Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Barker Dam

My last post on Joshua Tree is from Barker Dam, aka Big Horn Dam. The park is a desert, but it received more rainfall a hundred years ago and homesteaders tried raising cattle there. A couple of ranchers in the area made a seasonal reservoir, first a rancher named Barker in the early 1900’s, then William Keys fifty years later. Personally, I thought it was a little weird to see this empty reservoir and rather jury-rigged dam in the middle of the desert. Keys was the kind of guy who would kill someone in a dispute and then make a stone marker to commemorate/brag about it afterwards, and some of that character (or lack thereof) shows in the design and craftsmanship of the dam. But the birds seem to like it and the visuals are interesting and it’s a stone structure on the national register of historic places, so here it is.

The reservoir was done in a couple of phases; the bottom nine feet are faced with rock and the upper six feet of concrete were added by Keys in 1950. He made a sign in a smear of concrete to commemorate/brag about this too.

The concrete had rock dumped in between the forms to save money. You can actually make a pretty nice wall this way if you place the rock a little more carefully and scrub more concrete off the faces off after you take away the forms.

Behind the dam there’s an interesting pattern of bathtub rings. Apparently the reservoir still fills to the top, flooding twenty acres during the wettest time of year.

There’s a second, lower dam below the main one, full of cattails living off the seepage.

And a cattle trough below the second dam. All in all, a funky little area.

5 Responses to “Barker Dam”

  1. November 20th, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Loree / danger garden says:

    I’ve really enjoyed all of your Joshua Tree posts…and I’m sad to see them come to an end. You should probably be scheduling another adventure soon, you know…to keep your blog readers entertained!

  2. November 20th, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    ryan says:

    Thanks. I’ll just have to take another vacation, not because I want to, I need to do it for the blog.

  3. November 20th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Arleen Webster says:

    Did you see the petroglyphs on your trek to Barker Dam? Pretty cool, although some were defaced by a movie company several decades ago when they decided to ‘enhance’ the rock art with some fresh paint so they’d look better on film. I guess they didn’t need any permits back in the day.

  4. November 21st, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    ryan says:

    I did see them, but i didn’t know the story about their vandalism. I thought they were pretty cool even if they had been enhanced.

  5. January 7th, 2012 at 11:14 am

    chuck b. says:

    Awesome. I want to spend more time in Joshua Tree exploring all the treasures. Very inspiring.

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