After the Wall Street Mill Trail at Joshua Tree National Park my friend and I walked the entire 20 feet over to the trailhead for Barker Dam. This loop nature trail is about 1.3 miles long. We took a brief look at the trail map and then headed out sending all caution to the wind as we walked to where the trail forks and had to decide which way to go.
We followed the first sign we noticed far off in the distance, missing the rocks along the path to the right, the correct way to go. We went left where people were exiting. This one incorrect turn resulted in our entire hike being backwards. We still saw everything there was to see, we just got to see the petroglyphs first and a lot sooner than we would have.
A short walk quickly put us at the big rock with petroglyphs on it and were too excited to not take a closer look. We scrambled up and over the rocks and into the little over hang. They were so cool. All different designs and colors. I wondered if they were real and if they were how many years they have been there. This was the one spot in the whole park that didn’t have a sign explaining the attraction that day like all of the other stops along the way. A little google search when I got home aided me in learning that they are real ancient Indian Rock Art.
After our short stop we continued our trek. Walking backwards the trail was a lot harder to follow. Luckily we were able to figure it out and hang to the right at the forks where we normally would have took lefts. We eventually came across a sign that stated we were still going the correct way and we were relieved. We headed up some stairs and reached the base of Barker Dam where we could see a cattle trough behind the dam and the structure of the dam.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s cattle ranching was an important business in Joshua Tree Park. Water sources were extremely valuable and often pitted ranchers against ranchers, ranchers against miners, and miners against miners. Barker and Shay Cattle Company built the dam out of stones in a natural basin to end the fighting in 1902. William Keys improved the dam adding the upper concrete layer in 1949.
We climbed a little farther and finally got our first look at the inside of the dam. There was no water in the dam when we got there, but there were lush green plants living at the bottom of the dam. Back in the early 1900’s there used to be 10 inches of rainfall a year in the desert. Today there is only 2-5 inches of rainfall a year. You can still see where the waterlines lay across the rocks today and imagine what it would look like completely filled. I wonder if we had come to the dam earlier in the spring if there would have been water collected.
We hurried the rest of the way around the loop stopping to take a few pictures here and there as the sun slowly lowered itself behind the rocks. We made it back to the entrance and noticed where our first turn had gone wrong. Either way you take to reach the dam it is still an amazing hike. One all ages can do and pretty easy with a little rock scrambling near the dam.