Joshua Tree National Park Association, Desert Institute

Exploring Nature through Education


he 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.

The Old Schoolhouse Lecture
February 11, “A Natural History of Anza Borrego,” Mike Nichols, Author

Sponsored by the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park and the Twentynine Palms Historical Society, this lecture will be held at the Old Schoolhouse Museum, 6760 National Park Dr, Twentynine Palms. Doors at 6:15 / lecture at 7 pm. $5 at the door.

Salton Sea Photography Workshop
Sat, February 12
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM

The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, was formed by accident in 1905 by an engineering mishap during irrigation of the Imperial Valley. Over time, it has been a hotbed for sports fishing, a recreational area boasting more visitors than Yosemite, and an important wetland for migratory birds. Currently the sea is lined with dead fish and is shrinking fast, and its decaying ruins, plentiful birdlife, intriguing off -the-grid culture, and gorgeous light have made it something of a Mecca for photographers. Sandi Wheaton has been traveling to the Salton Sea annually to document its constantly changing landscape and knows exactly where the great places are for interesting photographs. In this workshop, you will explore the east shores and discover inspiring art sites like Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain (featured in the movie “Into the Wild”) and East Jesus sculpture garden, as well as spend time capturing 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!

Photographing Soda Springs and the Mojave National Preserve
Fri, Feb 18, 1:00 PM – Sun, Feb 20, 12:30 PM

Join us for an opportunity to stay in an exceptional part of the California Desert and devote three days to making new photographs. The class is based at the Desert Studies Center, south of Baker, CA. The Center— also known as Zzyzx (zy-zix)— lies inside the Mojave National Preserve and is a former health spa with interesting buildings, palms, ponds, springs, plus fine views of Soda Dry Lake and desert mountains. Special emphasis is placed on photography in the field to allow students to work with color, light, shapes, and textures of the desert at an unhurried pace. On one half-day field session, we’ll photograph lava beds and a Joshua tree forest. Two-night photography sessions are scheduled to take advantage of dark skies over Zzyzx. Instructional topics include: exposure, making panoramic photographs, HDR photography, controlling image sharpness. Hiking on-field sessions will be easy to moderate. Participants are encouraged to bring a tripod with their cameras. This field study is based at the Desert Studies Center (of California State University) located within the Preserve at Soda Springs (Zzyzx), about a three-hour drive from Joshua Tree. The course fee includes two nights’ lodging at the Center and meals starting with dinner on Friday through breakfast on Sunday. Upon enrollment, you will be sent detailed information about the Center and what to bring.

Art & Science of Flintknapping
Fri, Feb 25, 7:00 PM – Sun, Feb 27, 10:00 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. This anthropology class is a Field Class of the Joshua Tree National Park Associati on’s Desert Institute. 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. The class starts at 7:00 PM on Friday evening and ends at noon on Sunday. Most of the class time is spent doing hands-on activities; lectures occur on Friday and Saturday evenings. The class is limited to 12 students. Planned activities include heat treatment of chert, basic percussion biface reduction (with hammerstone and billet), basic pressure flaking (including notching), the use of an atlatl, and the use of a single-stave “selfbow”. Each participant has the opportunity to haft what he or she manufactures (arrow point, dart point, or knife). Ground-stone manufacture is also covered. Rock samples and different types of debitage are available for students to study during the class. This hands-on course is based at the Desert Studies Center (of California State University, Fullerton) located within the Mojave Desert Preserve at Soda Springs (Zzyzx), less than a three-hour drive from Joshua Tree National Park. The course fee includes two nights’ lodging at the Center (dormitory rooms and some couple rooms), and meals starting with breakfast Saturday and ending with lunch on Sunday. Upon enrollment, you will be sent additional detailed information about the Center and specifics on what to bring.

Route 66 Photography Workshop
Sat, February 26
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Route 66 through the Mojave Desert provides for great photographic images. During this workshop, you will explore Route 66 from Needles to Amboy, capturing storied abandoned sites, iconic vintage landmarks and sweeping desert landscapes. Join photography instructor Sandi Wheaton, who drove and photographed the entire length of Route 66 in 2009. Sandi has been photographing this stretch of Route 66 for years, and will share her knowledge of the many great shooting locations along this historic stretch of highway. This workshop is an opportunity for you to improve your photography and add to your skillset. Sandi will be offering suggestions for taking advantage of each location. The workshop will begin in Needles and it will end in Amboy with a sunset shoot. The driving distance is approximately 75 miles from Needles to Amboy.

Cyanotype Processing Workshop
Sat, February 26
10:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Join Joshua Tree-based photographer & artist Rose Cefalu for ½ day of experimental printmaking, known as Cyanotype printing. You will learn about the history of the process along with hands-on work producing fine art prints. Your images will be enlarged to 8 x 10 negatives and will be contacted printed, harnessing the Sun’s UV light, and developed in water. You will also do the same process as a photogram, where the image is made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of the light-sensitive cyanotype paper and then exposing it to light. The usual result is a negative shadow image that shows variations in tone that depends upon the transparency of the objects used.

Sharing her wealth of knowledge, Rose will start each morning with a brief overview of the process followed by paper coating and a walk in a private location in search of the objects and plant flora students can use later in the day for photograms. Students will explore the power of image-making using this 20thcentury photograph technique in conventi onal and unconventional ways. No prior photography experience is needed, all levels welcome.

Course fee includes all development materials.

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