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

Family Camp-n-Cook Weekend
Sat, Apr 1, 9 AM – Sun, Apr 2, 10:30 AM
If spring fever is catching you and the family, chase it outside! Join Dirty Gourmet for a quick and dirty weekend off the grid where they’ll show you tips from their popular outdoor cookbooks to tighten up your camping food game when you’ve got mouths to feed but no kitchen for miles. They’ll also help you navigate how to satisfy the full spectrum from picky to daring, and truly make outdoor cooking part of your family adventure. Queen Valley has been reserved for Friday, for those who wish to camp a day early. Please email us at if you wish access to the campground on Friday afternoon.
Activity Level: Easy

Backpacking: Beyond the Boy Scout Trail
Thu, Apr 6, 9 AM – Sat, Apr 8, 12 PM
Backpacking in the desert? Yes, it’s possible! Spend a few days out in the backcountry with DI director Sarah Witt and learn how to plan your own dry-Clim outing while traveling the picturesque boundary lands of the Joshua Tree National Park wilderness. We’ll trek 22.5 miles on this 3-day, 2-night trip that loops through the northwest corner of the park. This outing is great for all levels of backpackers, but especially beginners who have a streak for adventure and aren’t quite ready to go on their own. After registering, you will receive a phone call from Desert Institute within a few days, to go over important information about this adventure. Activity Level: Extreme

Advanced Landscape Photography
Fri, Apr 14, 5 PM – Sun, Apr 16, 4 PM
Are you a landscape photographer who’s looking to advance your photography skills, make it more rewarding, and start capturing some great landscape images? Maybe you already took our Fundamentals of Landscape Photography workshop and are ready to take things to the next level. In this workshop, we’ll teach you some advanced techniques while making sure you’re in the best place to take advantage of the weather and conditions on the day. We’ll visit several different and varied locations in Joshua Tree National Park to talk about and practice landscape photography during the workshop. During the workshop, you’ll enjoy and photograph the stunning desert landscape at different times of the day, from nautical twilight through sunset and into the night. Photographic subjects will include Joshua Tree’s fantastic geologic features and its diverse range of fauna and flora. We’ll have time to review and discuss our images throughout the weekend, and the instructor will provide suggestions on how to continue developing your photography. The workshop is intensive but will also be enjoyable and give you lots of ideas and techniques to integrate into your photography. Camping for two nights at the exclusive Lost Horse campground in the park is included with the workshop fee. Activity Level: High

Fossils of the Marble Mountains
Sat, April 22, 10 AM – 3 PM
The Marble Mountains are a rather small mountain range located in one of the harshest, driest parts of the Mojave Desert, in southeastern California near the towns of Chambless and Cadiz. What makes the Marble Mountains especially attractive to paleontologists is the comparatively rich Cambrian fossil biota, dominated by one of the earliest known groups of arthropods, trilobites. Slather on the sunscreen and join instructor Alessandro Grippo for this one-day field class right off historic route 66 in the middle of the Mojave. Activity Level: Moderate

Advanced Bird Banding
Wed, Apr 26, 6 PM; Sun, Apr 30, 7 AM – 1 PM; Sun,
May 14, 7 AM – 1 PM
This course builds on the information presented in Beginning Bird Banding. We’ll focus on molt limits and other characteristics in North American birds as they relate to accurately determining their ages. We will cover plumage topography, molt terminology, and molt strategies among songbirds and their close relatives. We will discuss additional aging techniques such as skulling and morphometrics, and how to determine skull, fat, and molt scores. Time will also be spent on banding ethics, safe handling of birds, prevention and treatment of stress and injuries, color banding, blood and feather sampling, and MAPS banding. This course takes place over three days. The evening class session will be followed by two days of hands-on experience capturing, handling, and banding birds in the field. All three class meetings take place at Whitewater Preserve. All banding equipment will be provided. Prerequisites: Biology X404.4 (Introduction to Bird Banding), or prior approval from the instructor. Basic bird identification skills are helpful. Optional credit through UCR Extension. Activity Level: Easy-Moderate

