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

Photographing Joshua Tree by Moonlight
Friday, March 3, 6 – 10 PM
Seeing the desert illuminated by moonlight is an experience not to be missed. It’s a chance to encounter a quiet world of deep shadows and pale highlights, perceived by the eye as a soft-edged, nearly black-and- white landscape, where a familiar scene in daytime can start to look mysterious. The sky, absent all but the brightest stars and planets, attains a steely darkness. Yet as our eyes adapt to the dim light, we can notice the subtle beauty of the desert under moonlight.

You’ll learn useful photographic techniques such as camera placement, focusing, exposure, lens settings, and composing the photograph. Craig Fucile, photography instructor at University of California Riverside Extension, will guide and assist participants in making moonlight photographs at two locations in the park, away from city lights. Participants should bring a tripod and remote (or wireless) switch for their camera. Activity level: Easy

Morning Light in the Park
Saturday, March 4, 7 – 11 AM
This half-day class takes advantage of early mornings, when Joshua Tree National Park isn’t busy, and the light beautifully reveals shapes and textures of the high desert. We’ll capture massive rock formations and details inside reclusive Hidden Valley. Then we start another session at Keys Ranch, an historic homestead of old buildings, mining machinery, abandoned cars, and artifacts from early ranch life. Throughout the morning your instructor will be assisting students with their cameras, explaining how and why we use certain camera settings to improve our photography. Your questions will be answered!
Activity Level: Moderate

Explore the Golden Bee Mine
Saturday, March 4, 7 AM – 2 PM
What do honeybees have to do with gold mining? Find out the answer on our hike to the site of the Golden Bee Mine, located in the Hexie Mountains in Joshua Tree National Park. This moderate hike is approximately 6 miles out and back with some cross-country hiking required. The last section follows a rocky old mining road with a steep, 800 ft. elevation gain at the end. At the Golden Bee Mine site, we’ll see the mine entrance, remains of some equipment, camps, and the office area. We will learn about it’s history, the miners who ran it, and about gold mining process

The area that now comprises Joshua Tree National Park attracted cattle ranchers in the mid-1800s as a place to graze cattle. Mining activity began in the region around the 1870s reaching its peak during the 1920s and 1930s. Gold was the main objective, but quantities of silver, copper, lead, and other metals were also mined. A few active claims lingered into the 1970s before mining activity ceased. Approximately 288 mining sites are located within the current park boundaries. Some consist of small exploratory digs while other sites still have extensive shafts, abandoned mining and milling equipment, tanks, concrete, wood, and stone structures. Activity Level: Hard

Flora of Joshua Tree National Park
Friday, March 10 – Sunday, March, 12
Students in this informal but purposeful class will have the opportunity to observe many of the flowering plants in Joshua Tree National Park and learn their names and something about their different places in the park’s greater plant community. Discussions in the field will also include plant families, pollinators and other insect associations, and general natural history. In addition, students will gain familiarity with the tools necessary to identify plants on their own.

Friday nights’ class will include a basic botany lecture with an emphasis on local desert plants. This will be followed by an introduction to basic field guides, and to the use of plant keys in identification. We will preview many of the expected annuals we hope to find during the field portion of the class. Saturday and Sunday are field days and will be spent in various regions of the park. With instructor assistance, students will practice identifying flowering plants as we wander through Joshua Tree’s different plant communities, learning as we go along. Walking distances for this class will be moderate, so bring comfortable hiking shoes. This class is offered for credit through the UCR extension program. Activity Level: Moderate

How to Navigate with Map and Compass
Saturday, March 11 – Sunday, March 12
Misha Askren will teach participants how to navigate using a map and compass in this two-day field class. Participants will learn the basics of topography, map reading, using a compass, and the history of navigation during classroom and field exercises on Saturday. On Sunday, participants will put all their skills together in a route-finding adventure in the wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park, going to interesting spots and finding caches. These map and compass skills will allow participants to explore the wilderness and find their way back home. They also can be potentially lifesaving in the event someone does get lost. No previous experience with a compass or topo maps is needed. Participants will need to provide their own compass. Maps will be provided. NOTE: GPS will not be taught in this class, although we will be briefly working with online apps like All Trails or Gaia GPS on phones. This class does not include accommodation, participants are responsible for their own lodging and meals.
Activity Level: Medium-High

