Drought and Animal Safety Closes Popular Hiking Trail in Joshua Tree
On June 1, 2022, Joshua Tree National Park managers closed the 49 Palms Trail to allow bighorn sheep undisturbed access to surface water. The park is under extreme drought conditions and herds in the area are increasingly reliant on the oasis spring to survive the hot summer months. The closure will remain in place until summer monsoons provide adequate rainfall to increase water availability. Park wildlife biologists will be monitoring the situation.
Hikers should be prepared to use other trails in the park but must use extreme caution. All hikes should be planned to begin at or before sunrise and end by 10:00 AM, or planned to not begin until after 4:00 PM. Hiking in the middle of the day is not recommended. Summer temperatures on exposed parts of park trails can reach over 120° F (49° C) in the shade. Hiking in extreme heat can lead to serious health risks including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hyponatremia, and death.
More information on hiking smart in the heat at Joshua Tree National Park can be found at the following website: www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/hiking.htm.
Desert Bighorn Sheep
The desert bighorn, Ovis canadensis nelsoni, ranges through the dry, desert mountains of eastern California, much of Nevada, northwestern Arizona, and southern Utah. Across its entire range, the total population is about 13,000. It is estimated that 100 to 200 bighorn live in Joshua Tree National Park.
Desert bighorn prefer a habitat of steep, rocky terrain for escape from predators, bedding, and lambing. Bighorn zigzag up and down cliff faces with amazing ease. They use ledges only two inches wide for foot holds, and bounce from ledge to ledge over spans as wide as 20 feet. They can move over level ground at 30 miles per hour and scramble up mountain slopes at 15 mph. They are aided by cloven hooves which are sharp-edged, elastic, and concave.
The bighorn uses open areas of low growing vegetation near rugged terrain for feeding. This habitat preference divides Joshua Tree’s bighorns into three more or less separate areas or ranges. The Eagle Mountains at the far easterm portion of the park is concentrated around the Cottonwood and Lost Palms oases. The second area ranges through the main part of the Little San Bernardino Mountains (includes Keys View). The last area is found in the Wonderland of Rocks and Queen mountain. Members of this last group are the ones most often seen by park visitors. Learn more about Desert Bighorn Sheep populations, what challenges they face, and how they connect desert landscapes by following this link.