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Desert Institute

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.

Fall 2018 Catalog
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Field Classes Schedule


The Desert Institute offers classes for adult learners in cultural history, natural science, survival skills, desert naturalist studies, women’s programs, citizen science, and creative arts. All programs are taught by expert instructors who provide a personal and enjoyable learning experience on these educational adventures.

Before registering, please take the time to review our General Class Information and download the Enrollment Attachments, that contain pertinent information about your class, the Joshua Tree National Park and camping reservations. Please print and fill out the Participation Agreement. You can bring the completed form to the class.

If you are a member of JTNPA/PINE you will get a $10 discount off every Desert Institute class. If you are not a member you can become one here.

Cancellation Policy: If you need to cancel, notify us at least seven days prior to the start of the course and we will process your request minus a $25 cancellation fee. No refunds, transfers, or credits will be granted if cancellation occurs within the seven day period. Please note that we cannot make any exceptions to this refund policy for any reason, including but not limited to medical reasons, illness, travel delays, personal situations, emergencies, or weather. This program depends on registration for its funding. While inconvenient, please understand that this policy enables us to sustain our programs even with last minute cancellations.

Camping Programs

Date Class
October 6 – 7 Campfire Cuisine with Chef Tanya Petrovna
October 20 “How-To” Survive in the Desert
October 20 – 21 Backpacking for Women in Joshua Tree National Park
October 27 – 28 Women’s “Get-Away” Weekend
November 2 – 4 Fine Art Photography in Joshua Tree National Park

Creative Arts

Date Class
October 6 Keys Ranch Nightscape Photography Workshop
October 6 Capturing Joshua Tree Landscapes with Acrylics (Beginning to Intermediate Painting)
October 13 – 14 Night Sky Photography
October 13 Charcoal Drawing in Joshua Tree National Park - New
October 20 HDR Photography in Joshua Tree National Park - New
October 27 Botanical Illustration in Joshua Tree National Park
November 2 – 4 Fine Art Photography in Joshua Tree National Park
December 1 Photographing the Hi-Desert

Guided Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

Date Class
October 21 Hike to Samuelson’s Rocks
November 10 Explore Crown Prince Lookout - New
November 11 Summit Warren Peak - New
November 17 Summit Quail Mountain
December 1 Explore Queen Mountain West
December 8 Discover the Pinto Wye Arrastra - New

Cultural History

Date Class
October 21 Hike to Samuelson’s Rocks
October 27 – 28 Archaeology in Joshua Tree National Park
November 10 Mining in the Mojave - New
December 2 Geology and Cultural History of Cottonwood Spring

Natural Science

Date Class
September 15 Bighorn Sheep in Joshua Tree National Park
September 21 – 23 Insects and Arthropods of the Morongo Basin*
September 23 Desert Snakes: Mystery and Intrigue*
October 6 – 7 Citizen Science: Post-Fire Restoration Monitoring in Joshua Tree National Park* - New
October 13 Geology of Amboy Crater
October 27 Geology of the Marble Mountains
November 3 Geology of the San Andreas Fault
November 3 – 4 Geology: Creation of the Joshua Tree Landscape*
December 2 Geology and Cultural History of Cottonwood Spring
December 9 Discover Bonanza Springs in the Mojave Trails National Monument - New

*ACADEMIC CREDIT
Credit is available from University of California, Riverside Extension. Optional credit courses are marked by the symbol *. The number of units are listed with each class. Credit fees are listed separately from noncredit fees in the catalog.

"How-To" Courses

Date Class
September 16 “How-To” Identify Animal Burrows
October 6 – 7 Campfire Cuisine with Chef Tanya Petrovna
October 20 “How-To” Survive in the Desert
November 18 “How-To” Identify Animal Scat

Free Lectures

Date Class
November 13 Landscapes for the People: George Grant, First Chief Photographer of the National Park Service

Step-On Guides for Bus Tours


The Desert Institute can arrange for a professional, knowledgeable naturalist to join your bus tour for a visit to Joshua Tree National Park as a “step-on” guide. Our interpreters have specialized knowledge of the local geology, natural history, flora and fauna, archaeology and cultural history. Let us entertain and educate your guests which will make their experience of Joshua Tree National Park a memorable event!