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Fundamentals of Landscape Photography
Friday, March 17 – Sunday, March 19
Learn and understand the essentials so that you can unlock your creativity. We’ll visit several different and varied locations in Joshua Tree National Park to talk about and practice landscape photography during the workshop. The instructor will coach you in real-time on specific techniques you’d like to learn. You’ll photograph the desert landscape at different times of the day, from twilight through sunset and into the night. We’ll review and discuss our images throughout the weekend, and the instructor will provide suggestions on how to continue developing your photography.
We have reserved the pristine Lost Horse campground for this workshop. Camping is optional but offers an exciting experience to fully immerse yourself in the outdoors for the weekend. For those who prefer not to camp, please plan to find your own accommodations. Activity Level: High

Birds of Anza-Borrego
Tuesday, March 14 and Saturday, March 18 – Sunday, March 19
Join Kurt Leuschner on this two-day weekend class that explores the oases in and around the Anza Borrego Desert, which is home to a surprisingly wide variety of bird species. This habitat also provides the perfect resting place for migrants such as warblers, flycatchers, grosbeaks, and other tired travelers on their way south for the winter. After a short lecture Tuesday night, March 14, by Zoom, the class spends Saturday and Sunday in the field, studying both migrant and resident bird species. Participants will learn about: conservation, ecology, natural history, and special adaptations to the harsh desert environment. This class can be taken for credit through UCR extension. Activity Level: Moderate

Wildflowers of the Mojave
Saturday, March 18, 8 AM – 2 PM
Explore the diversity and spring splendor of the Mojave Desert in bloom. Field botanist Melanie Davis and plant ecologist Dr. Lynn Sweet will lead this one-day field class on a tour through the colorful flowers of a desert spring. Melanie and Lynn will describe interesting and entertaining aspects of the flora, and show how to identify the unique blossoms of the park. They will share about challenges and discoveries from their ecological research in this ordinarily dry and dusty environment. They will identify plants in the Mojave by scientific and common names, as well as tips on where to find some of the most unique plants in the desert. The locations of each course will be determined and customized based on local flowering events in the high desert. Activity Level: Moderate

Women’s Getaway Weekend
Saturday, March 25 – Sunday, March 26
Get away for the weekend with the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park! Join other women for a camping weekend where you can go to unplug, get away, learn new skills, and enjoy the company of other course participants. Trade in your computer, cell phone, Instagram, clocks, schedules, and workplace jargon for an off-the-grid weekend with the girls for two days of pure unadulterated fun and education! Join Pam and Robin in learning about camping, camp cooking, hiking, yoga, and enjoying Joshua Tree National Park. This weekend class will be held at the Lost Horse Campsite, a beautiful location that is perfect for this program! We will also be traveling to trails at times so you will need access to your car. The campground is also reserved for Friday night, so if you wish to arrive the night prior to the workshop, please email Activity Level: Moderate-High

The Old Schoolhouse Lecture
The Lead-Up to the 1994 California Desert Protection Act by Chris Clarke
Friday, March 10 at 7 PM
In 1994 Congress changed the face of the California Desert by passing the California Desert Protection Act. The CDPA gave Death Valley and Joshua Tree national monuments full park status, created Mojave National Preserve, and designated 4.4 million acres of wilderness on BLM land. In this presentation, Chris Clarke will discuss some of the obstacles to the passage of the bill, the campaign to support it, and how the bill and its results are regarded today.

Chris Clarke is a journalist, writer, activist, and co-host of the new podcast, “Ninety Miles from Needles.” He works with desert communities to protect national parks, monuments, and other protected places, and the landscapes that surround them. He is currently the Ruth Hammett Associate Director of the California Desert Program at the National Parks Conservation Association. Prior to joining NPCA, Chris was environment editor at Los Angeles-based KCET, the nation’s largest independent public television station, where he was responsible for breaking numerous stories about threats to desert national parks. Chris also worked as publications director at Earth Island Institute, where he published the award-winning Earth Island Journal. A California resident since the early 1980s, Chris has lived in the California Desert since 2008. He lives in Twentynine Palms, California with his wife Lara, and their dog, Heart.

This event is sponsored by the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park and the Twentynine Palms Historical Society. The lecture will be held at the Old Schoolhouse Museum at 6760 National Park Drive in Twentynine Palms on Friday, December 9.

Doors open at 6:15 and the lecture begins at 7 PM. The donation for the presentation is $5 paid at the door.

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