I have already written about one trail I hiked and loved on my recent trip to Joshua Tree and today I want to talk about two easy trails that let you see some of the history of the park; Barker Dam and Wall Street Mill.
First off is Barker Dam Trail. This trail is just over a one mile loop that can really be considered a nature trail when there is low water in the dam. There have been years in the past where high water has made this trail more challenging so be sure to check with the Ranger Station if you are concerned about having to jump from boulder to boulder at some points, this is rare but it's always best to check.
Right now, California is in a drought and the water level was extremely low but that didn't ruin the nature trail at all. It is a great trail with a mix of Joshua Trees and big boulders. You see a lot of birds on this trail and it is well marked with signs indicating plant and animal life along the trail.
Unfortunately, this trail has also seen a lot of vandalism. Barker Dam is a dam that was built by Cattle Ranchers in the region in the late 1800's. This is considered an historic site but when the water is low you can see where people have carved into the dam. Because of this there are signs and markers indicating that you can no longer walk up to the dam itself (though we saw plenty of people ignore this.) While it was really upsetting to see just how damaged the dam was from engraving and graffiti, this is still a very family friendly trail and good for all skill level.
You can also see petroglyphs on this trail. While these petroglyphs were damaged when a movie was filmed here in the 1960's, it is still one of my favorite things we saw because it was a reminder of the different types of people who lived and thrived in the desert. Just as the dam shows the history of the cattle ranchers who came down from the mountains, the petroglyphs show that the desert has always been vibrant with life, including human life.
The other trail we did this day was the Wall Street Mill Trail (you can find it on this map here). It is another short hike but it is a little more of a challenge than the Barker Dam. This was the first trail on the trip where we did not see a single person until we were almost back at the parking lot. You can access it from the same parking lot as Barker Dam and it is another trail that leads to some of the history in the park.
At one point it forks and we went to the left and found this abandoned house (which our guidebook told us we would find.) It is best to return to the trail from the way you came instead of trying to use one of the other trails that appear to meet back up with the trail further along because it does not look like those trails actually connect to the main trail. Most of this trail is a sand wash, which is not the most exciting thing to walk in but the benefit of this trail is that you get out into a valley that is quiet and away from the main trails and areas fairly quickly.
You end up at an old mill from the days when mining was common in the area. There is a lot more to see than just this part of the mill but it was difficult to take pictures of because a lot of it is back behind brush or at the base of trees. There are a couple of really old abandoned cars as well. Again. this is another trail that kind of leaves you in awe - not because of any huge physical feat you will accomplish or sweeping views from a high summit - but because it is a sign of how people lived and worked in this desert in the eras before.
As I said before, we didn't run into a single person until we were in sight of the parking lot. That made this trail really special because you walk a mile into this valley and there are no cars, no people, just lots of birds, lizards, and Joshua Trees. Moments like that in this park are impossible to describe but entirely worth waiting for.