Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hike 2012.048B -- Barker Dam, Joshua Tree National Park

Hiked Saturday, July 21. After my Big Morongo Preserve hike, I got back in my car and continued east on Highway 62, through the towns of of Morongo Valley and Yucca Valley, and on to the town of Joshua Tree. Just before Park Blvd (the road that leads to the "West" entrance to Joshua Tree), there's an outlet of Santana's Mexican Food. You'll have passed one of their other outlets as you drove through Yucca Valley, and you'd reach another one if you continued to 29 Palms.

In my case, since it was still hot outside and I was waiting for dark, I got it into my head to stop here for dinner. From the moment I got into the car at Big Morongo Canyon, Santana's was on my mind.

They may have painted the outside or changed the sign since my last visit, as I actually drove right past them the first time. I turned around after Park Blvd and was thinking I might have to try the Indian food place on the other side of the road. However, from the westbound side of the road, Santana's was pretty obvious.

They're a little pricey, and I don't know if I liked them because their food is objectively good or just because I associate them with so many dark sky trips to Joshua Tree. About half the time here, I order a fish burrito, and that's what I went with today. Delicious, to me!

This killed about half an hour, but it was still plenty warm. Nonethe-less, I continued east on Highway 62 all of about 30 yards, then turned right, on Park Blvd. This road winds through residential areas and desert hills before reaching the West entrance station. I pulled out my America the Beautiful Pass and continued on, sans map. I figured I knew where I was going.

However, it had been a while since my last visit to Hidden Valley (the day use area where I used to set up on dark sky weekends in the past), and I managed to miss my turn, despite the large sign.

I made a left at the next road (about 100 yards later), and saw a sign saying this road would take me to Barker Dam. I knew from past readings that there was a short hike at Barker Dam, and it was still at least 90 minutes before dark. I was not sure about the road distance to get to the parking area, but I was pretty sure it would not be far.

Fortunately, I was correct. I'd estimate 1.5 to 2 miles from Park Blvd to the Barker Dam parking area.

From there, there are two trails indicated. Slightly west of the pit toilet is a sign for the Barker Dam hike I was planning to take. Somewhat to the east of the toilets was a trail marked for Wall Street Mill, which is supposed to be about 1.1 miles away.

I took the left trail. It runs over sand as it weaves between rock formations. On one of the rocks to the right, a peregrine falcon roosted.

The way is generally level, with slight inclines and descents along a well-marked trail.

About about 1/4 of a mile, the trail bent to the left. It passed among more rocks before setting you out at a rocky outcropping. I assumed this was an overlook for the reservoir behind Barker Dam. However, where I might have expected to see a reservoir, I saw, instead, moist sand, and a "bathtub" ring of salts along the rocks opposite where I stood.

A quartet of Japanese tourists pointed to the right side of the depression, and said, "Sheep." Sure enough, a desert bighorn sheep was eating or licking the ground there. Unfortunately, from our perspective, all we could see was its butt.

After about five minutes, he turned to profile, and continued eating. A few minutes later, he slowly walked from right to left. I took about 20 pictures over these ten or minutes. Lots of sheep butts, a few in profile, and a few of the sheep in motion.

After the sheep disappeared from view, I continued with the rest of the loop. The part after the overlook was somewhat longer than the way in, though still pretty short. It ran briefly west, then mostly south. Just before it turned to the east, it reached a sign that indicated petroglyphs. A rock with a large hollowed area was covered in colorful paintings, which apparently was someone being "helpful" or artistic by painting over the ancient art work in colors that would stand out better.

By now, the sun was getting low. I really enjoy the look of the desert as the sun's rays grow long. Lots of shadows, including some nifty Joshua tree shadows on rocks.

Got back to my car and drove over to Hidden Valley day use area. I was surprised to find no telescopes set up there. The prospect of getting locked behind the gates also deterred me, so I wound up setting up in a different, nearby parking. Still had a large, flat lot to set up on, right next to my car. Still had the vault toilets, if needed. And still had the relatively dark skies of the Mojave Desert, and the warm air of a summer night, for me to enjoy the stars.

I cranked up my relatively new mount (a Meade LX80, for those who follow such things), did an alignment, and did a whole lot of goto-ing. It's been a while since I've had a working goto mount. It's fun for seeing a lot in a little time. Not as much fun as finding things on your own, but much quicker.

The sky seems brighter than I remembered it here, especially to the south. The Milky Way is still dramatic, and even subtle things like the Veil Nebula stand out nicely even without an O-III filter.

After about 90 minutes of enjoying the highlights of the summer Milky Way, I packed up my telescope and headed home. The mount worked acceptably--the gotos were on target--but the was far less stable than I would have expected, given its weight. Still haven't decided if it's a good buy or not.


  1. Wow I would love to hike this area

  2. I was hoping you'd post a picture of that fish burrito!

  3. John-- Nah, too hungry to stop for a picture. ;D

    Kay--Probably too hot to be fun for you now, but it looks just as nice (but cooler) in September or October!