is from the Brownie Girl Dome area looking east. Across the way from Outward Bound Slab is Financial Wall.

2D ♦ Hover mouse over image to see Caption

4. Hidden Dome, Ellsmere Island & Gilligan’s Island

Directly ahead, as you take the well-beaten trail, lies a massive monzogranite hill that includes Ellsmere Island area rock climbs (middle photo), Gilligan’s Island with the main climbing routes located on “Ginger’s Face” and “Mary Ann’s Face”—Gilligan’s Island itself is the very large boulder in the center near ground level in the first picture (click photos to enlarge). The northernmost end of this hill is, appropriately enough, Land’s End. Additional outcrops may be found further south (right-hand picture). These go by the names of Hidden Dome, Cool Dome, Not-so-Cool Dome, and Warm Dome… I detect a theme.


2D Slideshow Selections

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5. The Middle Kingdom

Hiking further along the main trail past Land’s End, one enters the first of several small to medium-sized valleys. Thus begins The Middle Kingdom. Herein rise several distinctive looking, middling to large features. From left to right they are: El Dorado crag, Pernicious Dome, and the Rube Goldberg-looking The Techulator. Around them squat some lesser clumps that have been dubbed Jones Rock, Smith Rock, Wane’s Wall, and the Skin Graft. The north side of Ellsmere Island hill sports three interesting looking and enjoyable to photograph climbing routes. The closest to Land’s End where you first enter the valley is The Shady Spot. Since the sun rarely shines into this area except at high summer, it earns the moniker.

DSCF9840Plenty of shade trees dot the base here, ideal for enjoying a picnic lunch. You are approximately one and a quarter miles from the parking lot. A few paces beyond The Shady Spot is a smooth formation, Easy Buttress, which some rock-climbing books warn is easier to climb than to exit. Lastly, at the hill’s summit juts a triangular-shaped pinnacle ominously bearing the title Vulture’s Roost.

I photographed The Middle Kingdom in 3D in April and May 2015, after a fairly decent amount of winter rains had left the valley more than a little covered with vegetation, including plenty of creosote bushes blooming. As mentioned earlier, for hikers, there are several shade-giving pinyon pine trees and oaks lining the perimeter. Out in the middle of the valley the usual small cacti and spiny Mojave yuccas. The first Middle Kingdom valley measures approximately 500 yards deep and 400 wide at its mouth, narrowing in the back where the three tallest formations dominate (El Dorado, Pernicious, and Techulator).

2D ♦ Hover mouse over image to see Caption

6. Outer Mongolia

North Wonderland Outer Mongolia DSCF9300

The next valley over (north) and still The Middle Kingdom contains the impressive rock pile Outer Mongolia—beyond which lies the true entrance to the North Wonderland, a mesmerizing complex of stately formations.

Rock-climbers call the most noticeable feature Outer Mongolia. I have labeled a few of the outcrops in the first picture. The valley surrounding is more than twice the size of the first Middle Kingdom valley we just left. The flat trail courses slowly uphill then downhill, eventually wending its way into the interior of this U-shaped open plain. Along the right-hand or south side, you will discover many scalloped-out smaller valleys, gullies, box-canyons—an infinite variety to lose oneself in.

Outer Mongolia ♦ Siberia Formation

Ahead half a mile looms Timbuktu Towers with its oddly leaning Ivory Tower perched high atop, said to host some of the most difficult rock climbs in Joshua Tree Park. At Timbuktu’s base, when you get close enough, can be seen the Atom Smashers boulders. Beyond, below, to south and to east: Willow Hole, the impressive Grey Giant, and the utterly fascinating, starkly beautiful North Wonderland formations open up before you eyes.

Remember your first visit to Disney’s magic kingdom? Trying to explore everything in one day would have seemed impossible. The North Wonderland, too, has much too much to offer in one trip, except casually. From the parking area to Outer Mongolia is about 2 miles. Going further down the wash into Willow Hole—to view the serene beauty of thick vegetation and reflective pools in season—the area takes you 3.5 miles from your car; any side-excursions to Atom Smashers or the Grey Giant maze will stretch your round-trip E-ticket further.

Younger readers who have no idea what an E-ticket is, Sorry. Ask grandma or grandpa. Or, if you feel adventurous, try this handy-dandy Tinyurl link to Google Images: LINK.


2D ♦ South Side across from Outer Mongolia


7. North Wonderland Approach

The North Wonderland Approach offers exquisite eye candy for the day-tripper as well as for any intrepid photographer.


8. Timbuktu & Atom Smashers Boulders

This impressive pile of rocks, dominated by the Timbuktu Towers formation has at its base, an immense boulder split into three pieces. Timbuktu can be seen at the back of the valley when the trail first enters a mile and a half west.

Timbuktu Towers, North Wonderland


2D ♦ 3D Anaglyph ♦ 3D Half Side-by-Side

(Click to Enlarge)

9. Willow Hole & Grey Giant Area

The Grey Giant

The 3½-mile hike to Willow Hole increasingly overwhelms the eye and senses once you head down the curving wash to your destination. My visit took place on a brisk 60F day in mid-May. There was a gentle breeze blowing, the skies overhead lightly clouded while letting the sun play upon the rock formations, endlessly changing their mood and appearance.


Side wash to Grey Giant formations

At about the halfway point, a side-wash heads east .25 mile to the Grey Giant formations. Upon reaching the base of the Grey Giant, two blockages occur. If you don’t mind some rock scrambling, southward lies a boulder-strewn canyon that includes The Tombstone and Lazy Dome, while eastward, a medium-sized boulder must be crawled over. This approach gives access to The Fortress and its companion wall, The Flying Fortress.

Deep sand on the final half-mile stretch to Willow Hole really exercises the calf muscles. Immediately after the Grey Giant wash, the pathway tightens until you confront a gigantic boulder, which seems to be blocking further movement.

The impression is of a squeeze, but inspection reveals the sandy wash curls around the left side of the boulder, between it and another very large rock behind. The path continues on its merry way beyond, down a snaking, sometimes rock-strewn path. It is here that many fantastic 3D photo opportunities present themselves (as if they haven’t already up to this point). The hike meanders through a tight canyon with trees and brush dotting both sides, and incredible rock formations looming high overhead 30, 50, sometimes 100 feet or higher. You will get glimpses of the Grey Giant and Lazy Dome, but only for a few moments before the canyon trail compresses once more.

In due course, the trail becomes a wide sandy field, with the last turn to the right leading down a gentle slope to…

Willow Hole


Left to right: Super Dome, Super Block, Super Slab

Left to right: Super Dome, Super Block (broken-off chunk), Super Slab (whitish formation back right)


Grey Giant Formations

10. Parking Lot Rocks


I hope you enjoyed the North Wonderland Selection. Breathe deep the Galleries to follow, watch lights fade from every room…

Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster

John Murbach


Posted 2015 Apr 8

Updated 2017 Nov 8

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