RATES: Effective through December, 2018
Our fees begin at $310 for any tour up to 4 hours in length and $40 per hour for each additional hour

All rates are per naturalist. Large groups and multiple motor coaches may require more than one guide. To schedule a Motor Coach Tour, contact the Desert Institute at 760-367-5535 or desertinstitute@joshuatree.org.

Tour group operators pay park entrance fees. Please contact our office if you wish to include a guided hike or additional programs.

Custom Programs


Whatever you interest in Joshua Tree National Park, we can design a custom educational program to be a perfect fit for you or your group. Contact us at 760-367-5535 or desertinstitute@joshuatree.org for more information.

If your group, large or small, is searching for a special Joshua Tree National Park experience tailored to your interests, the Desert Institute will design an educational class expert instruction just for you. We’ll ensure that the activity level and optional field component will perfectly match your needs for one-day or multi-day excursions.

Day with a Desert Naturalist

Learn the secrets of Joshua Tree National Park in an all-day field class with a desert naturalist. Groups will explore the unique landscape of the park focusing on an area of interest to them. Common topics to be covered are: geology, cultural history, flora, and ecology found in the vast valleys, rock mazes, desert cactus gardens, and Joshua tree forests. Most programs cover eight miles at a moderate pace with uneven terrain and moderate elevation gain. A “sample” Day with a Desert Naturalist could include Discover the Wonderland of Rocks.

The Wonderland of Rocks is a large labyrinth of granite formations and meandering corridors. It’s an easy place to get lost, but it’s also full of secret, picture-postcard settings, panoramic vistas, and any number of natural surprises. Spend an enjoyable day hiking and scrambling through this rare place, feeling the rough texture of its timelessness underfoot and in the finger tips. More than just a day of outdoor adventure, this Desert Institute hike includes introductory instruction in how the Wonderland formed, why it looks the way it does, and how this unique environment helps support a diverse and interesting community of plants and animals. Come prepared to hike seven to ten miles, depending on conditions, with occasional stops for rest, lunch and teachable moments. The route is cross-country and requires some scrambling and rockhopping, none of it extended or technical.

Sunrise or Sunset Photographic Workshops with a Master Photographer

Let us show you where and how to take stunning sunrise or sunset images in Joshua Tree National Park! We can create a customized program to spend four hours in the morning or evening photographing the iconic boulders and Joshua trees. This workshop is perfect for those photographers looking to improve on composition and creating unique and original imagery. Working with our instructors will help you make sense of the landscape and begin to understand how to make effective images in this truly bizarre and wonderful terrain. If you’re just a beginner, no problem! This workshop will provide you with beginning instruction in landscape photography, filter use, and sunset or sunrise silhouettes.

Custom Program Cost
1-6 People | Half Day | $300
1-6 People | Full Day | $500
7+ People | Contact Us

Community Lecture Schedule


The Desert Institute’s community outreach program brings cutting edge presentations on the cultural history, natural science and the arts pertaining to Joshua Tree National Park to the Morongo Basin and the Coachella Valley with various partners. The Desert Institute partners include Joshua Tree National Park, the Twentynine Palms Historical Society, the Palm Springs Public Library, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Palm Desert.

Old School House Lecture Series

The Old School House Museum
6760 National Park Dr.
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

The Old School House Lecture Series started in 1999 and is run in partnership with the Twentynine Palms Historical Society. Lectures start at 7 pm and are $5 at the door. Subscribe to the entire Old School House lecture series for $40 and save $10 on ten lectures! Subscribers also receive reserved seating at the events. To subscribe to the series, please call (760) 367-5535 or mail a check to: Desert Institute, 74485 National Park Dr., Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 (Please make check out to Joshua Tree National Park Association and indicate that you want to subscribe the Old School House Lecture Series).

