Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Within the Sand to Snow National Monument*

Nestled among the Little San Bernardino Mountains, this desert oasis is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian (stream) habitats in California. The Preserve is an internationally-recognized birding site. It includes 2 desert vegetation zones: the Mojave and the Sonoran. The lush vegetation of Big Morongo Canyon stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding desert slopes. A high water table in the canyon has made possible the growth of tall trees in a desert climate. (

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is located in the Morongo Valley, a community between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.

The Preserve entrance is located off of State Hwy 62 on East Drive. Adjacent to the parking area is an information kiosk. On the ceiling are pictures of the various birds you may see inside the Preserve painted in their actual colors, as if you were looking up into the air and seeing the bird fly over. On the ground floor, beneath each flying bird, you’ll discover each bird’s own unique shadow. This shadow is how the ground animals recognize which predator lurks in the skies above. (

All trails begin at the Info Kiosk.

Trails range from 3 tenths of a mile to an 11-mile round trip hike. Elevations on the Preserve range from 600 feet on the canyon floor to over 3,000 feet at the ridge tops. The Morongo fault running through the canyon causes water draining from the surrounding mountains to form the creek and marsh habitat. (

This color-coded map sets the trails apart and also offers a one-way COVID-19 compliant loop to follow:

We take the Marsh Trail to the Mesquite Trail where we pick up the Marsh Trail again and complete the Desert Willow Trail. And then we complete the entire loop of the Marsh Trail. We will return another time to “take the high road”of the West Canyon Trail, Canyon Trail (maybe), and Yucca Ridge Trail.

Here are pictures from our hike:

The Marsh Trail meanders over and along a stream under Fremont cottonwood trees, red willow, and white alder. This wetland area supports the 2nd highest density of breeding birds known in the U.S.. (

left to right: willow, cottonwood, alder (I think?)

The Mesquite Trail continues along the stream through a marsh habitat…

snow-capped San Gorgonio Mountain rises in the background

… then briefly travels along the base of the Yucca Ridge…

A large outcropping of ancient gneiss rock, along this trail, is the result of the Morongo Valley Fault.

A post-war Ford, supposedly pushed off a cliff above, and pummeled by a large gneiss rock… (

More views of the Yucca Ridge…

Boardwalks along the trails are environmentally appropriate. Composed of 60% recycled plastic milk containers and 40% sawdust, they last longer than wood. (

An airy canopy of twisted limbs and branches…

This mistletoe is a perennial parasite that invades the bark of some desert trees and shrubs
where it takes in water and nutrients to survive…

“Spikerush” growing along the trails can grow to 7 feet high. When the stems can no longer support themselves, they tip over forming a dense ground cover providing small animals a home and protection from predators. (

The Desert Willow Trail is a dirt trail wandering through open fields and honey mesquite thickets that drop down into a desert wash.

More mistletoe… Notice how green it is.

On Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve the mistletoe is red and found clinging to mesquite bushes.

The non-sticky berries ripen in winter and are a feast for birds.
Mistletoe fruit becomes sticky in the birds’ digestive tracks, allowing the seeds to stick to the bark of the host plant and germinate.

Even dead trees add color and ambiance to the desert habitat…

Mojave yucca

Fourwing saltbush
…a closer look

Cool views…

Yep, more mistletoe…

And now we are back where we started, outside the Visitor Kiosk, as we retrace our steps and complete the Marsh Trail, a 6-foot wide boardwalk trail accessible to everyone who is other-abled. There are 3 decks for relaxing along the .65 mile trail.

California fan palm, washingtonia filifera
Old cottonwood leaves still clinging to the branches paint the tree in fall colors.
The “all accessible” Marsh Trail with boardwalk and bench…
The view from the Jess Sherwood Memorial Deck…
A California fan palm takes root…

*Sand to Snow National Monument

Established by President Obama on February 12, 2016, the Sand to Snow Monument stretches from the sands of the Sonoran Desert to the top of San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California. With an area of 154,000 acres, Sand to Snow ranges from 1,000 feet to 11,000 feet in elevation. It protects a wildlife corridor connecting the San Bernardino National Forest/San Gorgonio Wilderness area, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Bighorn Mountain Wilderness area. (

courtesy of…

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