An unlikely desert lake is generally the high point of a hike to Barker Dam, but there’s an even more unusual sight at the end of the loop trail that you might have missed even if you’ve hiked it a few times. We’re talking petroglyphs—but there’s more to this story.
The flat, 1.25-mile loop starts next door to the Wall Street Mill trailhead near Hidden Valley. The dam it leads to was completed by Joshua Tree rancher legend William F. Keys in 1949 and now provides a rare supply of freshwater for resident fauna. It may be the best spot in the park to spot desert bighorn sheep, and probably the only place where you’ll see coots, mallards, grebes, and herons. Scramble up some boulders to get a better vantage point, which will also include creosote, pinyon pines, desert willows, and the small white blooms of the desert tobacco flower. After the dam, the trail descends slightly into an open flatland, dotted with Joshua trees, yucca, and a variety of cacti.
When you reach the trail junction, head straight toward a large overhanging boulder. You’ll quickly see its bold, colorful glyphs. Beautiful? Yes. Authentic? Only sort of. It seems that a Disney film crew painted over the originals in order to make them “pop” on screen for the 1961 nonclassic, Chico the Misunderstood Coyote. It’s what we now call vandalism.
As you finish the loop and return to your car, think not of Disney, but of the indigenous Cahuilla people, their culture, and what you have learned about their way of life through both trail signage and the glyphs. After all, they were here first.
BONUS ARTS: As unlikely as a desert lake is a desert museum devoted to the art of crocheting. This do-not-miss but hard-to-find haven of art—look for a small sign just east of Park Boulevard—is the Crochet Museum, adjacent to the equally interesting gallery, Art Queen, both of which are run by local Shari Elf. The variety of crocheted creations is astounding, and we can only imagine the skill it takes to create such unique pieces. The adjacent gallery and surrounding space are also a joy to explore. Say hello to the kind folks who run it. They’re anything but crotchety.
To get to the Barker Dam trailhead and parking lot, take the I-10 east to the CA-62 and after 26.7 miles, turn right onto Park Blvd. and follow it for about 14 miles to the park entrance station. Turn left onto Barker Dam Rd. and follow it 1.5 miles to the parking lot and trail. No dogs. To get to the Crochet Museum, take the CA-62 to the intersection with Park Blvd. Park on the street and find the entrance just past the Joshua Tree Saloon.