Joshua Tree National Park Association, Desert Institute

Photo Credit: Paul Moeller

Exploring Nature through Education

The Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park is an adult education program offering an in-depth exploration of the park’s natural wonders. Learn from highly qualified instructors who are passionate about sharing their expertise and committed to providing a personal and fun learning experience. The Desert Institute is sponsored by the Joshua Tree National Park Association and operates with the full endorsement of the National Park Service. Join us this season for an educational adventure.

This season of Desert Institute classes is made possible by the generous sponsorship of Visit 29 Palms. Check out to learn about all the great shops, restaurants, lodging and attractions in Twentynine Palms and start planning your visit.

If you are a member of JTNPA you will get a $10 discount off every Desert Institute class. Visit to learn more.

For information on all classes and to register for Desert Institute events, go to

Art and Culture in the Desert
February 11, 18, 25
This series of art tours each visit distinct cultural enclaves within the greater desert area. Sign up for all three, and get 10% off!

Tour 1: Art and Culture of Bombay Beach
Feb 11, 1-5 PM, Bombay Beach, CA
Enjoy a guided discovery of the unique town and art sites of Bombay Beach on the east shores of the Salton Sea in this (mostly) walking half-day tour. Since 2016, the annual Bombay Beach Biennale season has attracted artists from around the globe, creating artworks, performances, pop-up galleries, and events in vacant lots and empty buildings. As the Salton Sea shrinks, the open-air canvas grows, and new installations are constantly popping up on the increasingly exposed playa. Your tour guide: Sandi Wheaton, Bombay Beach local and photographer.
Activity Level: Moderate

Tour 2: Walking Coachella’s Pueblo Viejo
Feb 18, 9 AM-1 PM, Coachella Valley, CA
Enjoy a guided walking tour of historic downtown Coachella, aka the Pueblo Viejo District, and learn about the colorful and meaningful variety of public art. Participants will see how art installations honor Mexicans and Chicanos who have had a profound and lasting impact on the local community and reflect the innovation and progress propelling contemporary art throughout the desert and beyond. Your tour guide: Steven Biller, Editor in Chief of Palm Springs Life.
Activity Level: Easy-Moderate

Tour 3: Contemporary Art of Joshua Tree
Feb 25, 1-5 PM, Joshua Tree, CA
Joshua Tree and its environs are well-known for the burgeoning artist community that has been drawn here. Bernard Leibov, Director of BoxoPROJECTS, takes us through his highlights of the local cultural scene. After an introduction and orientation in the classroom, Bernard will take us on the road to visit several of the interesting art sites in the area. Your tour guide: Bernard Leibov, Founder and Director of BoxoPROJECTS and co-founder/curator of Joshua Treenial.
Activity Level: Easy-Moderate

Star Trail Photography
Saturday, Feb 11, 5–8 PM
Joshua Tree National Park is world famous for its dark skies! The park is one of the few places in Southern California where you can see the night sky. In this workshop, photographer Casey Kiernan will show you how to use your DSLR or mirrorless camera to create star-trail images. All skill levels are welcome. Learn how to capture the Milky Way. You will need a camera that allows for interchangeable lenses and manual settings of aperture, exposure duration, ISO, and a sturdy tripod. In order to capture the night sky, it is best to use a wide-angle lens. It also helps to have a fast lens.
Activity Level: Easy

Salton Sea Photography Workshop
Sunday, Feb 12, 10 AM-7 PM
Sandi Wheaton has been traveling to the Salton Sea annually to document its constantly changing landscape since 2004 and knows exactly where the great places are for interesting photographs. Your tour will start with coffee/tea and a slideshow at Bombay Soleil (Sandi’s studio in Bombay Beach), introducing you to the area, its history, and the sites you will be visiting. You will then head out to explore and photograph inspiring art sites like Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain (featured in the movie “Into the Wild”), East Jesus sculpture garden, and the growing art community of Bombay Beach. At the end of the day, you will spend time capturing the sunset among the beautiful natural landscapes and seascapes along the southeast shores of the Salton Sea. Please note that the Salton Sea is constantly changing, and some of the iconic structures that have been popular to photograph are rapidly disappearing – but new great photo locations are revealing themselves as well!
Activity Level: Moderate

