Tag Archives: nature trail

Petroglyphs and A Dry Barker Dam

IMG_8973After 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.

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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.

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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.

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Mara Oasis at Joshua Tree Oasis Visitor Center

IMG_8973A friend and I went to Joshua Tree National Park for a weekend. Our first stop was the Joshua Tree Oasis Visitor Center. The main building was currently closed for renovations, but they did still have a temporary building with a small gift shop to explore. The staff was very knowledgable about the area and the best hikes and places to explore as well. We bought a couple postcards and I purchased a chap stick that is the best I’ve ever bought. I’ll be sure to go back just for that chap stick when I start to run low.

Outside the temporary building there are a few things to explore, starting with the front of the main building where you can learn the different plants from the jumping cholla to the barrel cactus to the creosote bush. They even have the history of who started the park. Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, the leader of the Garden Club of America, saw beauty in the desert and was determined to protected it from those who saw it as an empty wasteland. In 1936 she persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to establish Joshua Tree National Monument. In 1994 the park was renamed it to Joshua Tree National Park when the California Desert Protection Act added 234,000 acres.

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My friend and I headed into the park quickly after our short look around, but I returned the following day to check out the Oasis of Mara nature trail. The trail is a .5 mile loop that is paved and easily accessible for everyone. It starts off very close to the oasis where what used to be a .5 mile stretch of marsh plants surrounding several small ponds back in 1855 has been reduced, due to earthquake activity, to several tall palm trees sitting in a tiny pipe watered 15ft wide pond. If the water drops more than 10-15ft below the surface, resource managers are prepared to water the palms.

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Native Americans used to use this oasis as a camp and trading spot. Water was so plentiful they grazed cattle and irrigated a 5 acre garden. But they also recognized the usefulness of the plants grown here including the honey mesquite and fan palms for food, firewood, building materials, and habitat for game. It’s hard to imagine how differently it must have looked back then when today it is surrounded by dry desert.

As you walk around the loop there are several stops along the way pointing out the plants and animals and how culture, landscape, the Pinto Mountain Fault have changed today. Take your time learning about all these different aspects of the area and before you leave be sure to walk around the back of the main visitor center building and check out the Chilean Mill. Built during the gold rush in the 1930’s this mill was actually used in Chile. Ore was broken into gravel sized pieces and then loaded into the hopper. It was then fed into the mill tub with water and reduced into a slurry. The slurry, created by two wheels rotating in opposite directions, was then strained through a fine mesh screen on the concentration table. This table was then shaken, separating the debris from the gold.

There is so much to see here and it’s much more than just the oasis so take a little time to walk around, explore and learn about Joshua Tree National Park’s history.

Jumping Cholla Cactus Garden

IMG_8973In Joshua Tree National Park there is a Cholla Cactus Garden. Being somewhat fascinated by this cactus after my hike at Tahquitz Canyon and hearing Ralph’s story about someone that swung their hand to close to the cactus and had to go to the hospital to have the numerous prickers taken out, I decided to check it out.

I drove away from the crowded parts of the park and out into what felt like the middle of nowhere, taking the only road that connects the north and south ends of the park. The route to get there is pretty clear, but there aren’t any markers along the way. After a long time of driving I started to think maybe I had missed it. ’10 more minutes and then I’ll turn back,’ I thought to myself. Another 5 minutes down the road it curved around a bend and once around it there were cholla cacti as far as the eyes could see in front of me. I knew I was close and within a few minutes I saw the pull off for the garden trail.

This trail has no restrooms, unlike most of the trails within the park so if you plan on visiting make sure you stop at White Tank campground before you head out that way. It is a small nature trail, about .25 miles completely surrounding you with cholla cacti. There is a trail has a map that will guide you and tell you about the cacti as you go with about 14 stops along the way. They are easy to see along the trail. Unfortunately there were no guides left when I went, but it was still an amazing trail just the same. If they are there when you go be sure to leave them for future visitors.

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Be extremely careful as you walk through the garden. Stay on the path one to preserve the area and two to protect yourself against the jumping cholla. While the Jumping Cholla are also known as the “teddy bear” cactus and may look like a soft fuzzy teddy bear from a distance don’t be fooled. As you get closer you will be able to see it is covered in silver spines ready to prick and protect against anything that gets too close. If you brush past it, it will seem to “jump” out at you and prick you with it’s spines about .25″ into your skin, detaching that segment of the plant. They also drop segments to create new cacti and these can become lodged into your skin as well. The path will allow you to be almost certain that there are no segments under your feet.

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As I walked through the garden it was beautiful. The further I went down the path the more and more surrounded by cholla cacti I became. With the mountains in the distance, the view was magical. Most of the cholla were about shoulder high or lower while a few grew to a foot over my head. Most of them had little black or dark brown fuzzy segments around their bases and a few were dying. Some were breaking down and falling apart and you could see the structure of their insides.

This nature trail is definitely one to be put on your short list of things to see while visiting Joshua Tree National Park. I don’t think there are many places like it. It’s almost as if you’ve driven and stepped into a completely new world.