We are heading to Barker Dam in California’s Joshua Tree National Park in the morning.
We should have gotten going earlier this morning, but the coffee shop in town doesn’t open until 7, so we decided that is early enough. And, in some ways it is.
Exploring Barker Dam
The light is still beautiful on the rocks along the drive to Barker Dam and the boulders that obscure the entrance to the dam are still in deep shade.
But when we reach the area around the dam itself, the sandy path is full of tracks both human-made and otherwise.
It makes us wish we had been here earlier!
There is a humming bird perched high in a tree, otherwise, all is still and quiet as we move through large boulders.
The trail soon takes us to the shores of a little pond, the surrounding rock reflected in the mirror-still water.
This might be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I could sit here all day watching the ducks, listening to the birds, and just soaking in the stillness and solitude.
(We do sit here quite a long time, but the sun keeps climbing higher in the sky so finally it is time to tear ourselves away and move on. )
At the far end of the pond we find the dam responsible for this watery dreamscape.
The original dam, the stone layer at the bottom, was constructed by C. O. Barker and other area cattlemen in 1900. Fifty years later it was raised to its current height (the concrete layer) by local rancher William Keys. Both Keys Desert Queen Ranch and Barker Dam are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While it usually goes by the name Barker Dam, Keys called it Big Horn Dam.
There’s also an odd round trough near the dam.
Apparently this was designed to provide drinking water for humans in the center section. That water could overflow into the lower basin, where it was accessible to livestock.
The area behind and above Barker Dam also offers an unexpected vista.
From that point the trail winds down to the sandy plain at the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks and back to the trail’s beginning.
Plan your visit to Barker Dam
The Barker Dam Trail is one of the most popular trails in Joshua Tree National Park.
The national park is less than an hour’s drive from Palm Springs. But it will take at least another half-hour or so to reach the trail once you are in the park.
Located between the park’s west and 29 Palms entrances, it’s easy to get to Barker Dam from either direction. Once there, visitors will find picnic tables and a large parking area. The trail itself is an easy 1½ mile loop — although the section around Barker Dam itself requires squeezing through a few narrow passages, climbing a few stairs, and walking over boulders. It’s easy, but not flat.
As rainfall in Joshua Tree continues to decrease, it’s become much more unusual to see a significant amount of standing water behind the dam. But it’s still a great hike. And early morning or early evening hikers should see birds in the area around the dam and may spot other wildlife as well.
Bring plenty of water with you. While this hike is short, most of it is under full sun. No water is available at the site.
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