Moss Ecology & Diversity
Saturday, Feb 18, 9 AM–Sunday, February 19, 4 PM
Moss in the desert? Why, yes! Come learn the many important roles mosses play in desert ecosystems. Learn about mosses’ adaptation for “drying without dying” in desert ecosystems and how microhabitats help protect mosses from the extreme desert climate. Use specimens and microscopes to identify 10 common Mojave Desert mosses (genus or species) while learning through observation what features define mosses and how to distinguish them from similar-looking species of lichens, algae, ferns, and herbs. Learn to characterize protective features of moss microhabitats and quantify how such habitats may help shelter mosses from the brunt of future climate change.
Activity Level: Easy

From Our Partners

Community Wellness
Sunday, Feb 19, 1-4 PM
So much of modern life takes place in our minds, many of us are engaged in stationary work and drive hours in our cars. As a result, we disconnect our mind from our body experiences. Tune in to your senses with this community meditation and movement class. Yoga Therapist, Amanda B’Hymer, will lead accessible practices noticing what our bodies are telling us with gentle breath and grounding exercises. We’ll begin indoors to awaken the body, then move outdoors to allow our senses to engage and connect. Each class will close with a quiet activity to embody what our senses collected and to settle the mind.
Activity level: This class is designed for all humans. There are no fitness requirements and no experience in yoga or meditation is required.

Biocrust Wonder Walk
Monday, Feb 20, 9 AM–1 PM
The desert floor may look like dirt and sand from afar, but with a trained eye and magnifying lens, you can find it covered by beautiful, tiny organisms composing biological soil crust communities vital to the desert ecosystem! Living in the upper inch of the soil surface, these “biocrust” communities include mosses, lichens, blue-green algae, green algae, water bears, diatoms, and bacteria, among other invertebrates. In this field walk, participants will view the secret life of these intricate organisms through hand and magnifying lenses as bryophyte ecologist Theresa Clark discusses how to distinguish the different organismal groups and types of biocrust, highlighting their unique ecological roles in desert ecosystems.
Activity Level: Easy to Moderate

The Art & Science of Flintknapping
Friday, Feb 24, 7 PM–Sunday, Feb 26, 12 PM
This is a weekend learning experience for those who want to make stone tools using traditional techniques and/or want to understand the waste products of the flintknapping process. The class is taught by Jeanne Day Binning, Ph.D., Brian Barbier, M.A., and Charles (Chuck) Bouscaren, B.A. at the California State University Desert Studies Center (ZZYZX) near Baker, California. Students stay in a dormitory setting and five cafeteria-style meals are provided. The class may be taken for credit through the University of California, Riverside Extension Program.
Activity Level: Easy

The Old Schoolhouse Lecture
Kemper Campbell Ranch at the Mojave River Narrows:
An Enduring Legacy in Desert History and Lore Ruth Nolan
Friday, Feb 10 at 7 PM
Old Schoolhouse Museum, 6760 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms / $5 Donation at the door Join Mojave Desert literary scholar Ruth Nolan for a journey through the legacy in history and lore of the legendary Kemper Campbell Ranch in Victorville.
Ruth Nolan, M.F.A., M.A., College of the Desert literature professor, desert writer, and editor of the iconic No Place for a Puritan: The Literature of California’s Deserts (Heyday Books), is a dedicated scholar of California desert literature. She worked in the 1980s as a seasonal wildland firefighter for the B.L.M. California Desert District and U.S. Forest Service. Ruth is the author of After the Dome Fire (Bamboo Dart Press), a collection of poetry that examines the physical and metaphoric impacts and recoveries of the 2020 Dome Fire. She grew up and spent her younger adult years in Apple Valley, much of that living on the Kemper Campbell Ranch in Victorville while raising her daughter. Since 2006, she has curated and taught many desert writing and literature workshops and lectured for the Desert Institute.

Love Your Park Hi-Desert Food Tour
Feb 11-19
We will be hosting the very first Love Your Park Hi-Desert Food Tour. During Valentine’s week, February 11-19, participating restaurants will donate a portion of their proceeds from a specialty food/drink item to help fund programs for Joshua Tree National Park. Please join us in sharing the love for the park we love most! Stay tuned to our website and social media for more information.

JTNPA members receive a $10 discount for all Desert Institute courses.
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From Our Partners