Joshua Tree National Park Association, Desert Institute

Photo Credit: Paul Moeller

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.


Cyanotype Processing Workshop
Sat, April 2, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM / $105
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. You’re 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 No prior photography experience is needed, all levels welcome. Hike Level: Easy

The Old Schoolhouse Lecture
John Hale, Historian
History of Condor Field in 29 Palms
Friday, April 8 at 7 PM / $5
In the early days of World War II, the United States hurried to make up deficiencies in our wartime preparations. Aerial warfare had come a long way since the motorized kites made of wood and shellac used during World War I, and new technologies once again dominated warfare.

Geology of the Mojave National Preserve
Sat, Apr 9, 8:00 AM – Sun, Apr 10, 4:00 PM / $155
Explore and learn about the geology of the vast Mojave National Preserve with Ted Reeves, on this overnight camping excursion with a base camp at the Hole-In-The-Wall campground. You will need to provide your own camping equipment, food, and drinks as there are few facilities in this national preserve. This class will take you to spectacular locations within

the Mojave National Preserve including the newly re-opened Mitchell Caverns. Course fee includes the entrance fee for the caverns. Don’t miss out on this opportunity! Class size is limited to 12 participants. Hike level: Moderate

Plein Air Painting Workshop with Oils
Sat, Apr 9, 8:30 AM – Sun, Apr 10, 3:30 PM / $155
This workshop will help you to simplify and organize what you see, and go on to create satisfying, dynamic paintings with strong, logical dark and light patterns. Topics will include composition, focal point, perspective, value (dark and light), underpainting, painting ala prima (layering wet paint without making mud), color theory, mixing paint, and more. Each session will start with a demo painting as Jessica explains her step-by-step method. This class will be conducted at the reserved Lost Horse Campground with the option to “car camp” with the instructor on Saturday night. Class registration includes camp site reservations (optional).

Capturing Joshua Tree Landscapes with Acrylics
Sat, April 16, 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM / $110
In this one-day class, you will focus on observations, setting an intention for the day, and learning the process of acrylic landscape painting. Janis Commentz is known for her color-intense palette and loose brush strokes. The morning will begin with basic instruction on the process and introduction to materials. Topics will include laying out your palette, color mixing, how to observe the landscape and translate it into an image, tips to see patterns of lights and darks, and planning a successful composition.

Discovering Color in the Desert Landscape:
Creating Vibrant Oil Paintings
Sat, Apr 16, 8:30 AM – Sun, Apr 17, 4:00 PM / $155
By beginning each class with short walks focused on close looking, we will search for colors and color

relationships in the landscape. After choosing a painting site, we will translate these colors into vibrant palette choices for oil painting in situ. We will discuss color harmony, cool/warm colors, dynamic grays, how to layout your palette and mix complex colors, and how to paint directly using observed colors. Each class will end with a mini-critique and reflection on the day’s learnings. Skill level: An understanding of oil painting will help, but beginners are always welcome! This class will be conducted at the reserved Lost Horse campground. Camping with the instructor is offered but is not required.

Field Sketching for Non-Artists
Sat, April 23, 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM / $110
Would you like to enjoy the beauty of Joshua Tree National Park more fully? Are you a person who “could never draw?” This class will teach you the basics of field sketching, focusing on using the simplest most light-weight tools, methods, and materials to streamline the process for non-artists. You will learn how to focus your natural powers of observation to complete a finished sketch that is accurate in detail, scale, and proportion using easy-to-learn skills that you can practice anytime and anywhere. All materials are provided. Class size is limited to 8. This class will take place at the Black Rock Nature Center. Hike Level: Easy

Wildflower Wanderings
Sun, April 24, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM / $95
Desert Naturalist, Darrell Shade will lead this all-day field class on a tour through the colorful flowers of a desert spring. Darrell will entertain participants with descriptions of the flora, their botanical characteristics, and show how to identify the unique blossoms of the park. The audience will be delighted

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by Darrell’s personal accounts of the wonders of nature in this ordinarily dry and dusty environment. Darrell will identify the flowers of Joshua Tree National Park by scientific and common names, allowing the participants to get to know these amazing plants up close and personal.
Hike Level: Easy

Advanced Bird Banding
Wed, April 27, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM / Sat, April 30 /
Sun, May 14 / $155
This class will have a 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 ageing 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.
All banding equipment will be provided.

Birds of Joshua Tree National Park
Sat, Apr 30, 7:30 AM – Sun, May 1, 1:15 PM / $160
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.
Hike Level: Moderate

Mammal Tracking in Joshua Tree National Park
Sat, Apr 30, 8:15 AM – Sun, May 1, 2:00 PM / $170
Join Jim Lowery to learn and refine fundamental tracking skills. This class will explore the natural world through animal tracking, sign identification,
and awareness techniques. Lowery will explain how to translate patterns found in the desert sand into animal stories. This class will be entirely field-based in order to provide abundant “dirt time” focusing on following trails, interpreting tracks and signs and even learning to read mood and body language of desert animals through their trails. Wildlife behavior, biology, and ecological relationships will also be examined by investigating the signs animals leave behind. Camping option available on Saturday evening for participants at the Lost Horse Campground, a beautiful location that is perfect for this program!
Hike Level: Easy

Keys Ranch Nightscape Photography Workshop
Sat, Apr 30, 6:00 PM – Sun, May 1, 12:00 AM / $170
Unlock your creativity and take your photography to a new place in this one-night workshop on photographic techniques after dark including widefield astro-photography, light painting, and light drawing. Learn how to photograph the night sky with your DSLR camera. Light painting and light drawing are photographic techniques in which images are made using long shutter speeds as the photographer uses a hand-held light source, such as a flashlight, to create the exposure. The photographer either points the light source directly at the camera to “draw with light” or “paints with light” by shining the light source on an object or scene to create the illumination. From Ansel Adams to Pablo Picasso, these seemingly magical techniques have long inspired photographers and artists alike with their ability to make visible the invisible and to play with time.

Class participants will be sent an advance instructional video to review two days prior to the class to prepare and you will be able to contact the instructor with any additional questions prior to the course. Upon arrival on the day of the workshop, participants will meet at the Visitor Center in Joshua Tree for check-in and then participants will caravan out to the restricted historic Keys Ranch where participants will have the opportunity to photograph the cosmos amongst the historic ranch buildings and artifacts. Class size is limited to 8 participants, so sign up early!

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