Great Hike: Barker Dam
My ambition has been to go on a great hike in each park and not necessarily to determine the best hike after an exhaustive survey. Though sometimes I tried for the higher standard, after more than 25 miles of hiking these past three days on Catalina Island I didn’t have it in me today to strike out on long trails. Consequently I consulted with the Visitors Center ranger and narrowed down my list of prospects.
Before talking about my hike I want to describe the park. Most people haven’t heard of Joshua Tree NP and with good reason. It’s only been around as a National Park since 1995 and while it was created for several reasons there is one stand-out reason which affected me.
Last I visited I drove from south-to-north through the park and remember vividly the realization of the changes. This time when traveling north-to-south, even knowing what to expect, I was impressed again. The transition from Mojave desert to Colorado Sonora desert is obvious, arresting and distinct. The higher northern portion is cooler, is full of tall Joshua trees and rocky hills, and is more interesting. The lower southern portion is warmer, littered with creosote bushes, is flat, and is almost boring. Between them is a few miles of transition where cholla cacti grow in abundance. This description is terribly oversimplified but it really was quite something to witness.
Aside from preserving the transition of deserts there were several other reasons why the park was formed. One was to protect endangered plants and animals. People were coming to the desert and taking local cactus which at different times have been popular. Also, rare animals such as turtles were dying out. Much of the park is wilderness areas, the government’s highest designation of land protection status.
Barker Dam Trail was a diverse and interesting hike. It put much of the Mojave’s character on display as you walked through boulder fields and around rocky hills and indigenous vegetation. Petroglyphs demonstrated that man had long ago learned to survive in the harsh conditions and by featuring the Barker Dam it gave evidence of how nature had been harnessed for survival’s sake. Lots of variety and all of it in a one mile loop. It was a winner!
The rest of my time was spent driving the length of the park and doing only short trails or pull-outs. Skull Rock was aptly named and quite a site. While I had been told of recent long-horn sheep sightings along Sheep Trail, I spent 15 minutes visually scouring the rocky cliffs but came up with nothing. Another feature I was impressed by were the oases which are lush and dense with vegetation and stand out in stark contrast to their surroundings. The Cholla Cactus Garden was also a joy as they each looked so soft and friendly but their spines clung ferociously to anything they pricked.
There were many things I missed due to time constraints. I’d really like to return to see the Keys Ranch which remains as it was in 1971 when it was deserted after 100 years of occupation. There are several old mines from the gold rush days that would be fun to visit. Several overlook sites with great vistas were calling out to me as were several rock outcroppings that looked like they’d be fun to climb. There’s lots more I’d like to do in this park.by