Joshua Tree 2015: A Failed Quest for Bighorn Sheep

In December, I flew down to Los Angeles for a quick long weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park. It was not extensively planned; tickets were booked just a couple of weeks before. But despite that, it was a fabulous trip.

Day 1: December 5, 2015

Willow Hole Trail – 7 miles RT

The first day I started at the Visitor’s Center for some trips on where to go in the park. I wanted to see Bighorn Sheep. The Ranger said that they often hung out at the Willow Hole, which can be reached by a 7 mile round trip hike through several dry washes that connect to the popular Boy Scout Trail. I went. The trail was mostly flat, taking you by a popular rock climbing area; it was fun to stop and watch the climbers try their trade on the giant boulders in the park.

Me on the Willow Hole Trail

Me on the Boy Scout Trail


Joshua Trees everywhere!

Joshua Trees everywhere!


There are climbers on that rock!

There are climbers on that rock!

After leaving the Boy Scout Trail, I was entirely alone – I did not run into anyone else on the entire hike. It was quiet, save for the birds chirping, letting me know I was getting closer to the spring. Sadly, I did not see any Bighorn Sheep on the hike, but I saw some songbirds and it was a nice pleasant hike nonetheless.

A cute bird near Willow Hole

A cute bird near Willow Hole


The clouds gave way to sunshine

The clouds gave way to sunshine

Barker Dam – 1 mile RT

Barker Dam is a dam that was built by homesteaders in the early 1900s, to provide a consistent water source for their cattle grazing in the area. The dam is still there – the National Park Service left it intact when they took over management of the land, and it now provides water for the wildlife living in the area. It is another spot that Bighorn Sheep are known to frequent in the park. Except when I was there; then the Bighorn Sheep are not…

Barker Dam

Barker Dam

The Barker Dam hike also leads past several ancient petroglyphs. Unfortunately, they have been damaged by vandals. They are still neat to see, but keep in mind that the paint colors and outlines were the result of the vandalism, and not what these petroglyphs would normally look like.

Petroglyphs near Barker Dam

Petroglyphs near Barker Dam

As I was finishing the short Barker Dam trail, the sun was sinking lower in the sky. The birds and the rabbits were finding their way to their shelters for the night. I was able to find a good vantage point along the main road to watch the sunset. It wasn’t a spectacular viewpoint, but it did let me get some photos of the Joshua Trees silhouetted against the setting sun.

The golden light before sunset

The golden light before sunset


The sun sets over Joshua Trees...

The sun sets over Joshua Trees…

Dinner that night was pho at Pho 85 restaurant in Yucca Valley. It really hit the spot after 8+ miles of hiking that day! I finished off the day with some wine and TV in the room before heading to bed.  Peace…

17 thoughts on “Joshua Tree 2015: A Failed Quest for Bighorn Sheep

  1. Ah, you have the same ‘luck’ as I seem to have with wildlife. We were in Yellowstone in early June (2012), my dream of seeing moose and wolves went unfulfilled despite lots of encouragement to visit that time of the year precisely to see them. Great photos, glad you enjoyed the hiking. Cheers!

    • I did pass several – I think there are 9 at the park. I didn’t go any in depth viewing though. I think there are two that have hookups and flush bathrooms. I think the others are rustic pit toilet types. The NPS website has info on all of them, I believe.

  2. For future reference some pretty reliable places to see bighorns are near Dunraven Pass and Mount Everts at Yellowstone NP, Sheep Lakes and across Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain NP, Big Thompson Canyon east of Rocky Mountain NP, and around Logan Pass at Glacier NP.

    My most memorable encounter, though, was at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. I had just set up my tent and went climbing around the red rocks just before dusk. I heard some hoof clops, turned and looked, and there was a huge desert bighorn ram standing stately atop a boulder, silhouetted against the sunset. I fumbled for my camera but he was gone as quick as he appeared. It was the most amazing shot I’ve ever missed.

    • That would have been awesome! I didn’t see any in RMNP when I was there last August, but I did see a couple scrambling on the rocks at dusk on the drive from Black Canyon of the Gunnison to Great Sand Dunes NP. Too dark and too fast for photos. And I saw some on the way down from Pikes Peak too. Not a good photo, but there are recognizable critters in it!

      My whole life will be spent trying to see wildlife in their natural habitat… 🙂 I never get enough of it.

  3. Pingback: West 2016: Badlands NP Wildlife | Wine and History Visited

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