Towers of Uncertainty

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Towers of Uncertainty, from Geology Tour Road

This Index Page introduces you to the Towers of Uncertainty area, which is located off the Geology Tour Road at Stops 2, 3 and 4. A few teaser 2D and 3D Anaglyphs are included. Follow the links to the full galleries.

Go to 3D Galleries:

Towers-South Galleries

Towers-Hills Galleries

Towers-North Galleries

Surprise Tank 3D Gallery

Surprise Tank 2D Gallery

The Lost Pencil

Towers of Uncertainty Preview


THE TOWERS OF UNCERTAINTY is one of my favorite places in Joshua Tree National Park. It may not announce itself from a distance. That is its secret. I almost want to say: That is its purpose!

2D View of the Towers Area from Lost Horse Mine Hilltop

(Click to Enlarge)

Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 01Few visitors to the park even know this place exists. The Towers of Uncertainty is part of the Geology Tour Road trip, a long dirt road scraped by road-graders out of an 8-mile-long plain. As one descends this plain from an elevation of 4480ft above sea level to 3270ft at Pleasant Valley playa, the towers that first come into view on your right are the southern main rock-climbing formations.

Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 02The Towers appear all-too-briefly on the west side of the road after your vehicle or donkey passes some low hills. Blink, and you will miss them. I expect most people give the Towers a cursory glance if they see them at all. Perhaps one in fifty may leap off her donkey to take pictures by the roadside.

Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 03The southernmost Towers, where the JTNP climbers first staked out their routes, appears unassuming like the rest. From a distance, that is. Low (and lowly looking) rock pillars about 30 to 70 feet high. They form a rough oval surrounding a central north-south mainstay. Flanking this central 85- to 150-million-year-old monzogranite backbone are the east and west geologic formations. Within the main Towers of Uncertainty are nine named “routes” recorded in the Randy Vogel rock climbing guide.

Midway between this southern Uncertainty and the Zen-like north end there occur a series of low hills. For convenience, the Towers 3D photo Galleries are split into three groups: South, Hills, North.

3D Anaglyph Samples

(Use red-cyan glasses to view. Click to Enlarge)

Towers, South

Joshua Tree National Park at its northern end—from the West Entrance to White Tank—is rock-pile-central. Early 19th century ranchers must have found it a strange, forbidding place to herd cattle. The question arises: What is so special to me about the Towers group? There are many similar formations in Joshua Tree. At the same time, the scattered desert flora seems thin by comparison with areas a few miles north in Queen Valley. Here, the Joshua Trees are mainly small and inconspicuous, with a few yuccas, and more than a few patriarchal nolinas, mature and stately (which look like yuccas but are a different family).

Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 05Towers, Hills

Several hundred yards north of the main monzonite granite rock climbs there rise a few lumpy looking, rubble-strewn hills. They separate the southern from the northern Towers, which cannot be seen from the south. The hills between are rather secretive, if you don’t mind my saying so; and cleverly hide their many charms. I had to get their permission to post these comments.

Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 06While the familiar tourist-spots around JTNP are well documented—Wonderland of Rocks, Hidden Valley, Lost Horse Valley, Ryan Mountain, Barker Dam, Jumbo Rocks, White Tank, and the Cholla Cactus Garden—the Towers area seems to fall into a vacuum of “If we have time, we can do this on our way back.” I believe they prefer their seclusion.

Once on the ground, once you get your bearings and are working your way through the rock formations and hills, the quiet, unpretentious Uncertainty slowly reveals itself. You will begin to understand why the climbers chose to call this area the Towers of Uncertainty.

Within the Towers Hills, GPS 33°58’21.66″N 116° 5’19.88″W


Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 08

Towers, North

The Towers of Uncertainty comprise three distinct zones from north to south, as I have already noted— or from south to north if you prefer it that way. Sticklers for rules might argue that the Towers, South are the only true Towers of Uncertainty. I won’t begrudge them their opinion, except to say that rules are for reference only. Rock climbers wield sharp spikes and ropes. It is best to heed their opinions.

Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 07Perhaps the rule followers have never ventured into the central hills. Nor have they poked around within the smaller but just as beautiful and mysterious Towers, North with its 40ft long dam, forbidding dark tower, and dragon-scorched Entrance to the Underworld.

Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 09

second visit 2013 Mar 28 with water level low

Unlisted as far as my friend and fellow JTNP researcher Cali49 explains in his post on the Tank with No Name, we chose to call this little dam “Surprise Tank.” For reference only, understand. The photographs I supply of this rock-and-cement holding tank will, I hope, genuinely surprise and bring joy you. I chanced upon it when it was water-filled and reflecting the rocks around it into its cool, mirror-slick waters. Yes, that must be the reason: few have ever seen what the central and north structures at Towers of Uncertainty have to offer. From my point of view, overlooking them does your day out in the park a disservice.

The entirety measures one mile north-to-south and about a third of a mile east-west, per the Google Earth image provided further down this page.


Towers of Uncertainty main rock-climbing formations lie at the southern extremity:

Someone once said JTNP is a Dr. Seuss fantasyland (referring to the Dr. Seuss children’s stories). The three areas that make up the Towers group fit this role to a T, which browsing the 3D Anaglyph images will illustrate.

Towers, North. Approach from Stop 2.

