Joshua Tree National Park: Barker Dam Hike

After spending some time studying our hiking book, we decided to head for the Barker Dam Hike, which could be accessed from the West entrance to the park, some 14 miles from where we are camping.

Once inside the park, the Joshua Trees are only half the story. There also are the most interesting rock formations with immense boulders. The area is also a popular rock-climbing location.

When we reached the trailhead, we found this informational sign.

Here is a map of the trails in the area. We were to take the one-mile loop in the center of the map, marked in red.

This was also a nature trail, and so I'm providing images of some of the signs, along with the associated plants.

This first one was a fairly sizable tree.

We studied it in search of the galls or the acorns. We found none on the tree, but I found this acorn a few yards up the trail.

It was an easy hike with a well-marked trail. In some places, stone steps were provided.

We saw lots of squirrels and chipmunks, mostly running lickety-split across the trail in front of us. This guy was a ways off, sitting high on a rock, and he sat there seemingly bored with the foot traffic going by.

Also, we saw quite a bit of prickly pear cactus.

Halfway around the loop, we came to Barker Dam. Our hiking book informs us this area was a favorite of cattle rustlers, since it was easy to keep cattle contained within the boundaries of the rocks. However, there were legal operations here as well. Bill Keys ran a legal ranch, and it is still possible to tour his ranch on a guided tour with the park service. (There are a lot of things in the park named for Bill Keys.)

These names were written into the cement used to build the dam. The year is 1949-50.

It was possible to stand on top. This image was taken around the front side of the dam. You can see where the level was raised later on.

The water level is dependent on how much rainfall there is at any particular time of the year. On our hike, there was quite a bit of water behind the dam.

Below the dam was this trough. Our hiking book tells the inner circle held some kind of flotation device that kept it from overflowing.

Turning in the other direction, and moving on, we saw this view of the area known as the Piano Valley. It doesn't show well in this picture, but we could see snow-capped mountains off in the distance.

The large rock in the center of the image below is called "Piano Rock." Our hiking book tells us that you can use your imagination to see a grand piano in the rock, but that is not how it got its name. According to our hiking book, locals organized musical camping trips to this area in the 1930s. Willis Keys, then a young local resident, said a piano was placed on top of this boulder, and campers could sit and listen to music.

They sat on the Joshua tree logs you see in the image below.

Hard to imagine how they would have gotten a piano atop that boulder, but I don't attest to the veracity of this story...I'm just the messenger.

Here again, we could see snow on the mountains off in the distance.

We didn't actually see the plant listed below, but it contained the word "cat," and so I had to include it. We have our rules.

Until yesterday, we didn't know that manzanita is the Spanish word for "little apples." It makes sense though since I happen to know the Spanish word for "apples" is manzana.

This was a healthy specimen.

Looking more closely, you can see the red wood, and this one appears to be forming buds for a bloom.

It was lovely back in here with Joshua trees growing thick, and piles of boulders all around. Here is a panorama of where we stood.

A spur off the trail led to some petroglyphs. As for the vandalism, our hiking book informed us this was done by a filming crew in an attempt to make them more visible. You have to wonder the mindset of folks who would do such a thing.

Standing to the side, we could also see this arch in the rock.

Signs told us there were big horn sheep in the area, although we saw none, and so it wasn't surprising to see the drawing to the right.

We saw these "water saver" guys when we took our hike to Keane Springs in Death Valley. They look a lot like the kelp you might see along an ocean beach.

We found these along the Joshua Tree trail, but they were lying on the ground, rather than standing straight-up...apparently, trampled by someone or something.

We'd encountered some areas of wetness along the trail, and we wondered about the source of the moisture until we came to this area with snow on the ground where rocks shaded it from the sun.

A little more walking took us back to the parking lot where we'd started, and that was our hike for the day.

We may go do another hike today, or we might be discouraged by crowds. There were quite a few people on the trail yesterday, and it took about 10 minutes to enter the park with just four cars ahead of us. When we left just after noon, the line was amazingly long...perhaps 50 cars waiting to get through the gate. They were going to wait a very long time just to get into the park. This being Saturday, we could encounter a big line-up like that...and that would discourage us. So, we'll see. We haven't really talked about what the day holds. If there is hiking to be done, we'll need an early start. We come to this park frequently, and so there's always next year. We have one more day here before moving on to Hemet.

11 comments from clever and witty friends:

QuiltShopGal said...

What a fun place to hike. Thanks for sharing photos and insights. And, looks like you had absolutely perfect weather for such a hike.

Julierose said...

What a hiking adventure--amazing sights..hugs, Julierose

gpc said...

Fascinating. I visited Joshua Tree Park several summers ago with my siblings when my brother rented (and later bought) a place nearby. I was the only one of the four of us who had hiking boots and wanted to explore a little, so we didn't see much, but the little bit we saw was pretty awe inspiring. I could have used more of the info signs that you found!

Dorothy said...

I'm so glad we get to come along on te trip with you. You're an amazing tour guide

quiltzyx said...

Huzzah! I am caught up with your posts at last. :)
So many cool places & wonderful photos to see today.
I camped at Joshua Tree when I was 16, with a huge group of adults & teens mostly. I drove out with a girlfriend & met up with some other friends. We spent 1 night (I think it was Memorial Day weekend) and it was like close to 100f by about 10 am the next morning. Too hot for us, so, along with 2 other friends, we all jammed into the Pinto to go back home. I drove, 2 people in the other front seat, the 4th in the back with an ice chest on his lap and ALL of our camping gear packed around him & filling the trunk to the very top. And of COURSE we had a flat tire just as we got onto the freeway!! Had to unpack the trunk so we could put on the spare. Whew! I'm glad your trip has been way less eventful that mine was. And that your coughing illness has dissipated.
I'm looking forward to staying caught up now that the Colleges have brought the weekend operators back from break.
Was your quilt accepted at Road to California? The landscape company I work for has been working hard getting the Ontario Convention Center looking good for the quilt show!

Carol- Beads and Birds said...

well this is an interesting post!! I am facinated by rocks and rock formations. I'd be happy to hike there for sure.
xx, Carol

piecefulwendy said...

If we ever visit Joshua Tree again, we'll have to do some of the hikes. How interesting. Thanks for taking us along!

Lyndsey said...

This is a really interesting post. Love all you photos and feel as if I took part in the hike.

QuiltGranma said...

In our travels around Utah and adjoining states we have seen strange plants that have inspired unusual sci-fi representations in, say, Star Trek. It always makes us laugh that the interpretations of the plants are not original to the makers of the program, but part of God's Creation.

Kate said...

Looks like a great hike with some great scenery. I wondered how much traffic some of these parks get in "off" season. We've been to a few over the years and have learned that you have to go early just to get in and have a chance of parking at any of the trail heads.

Susan R said...

Thank you so much for taking me along with you through this amazing park. I live but only 50 miles from Joshua Tree and although I have driven through many times I've not got out of the car and hiked a bit. Your trip along with pictures has given me the gift of traveling with you on your journey!! I love your Blog and of course I'm a cat person as well. So from Palm Desert you have my sincere thank you and love.