2018

Date Class
September 14 “When Women Seldom Traveled Alone: Botanist, Mary Beal, Wandered the California Deserts in Search of Rare Plants”
Julia Sizek, Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology, UC Berkeley
October 12 “General Patton’s Desert Training Center”
Sid Burks, Historian
November 9 “The California-Arizona Maneuver Area and Desert Training Center Airpower”
Sid Burks, Historian
December 14 “The Dunn Family History in 29 Palms”
Jeff and Bob Dunn

2019

Date Class
January 11 “Pioneertown, USA: Where the Old West Lives Again”
Kenneth Gentry, Author, Historian
February 8 “Adventures in the Mojave Trails National Monument”
Kyle Sullivan, BLM Manager, Mojave Trails National Monument
March 8 “The Treaty of Temecula and the American Invasion in Southern California”
Sean Milanovich, Ph.D. Candidate, Native American Studies, U.C. Riverside
April 12 “Desert Plant Ecology or Why Does The Desert Poke Me?”
Dr. Chris McDonald, Ph.D., University of California Cooperative Extension
May 10 “Civilization Through Citrus: Sherman Institute, 1901-1950”
Amanda Wixon, Ph.D. Candidate, Native American Studies, UC Riverside
June 14 "History of Water in the Morongo Basin - Perspectives on an Underappreciated Resource”
Marina West, General Manager, Bighorn Desert View Water Agency

Palm Springs Public Library Lecture Series

Palm Springs Public Library
300 S Sunrise Way
Palm Springs, CA 92262

Since 2012, the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park has partnered with the Palm Springs Public Library to provide speakers for the Library's monthly lecture series. Lectures are from 6:30pm - 7:30pm and are free.

2018

Date Class
December 5 “When Women Seldom Traveled Alone: Botanist, Mary Beal, Wandered the California Deserts in Search of Rare Plants”
Julia Sizek

2019

Date Class
January 9 “Kokoweef: Still Searching for the Lost River of Gold”
Kim Stringfellow
February 6 “Pioneertown, USA: Where the Old West Lives Again”
Kenneth Gentry
March 6 “The Secret Lives of Desert-Dwelling Bees”
Hollis Woodard, Ph.D
April 3 “Adventures in the Mojave Trails National Monument”
Kyle Sullivan, BLM Manager

Joshua Tree Master Naturalist Certificate Schedule


If you love observing nature and learning about Joshua Tree, expand your knowledge through the Joshua Tree Master Naturalist Series. Nine comprehensive courses on key Joshua Tree topics are designed to broaden your understanding of the ecology, plants, geology, wildlife, and history of the park. Through field-based excursions and lectures, you’ll cultivate observation skills that are the hallmark of a good naturalist.

By documenting field observations through sketches, journaling, photography and more, you’ll learn how to make a deeper connection to nature. When you complete all nine courses, you will receive your “Joshua Tree Master Naturalist” certification. Courses will be offered yearly and certification may be completed over time. These eight courses in the Joshua Tree Master Naturalist Series are also approved for credit from U.C. Riverside, Extension.

Naturalist Series

Date Class
September 24 Desert Snakes: Mystery & Intrigue
September 29 - October 1 Insects & Arthropods of the Morongo Basin
October 6-7 Citizen Science: Post-fire Restoration Monitoring in Joshua Tree National Park
November 4-5 Geology: Creation of the Joshua Tree Landscape

General Class Information


Registration

You may register by phone, fax, mail, or online. Please register early, our classes have limited sizes.

Course Information Packet

Upon receipt of your registration, we will send you a course itinerary, map, enrollment confirmation/entrance fee waiver, and information on clothing and equipment needs. Local lodging and camping information is available upon request.

Safety, Insurance, and Physical Fitness

Every effort is made to ensure safety on Desert Institute courses. However, participants are responsible for their own safety and accident insurance. JTNPA does not accept responsibility for lost, stolen, or damaged property or any bodily injury incurred during the course. You must sign a liability waiver in order to participate in the course. Participants must be in good physical condition for courses/activities in a desert that may be hot, dry, windy, and sometimes surprisingly cold.

Waiver and Release of Claims

Download Form

Before participating in any of the field activities provided by the Desert Institute, and as a condition to being accepted for such activities, you must sign, for yourself and for your minor child who is a participant, a waiver and release of claims, including of negligence, arising from your or the minor’s enrollment or participation. Your information is confidential. Participants must provide their own health and accident insurance. Please obtain a doctor’s clearance if you have any condition that may impact your ability to participate in a class.

