February 13, 2013

Photo Essay: Joshua Tree's Barker Dam, Closed to Public (Updated for 2020)

[Last updated 2/23/20 1:53 PM PT—Barker Dam underwent a major restoration to remove the graffiti in 2014-15 and is once again open to the public.]

It was announced today that Barker Dam, one of the more curious historical artifacts of Joshua Tree National Park, would be closed until further notice.

photo courtesy National Park Service

The dam itself, which has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, has sustained quite a bit of recent damage due to vandalism. In the tradition of the Chumash Indians, modern visitors - perhaps one at first, and then others followed - have carved their modern version of petroglyphs into the stone, their names and other messages taking the form of vandalism.

It didn't look like that when I embarked on the Barker Dam Nature Loop last July.

Tucked away in the Wonderland of Rocks, although the trail was well-trodden...

...the entire area was pristine. Save for the actual petroglyphs you can find nearby.

Amidst the joshua trees...

...and boulders that rockclimbers adore...

...there lie relics of old ranchers' work...

...starting at the turn of the century, where Barker Dam - then called Big Horn Dam - was built upon a natural water tank, a catch basin for runoff that came through the rocks.

That was before the real desertification of Joshua Tree. There was more water back then.

Now, wildlife flock to Barker Dam, which still collects water in its reservoir at wetter times of year than  when I was there.

Even with the reservoir dry, vegetation is lush.

In the 1940s, the dam was raised and expanded by the Keys family...

...and in the dry season you can see how high the water line is against the concrete wall.

It must be surreal to find water so accessible in the desert, not hidden away in some deeply enshrouded palm oasis.

But for me, it was dry.

And now, for others, even when wet, it will be closed. At least, until the damage can be stabilized.

Nearby Attractions:
Wall Street Mill

Other Reservoirs & Dams:
Lake Hollywood Reservoir (Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA)
Baldwin Hills Reservoir (Closed) (Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles, CA)
Silverlake Reservoir (Silverlake, Los Angeles, CA)
Elysian Reservoir (Elysian Park, Los Angeles, CA)
Devil's Gate Dam (La CaƱada Flintridge, CA)
Kensico Dam (Bronx, NY)
Hoover Dam (Lake Mead, Boulder City, NV)


  1. I also visited the Barker Dam area last July. Didn't actually see the dam itself, but I did see a desert bighorn.

    Planning to hike not far from Hoover Dam this weekend. Haven't been there since long before the bypass bridge was built.

  2. Thats wild about the dam. We just hiked the path in December...

  3. And once again, MANkind proves how small-minded and incompetently-endowed in all areas they are.