A short and well-trodden nature trail in the center of the park. An easy way to get a glimpse at one of the most accessible areas of the Wonderland of Rocks, as well as seeing evidence of Native American petroglyphs. There is also a small, man-made reservoir here that will provide the rare chance to see water in the desert.

The Barker Dam loop is a small, short nature trail that winds through an impressive series of boulders at the southern end of the Wonderland of Rocks. This is a very popular area for both hikers, strollers, and rock climbers alike — and for good reason. The path is easy, the elevation gain is negligible, and the scenery is outstanding. This was the last trail I did on the way out of Joshua Tree — and getting there as the sun sets adds an extra highlight to the layers of giant boulders along the way.

There are two approaches from the large parking area — be sure you’re heading slightly toward the west as you approach. There is also a side trail that winds through some boulders to the northeast. While this will give you a little chance to explore the surrounding environment, and perhaps continue northeast to the Wall Street Mill.

If you stick to the west entrance, soon you’ll find yourself walking down a narrow canyon, closed in by high boulder walls on all sides. The effect is striking, but not at all claustrophobic. These aren’t slot canyons, by any means. But if you look up on either side, you may find some of the more adventurous hikers trying their hand at scrambling up the monzonite.

The trail continues on for a short distance, making a few small climbs, then finally reaches the Main Attraction — Barker Reservoir. Built upon a natural water tank, the original Barker Dam was built higher by the Keys family while homesteading, and now whenever it rains, a picturesque lake forms in the middle of these desert rocks. The original settlers used it for irrigation and cattle. Now, it makes for some great Kodak moments.

The first time I was here, in 2005, the area was in the middle of a very wet season, and the lake was almost full. This time, the water was so low that I could walk out almost into the middle of the lake … but it was still a beautiful area. You can see the high-water marks on the rocks in this photo:

Nearby, you can spot the dam itself — topped with a handwritten inscription by the Keys clan, and a still-standing cattle trough at the base of the dam.

From here, the nature trail opens up into a wide, flat valley, surrounded by the trademark rock formations of Joshua Tree on all sides. The trail makes a wide circle through the valley, passing several interpretive plaques along the way. There are also some well-marked petroglyphs which, unfortunately, were painted over to make them more visible.

If you’re doing this trail on your way out of the park, like I did, enjoy the solitude you’ve probably got in this central valley. It’s a great place to watch the first stars start to appear during sunset.

If this trail isn’t quite enough for you, consider tacking on the nearby loop to Wonderland Ranch and the Wall Street Mill.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, the REI Blog, Adventure Journal, and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub. He was in Columbia Sportswear's inaugural #OmniTen program and was featured prominently in their documentary "I Am #OmniTen."

His stories for Modern Hiker have brought regional and national attention, and have been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press.

Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer, and was Series Producer of pivot's TakePart Live and Head Writer of G4's Attack of the Show.

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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on January 29, 2008


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