Weather, Clothing, and Equipment

Courses are held rain or shine. We reserve the right to change the course itinerary due to weather or other conditions. Students should be prepared for a variety of desert weather conditions, including cold and windy days. Appropriate clothing, footwear, and sun protection are very important. Clothing and equipment needs will be identified in your course information packet. Be prepared – bring plenty of water!

Funding

The Desert Institute is sponsored by the Joshua Tree National Park Association, and operates with the full endorsement of the NPS. Course fees only cover a portion of Desert Institute program costs.

Children and Pets

Our courses are designed for adults. An adult must accompany children under 16; the minimum age is 14. Due to federal regulations, pets are not allowed on courses or waiting unattended in personal vehicles.

Cancellation Policy

If you need to cancel, please notify us at least seven days prior to the start of the course and we will process your request minus a $25 processing fee. No refunds, transfers, or credits will be granted after the seven-day date. Please note that we cannot make any exceptions to this refund policy for any reason, including but not limited to medical reasons, illness, travel delays, personal situations, emergencies, or weather. This program depends on registration alone for its funding. While inconvenient, please understand that this policy enables us to sustain our programs even with last minute cancellations. Course fees only cover a portion of Desert Institute program costs.

Course Cancellations

Classes are held rain or shine. However, we reserve the right to change the course instructor, itinerary or meeting location due to weather or other conditions. Sometimes it may be necessary to cancel a course due to instructor illness, low enrollment, NPS requirements or other reason. If that happens, we will notify you and provide a full refund based upon your registration information.

Academic Credit

Credit is available from UCR Extension, University of California, Riverside. Credit fees are listed separately from noncredit fees. Credit units are based on a quarter system. Credit students may be required to successfully complete assignments or exams. Teachers may apply for Professional Career Development through their school district.

Discounts

There is a $10 discount per class for JTNPA, OSHER, or PINE members, including those who join when they register. Discounts may not be combined.

Camping & Park Information

Most campgrounds are first come, first served. Reservations are available for Black Rock and Indian Cove from October through May. Camping reservations and fees for overnight courses held at Lost Horse Campsite are included in registration. For other courses, campsites may be reserved online through recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Campground fees will apply. Participants are responsible for their own accommodations and food. Visit the park website for more information.

Fitness levels

The fitness levels of each class are as varied as the topics we offer. Most of our courses require some hiking during field trips in the park which may be hot, dry, windy and sometimes cold. In rating the difficulty of each class we consider elevation gain and loss, distance, time of year, pace, and terrain. Please review and select a class that matches your fitness level. We want to ensure that your skills and abilities match those of your fellow participants. Note that the ratings are guidelines. For a person who is very active a class rated ‘strenuous’ might not pose a challenge or a ‘moderate’ rated hike could be very difficult for someone not used to walking outside in the desert environment at moderate elevation.

Easy

Leisurely to moderate pace up to 3 miles per day through relatively flat terrain with frequent stops.


Moderate

Moderate steady pace up to 6 miles per day with some elevation gain and loss through some rocky or uneven terrain.


Strenuous

Longer rigorous hikes at a moderate to brisk pace up to 12 miles per day with significant elevation gain and loss up to 3,000 ft through rough steep terrain, with possible rock scrambling.


Extreme

Course includes rock scrambling throughout a significant portion of route, good balance, full range of motion, and three points of contact while scrambling are necessary.

Can’t Find a Campsite?

The park has become an extremely popular destination in recent years. Due to this popularity, all park campgrounds usually fill on weekends October through May. If you arrive too late to get a site in a designated campground, you have the following options:

  • Camp on Bureau of Land Management land outside the park.
  • Go to a private campground or stay in lodging in gateway communities. Please contact area chambers of commerce for information.

Sleeping in your vehicle overnight along the roadside or at a roadside pull off is not allowed and violators may be subject to a citation.

For more information, visit the national park's Camping Outside of the Park page.

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As the park’s primary non-profit partner, our mission is to assist with preservation, education, historical and scientific programs for the benefit of Joshua Tree National Park and its visitors.