Entering Joshua Tree National Park is like entering an alien landscape. Here, where the Colorado and Mojave Deserts meet, boulders are stacked hundreds of feet high, creating a climber’s paradise. The Joshua Trees, spiked guardians of the park, squat amidst cacti, nettles, and yucca plants, all sprouting up from the sandy ground.
It is barren, and yet it is alive.
While there are many official and unofficial trails within Joshua Tree, our brief trip there centered around the Wall Street Mill Trail. This three mile trek is nice and flat, providing easy access to the park’s incredible views. Just about anyone can tackle this hike with ease, and it’s well worth it — especially if you like to pair your hiking with a bit of local history.
Wall Street Mill Trail Specs:
Length: 2.2 miles (round trip)
Difficulty: Easy (according to AllTrails)
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California
Wall Street Mill Review:
There are two points from which you can begin this hike. The most obvious parking lot (marked on the map above) is easy to access and serves as the trail head for both the Wall Street Mill and the Barker Dam. You’ll want to take the trail that veers to the right.
For the first quarter mile the trail will run almost parallel to a dirt road. This road and the trail both lead to the second parking lot. Either lot is fair game, and it really doesn’t matter where you start.
The hike itself is flat, with an overall incline gain that is basically nothing. This would make for a super easy in-and-out hike, but it’s worth mentioning that Joshua Tree is a desert park (actually, a two-desert park). Be wary of the sun as you go; the summer months bring blistering heat. If you’re not careful, you could face sunburn, heat stroke, or severe dehydration, even on short hikes like this.
So, you might ask, what’s the point of waltzing down a heat-stoked trail in the middle of the desert when there’s no real challenge? The answer is in the trail itself, and the relics of an old gold mill that gives it its name.
As a newcomer to California, I know regrettably little about the gold rush. As a result, I considered this hike a bit of a hands-on look into a slice of California’s past. I find ruins utterly fascinating (as you can tell from my ecstatic exploration of an Arizona ghost town), and this was no exception.
The desert, it turns out, is remarkably good at preservation, and along the trail you’ll be greeted by everything from old cars to fallen cisterns. The first, most obvious relic is an old well, followed by a smattering of rusted car shells.
Then, of course, there’s the mill itself. Despite its old-timey feel, it’s in surprisingly good condition, almost as if it could start running again tomorrow. The mill was owned by Bill Keys, a prospector who was, evidently, a bit protective over his land. He got into a fight with his neighbor, which ended in the neighbor’s death at gunpoint. Once, there was a stone commemorating the incident, but it’s since been moved due to vandals.
Stay tuned for an entire post about how deeply Tara and I despise vandalism, especially at National Parks…
The mill itself was a gold ore crushing mill, which I know nothing about. Luckily, there is a handy sign with a full blueprint of the site and an explanation of what it was used for.
This is a prime area for geocaching, so keep your eyes peeled for hidden messages and directions (if you have a geocache app on your phone, whip it out!). We weren’t actively looking for caches, but we still managed to find a message in a bottle!
Being Joshua Tree, our hike wouldn’t be complete without some off-trail rock scrambling. If you’re not familiar with the park, it’s a climber’s paradise with over 8,000 routes. Most of these require technical equipment, but the rocks are a nice, grippy marble that makes bouldering a breeze.
Just remember to be careful. The heights at Joshua Tree are very real, and a misstep could be deadly. Don’t tackle anything you don’t feel comfortable with, and if you don’t know what you’re doing stay close to the ground.
On the way back to the parking lot, you can veer off trail and check out the remnants of the Keys’ ranch (and outhouse!)
Overall, this hike is a great addition to your Joshua Tree itinerary, especially if you’re looking for something short and unique. It can easily be accomplished in an hour or two (even with off-trail explorations) and is suitable for all skill levels.