From Our Partners

Birds of Joshua Tree National Park
Sat, Apr 29, 7:30 AM – Sun, Apr 30, 1:15 PM
The deceptively barren Mojave Desert landscape is home and resting grounds for numerous endemic and migratory bird species. Joshua trees do not make a typical forest, the landscape is open, the climate dry, and the vegetation relatively sparse. Despite this, over 240 species of birds have been recorded in Joshua Tree National Park! Kurt Leuschner, Professor of College of the Desert, Palm Desert, will guide this two-day field class through the Mojave and Colorado Deserts to identify common and rare birds. Leuschner’s focus will be on identifying individual species and separating summer and winter residents from true migrants. He will discuss nesting and feeding habits, interactions with plant life, and adaptive strategies. Participants will have the thrill of identifying the park’s common spring bird species, better understand the role each plays in the high desert ecosystem, and have the chance of sighting rare species like the Pinyon Jay, Prairie Falcon, or Lawrence’s Goldfinch. The class will be caravanning to multiple locations. Please note that participants are responsible for their lodging. Activity
Level: Easy-Moderate

The Old Schoolhouse Lecture
Courage to Heal and Kaiser Permanente›s early
beginnings in the Mojave Desert
by Dr. Paul Bernstein
Friday, April 14 at 7 PM. $5 donation paid at the door.
Set in a world of iron lungs and the Great Depression, when women and babies are dying in poorly run charity hospitals, Courage to Heal is based on the true story of a young surgeon, Dr. Sidney Garfield, who along with the twentieth-century’s boldest industrialist, Henry Kaiser, changes the face of American medicine.
After completing his surgical residency at Los Angeles County Hospital, Garfield risks everything to build a hospital in the middle of the Mojave Desert where he wages life-and-death battles for thousands of uninsured workers. When “can do” Henry Kaiser jumps off a train to get a construction bid in on time, he is rushed to Garfield’s hospital. Their chance meeting sets in motion a dizzying series of events.
Garfield and Kaiser’s success in taking care of a hundred thousand shipyard workers during WWII incites the American Medical Association to declare war. The AMA unjustly strips Garfield of his medical license, labels his doctors Communists, and expels any physician principled enough to work with him.
Sidney Garfield is brought to life in this story of an intransigent physician and his fight to provide health care to all. The New York Times and NBC Nightly News call his legacy the “future of American Health Care.”
Dr. Paul Bernstein is the National Historian for the Permanente Federation. Dr. Bernstein was the Medical Director (San Diego), the Regional Coordinator for Telehealth and Virtual Care for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, and a Physician Lead for Innovation and Patient Transformation. Under his leadership as Medical Director, he won the California Award for Performance Excellence (CAPE)

and the National Malcolm Baldrige Best Practice Award for leadership and innovation. He also led Kaiser Permanente to 13 Guinness World Records on health and prevention (including the most patients vaccinated in one day). Dr. Bernstein is a practicing Head and Neck Surgeon, trained at UCSD, and was the chairman of the Head and Neck Division of the American Cancer Society (ACS, 1987-2007) and was a member of the organization’s Board of Directors. Additionally, he was President of the San Diego County HNS Society, served on the SCPMG Board of Directors, and is currently on the Ecolife Conservation Board of Directors. He started the KP Historical Society to help preserve KP’s unique history and culture. Dr. Bernstein has written 7 novels, including, Courage to Heal, the winner of the San Diego Book Awards. He is well-known as a futurist, author, and speaker dedicated to transforming the patient experience through telehealth and virtual medicine.

The Bighorn Benefit and Silent Auction
May 6
The Bighorn Benefit and Silent Auction includes dinner and drinks, live music, a silent auction, raffles, and more! The money raised from this event will allow Joshua Tree National Park researchers to purchase tracking collars with mini solar panels and GPS units for a small number of desert bighorn in areas frequented by visitors. The data from the collars will offer insight into how bighorn behave, and the results may provide telling information about how we can help support and protect bighorn populations across the Mojave Desert. Help JTNPA raise the $30,000 needed to fund this important project. Tickets will be available via Eventbrite on April 1.

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