Towers, North. View from the “Dark Tower”

I am writing this introduction in September, 2014, having spent 22 hours within the Towers areas on five separate occasions between the autumn of 2013 and spring of 2014. I will be making two further treks into the Towers Hills this coming winter to complete my 3D goals for the area. As of this writing, the collection comprises over 2,800 3D photographs and short videos of the Towers of Uncertainty! Obsessive? Perhaps.

Towers of Uncertainty Joshua Tree 04

View from north with Virgin Islands in distance

But I am hoping you will enjoy experiencing vicariously what I saw first-hand in this almost-magical interplay of strange formations, pokey nolina bushes, and rolling landscape. Included are several birds-eye view perches from on high.

A minor aside, which seems appropriate here. If you take lots of photographs the way I do, Joshua Tree National Park harbors a little secret: when you climb any small rise or minor 30-foot to 100-foot hill and look around, the vista expands manifold. You will see things in a way that ground-level viewing pales in comparison. I invite anyone who visits Joshua Tree include several modest hills or knolls in their excursions.

How to Get There

Park Blvd. to Geology Tour Road

Towers, North

  • Stop 2 (Backcountry Board, parking for 6 cars)
  • Type: X-country or Riding & Hiking Trail
  • GPS: 33°58’39.88″N 116° 5’18.10″W
  • El. 4421ft.
  • Approach: 1100 yds. (0.6 mi), flat
  • Area: A triangular shaped depression, almost invisible from the road, and 350 yds on a side, point of which faces south toward hills.
  • Features: two impressive balanced rocks, nolinas, “Surprise Tank” (small dam, usually dry), “The Dark Tower,” “Entrance to the Underworld”, and numerous photogenic small (to 30′ high) formations with extensive desert varnish—bounded on the west by a low, easy-to-navigate hill giving 360-degree panoramas of Queen Valley, Queen Mountain, Ryan Mountain, 7-mile-long alluvial plain, Crown Prince Lookout, and Towers of Uncertainty Hills


Nolinas, “Dark Tower,” “Entrance to the Underworld,” Balanced Rocks, “Surprise Tank”



Towers Hills

  • Stop 2 (Backcountry Board, space for 6 cars). Or Stops 3 & 4 for southern approach
  • Type: X-country or Riding & Hiking Trail
  • GPS:  33°58’27.99″N 116° 5’17.51″W
  • El. 4400 to 4545ft
  • Approach: approx 1375 yds. (0.78 mi) from Stop 2, flat to gently rolling
  • Area: An amorphous group of six to eight small hills from 30′ to 130′ high, centered between Towers North and Towers South.
  • Size: 600 yds N-S, 400 yds E-W.
  • Features: many spiny formations, some with dark desert varnish, extensive nolinas, photogenic throughout. Beautiful hilltop views in every direction including Queen Mountain (6 mi distant), Ryan & Lost Horse mountains (abt. 3-4 mi), Queen and Pleasant valleys, Hexie Mountains, Crown Prince Lookout, “The Galapagos” & “Virgin Islands” rock climbing formations, Pushawalla Plateau, Towers of Uncertainty, South and North, “Rocky Marciano,” “Jerry’s Quarry,” Malapai Hill, “The Lost Pencil,” etc.

A Holiday Romp in the Hills ♦ 3D Anaglyph

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 Towers, South

  • Stop 3 or 4 (each has parking for 2 cars; 4WD-only recommended for Stop 3 which is sandy)
  • Type: X-country
  • GPS:  33°58’0.87″N 116° 5’7.22″W
  • El. 4318ft
  • Approach: 400 yds from Stop 3 or 750 yds from Stop 4; flat
  • Area: the rock climbing Towers of Uncertainty. Somewhat round to oval in shape, the area is 545 yds across E-W.
  • Features: a tight grouping of 40′ to 70′ formations, some with dark desert varnish, scattered nolinas, small to medium size Joshua Trees & Mojave yuccas scattered widely. The usual pincushion, beaver tail, silver cholla, and hedgehog cacti. A few knolls for picture-taking within, at the north end, and in the open area between the Towers and Towers Hills.
  • Views include Ryan & Lost Horse mountains (abt. 3-4 mi), Queen and Pleasant valleys, Hexie Mountains, Crown Prince Lookout, “The Galapagos” & “Virgin Islands” rock climbing formations, Pushawalla Plateau, Towers Hills, “Rocky Marciano,” “Jerry’s Quarry,” Malapai Hill, “The Lost Pencil,” etc. My favorite feature is at the NW corner, a sloping rise into what I call the “Spire Cathedral”.
  • The nine climbing rocks are “Crows Nest,” “Demon Dome,” “Two-Bolt Rock,” “Lava Dome,” “Gravity Rock,” “Cave Rock,” “Sunlight Rock,” “Friable Rock,” and “Reef Rock.”
  • In early 2014, there was a large raptor’s nest high up on the north side of “Reef Rock.” (Raptors use Towers of Uncertainty for their nesting. The climbing formations are sometimes Off Limits to climbers when the raptors are in residence.)

Towers of Uncertainty Google Earth 04b

Sample Gallery 1

Sample Gallery 2


I hope you enjoy your 3D Virtual Tour through the Towers of Uncertainty. Thank you for visiting Joshua Tree 3d.

John Murbach

John Murbach Towers of Uncertainty 2013





Posted 2014 Sep 6

Updated 2017 Nov 11

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