You can't visit California as a climber without going to Joshua Tree National Park. I used to practically live in those hills: Back in the day, I had a bachelor pad about an hour away. Let's just say a lot of climbers came to stay with me.

One of the best things about Joshua is that you don't have to be an expert to play there. The rocks are fabulous, sculpted by erosion and weathering over the ages into crags and slabs and spires and boulders that invite climbers of every skill level (even if you've only climbed in a gym before).

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Climbing became my passion when I was in my mid-30s. I watched others pursuing the sport and wondered if I could, too. It was a challenge I welcomed — I'm not great at more traditional sports: In junior high the football coach said I could be the team's water boy. Crybaby water boy became my nickname until I put an end to that (a story for another time)!

Now I'm into serious mountain climbing, and I have a huge goal: to lead and be part of the first African American team to climb the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Out of the seven, my team has summited four: in Argentina, Russia, Tanzania and Australia. We've got three to go: in Antarctica, Nepal and Alaska.

I'll always hold Joshua Tree in my heart, though. Joshua's 12,000 square miles of California desert offer a wondrous landscape for hiking, biking, camping and driving. There are forests of Joshua trees, of course, the giant yuccas that gave the park its name. Fan palm oases and spring-flowering wildflowers stand against blue skies.

Still, for me, Joshua is all about the rocks; this beautiful park has always been my backyard playground. In 2014 and 2015, more than a million people visited, many of them to climb. Good practices and respect for the environment will preserve Joshua and all our national parks, I hope for centuries to come. —As told to Lynn Addison

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