Southern California is blessed with great weather, it also happens to be home to some great parks including Joshua Tree National Park.
Hikes and nature walks within the park are plentiful, with a dozen short trails that are less than 2miles in length and in excess of 60miles of longer day hikes and overnight trails.
It is a desert landscape out here (with features of both the Colorado and Mojave Deserts), so expect dry, dusty, rocky and sometimes rough conditions. Parts of the park are prone to flash floods and washouts, meaning if you’re heading out for a day trek, check the weather and heed the advice of local park rangers as it can quickly get dangerous out here, especially the Cottonwood area of the park.
In terms of vegetation, the Joshua Tree stands out as the key attraction. This stunted, oddly shaped cactus goes by many names, including the yucca palm tree, because of how it looks. It is only found in scattered desert areas of southern California, Utah, Nevada and western Arizona.
In the early 1900s, cattle ranching was a big industry in this area, so you’ll find remnants of dams and ranching activities along a handful of the trails in the park, including the short Barker Dam hike.
It helps brings the harsh desert environment to life, thinking about what it would have been like to have to survive in this area without any modern convenience, and it still serves a purpose today. The dam creates a rain-filled pool that attracts birds and desert-life to the area.
While it may be birds and wildlife fighting over the fresh water access today, a century ago it was ranchers and miners battling it out for access and ownership of the essential water.
The Barker Damn hike is only a 1.3mile loop through desert washes and rolling rocky landscapes. Hiking along you will come across troughs and circular water holes near the dam. You can scramble over the boulders and rocks to get a closer look of the dam as well, which was originally built by the Barker & Shay Cattle Company and then improved in 1949-1950 by the Keys family.
Depending on the season you visit, the water pools and dam may be dry or nearly dry today. Rainfall in the area has changed substantially in only 100 years. Around 10 inches of annual rain was normal when the dam was built, but today it often only rains two inches per year.
Nearby to the Barker Dam trail is the 2.2mile long Wall Street Mill Trail, which has a well-preserved gold mill. Whether you decide to only take the Barker Dam trail or loop both trails together for a longer hike, remember to bring plenty of water with you. Out here, the rule of thumb is that once your water is ½ gone, it is time to turn around no matter where you are.
The landscape of Joshua Tree National Park makes for a great destination for rock-climbing as well with the Gunsmoke climbing area just beyond the Barker Dam trail. All this adventure is only a few hours away from sunny San Diego.