Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve


IMG_8390-590pxHow many great places are there in life we just drive past over and over again without stopping? Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is one of those places. Fifteen years of traveling to the hi-desert, two years of living here… driving past this beautiful oasis of cottonwoods, desert willows, marshes and more in the heart of the desert without knowing what we were missing.

“Nestled among the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the desert oasis at Big Morongo Canyon is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian (stream) habitats in California. The upstream end of the canyon lies in the Mojave Desert, while its downstream portion opens into the Colorado Desert.

The Morongo fault running through the canyon causes water draining from the surrounding mountains to form Big Morongo Creek and the marsh habitat.

At 31,000 acres with elevations ranging from 600 feet on the canyon floor to 3000 feet at the top of the ridge, this diverse landscape has been an important part of the Morongo Basin’s natural and cultural history for almost two billion years.” – Big Morongo Canyon Preserve Website

My first impression of the park was the well-worn road and the number of cars in the parking lot, as well as a 5th wheel trailer belonging to the “preserve host.” I assume they are there to answer your questions and maintain the grounds.

IMG_8392-300pxThe Kiosk is the main feature before entering the park and contains a number of interesting facts and photos. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is an international birding site, and there are more the 240 species of birds that make the preserve their home for at least part of the year. Several rare species of birds make this their nesting spot as do many other species during the fall and spring migrations.

Just past the Kiosk the preserve opens to a series of paths, well laid-out and providing access to the wide variety of flora and fauna to be enjoyed.

Our first visit to the park was during the wintertime and most of the park was in that dormant state, which had a beauty all it’s own.

IMG_8394-590pxWe started out onto the Marsh Trail. The path is constructed of 60% recycled plastic milk containers mixed with 40% sawdust and winds magically through the landscape.

Half-way through the Marsh Trail we came across an intriguing dirt path going off to the side which led us to the Desert Willow Trail and through thickets of honey mesquite. The ¾ mile trail wound along the edge of the thicket, through a desert wash, and across a field of golden-bush before reconnecting with the Marsh Trail once again.

Even though there were a number of cars in the parking lot we seldom passed anyone else on the trails. There were lots of opportunities to just stop and listen to the numerous birds, the marsh streams and the wind rustling the cottonwood leaves. Very peaceful.

The preserve looks so different than what we’re used to seeing in the hi-desert… it was refreshing to the eyes and mind.

After lingering over the last of our walk we returned to our car full of curiosity over how this place must look in spring. We determined to return every season to see how this magical spot in the hi-desert changes.


11055 East Drive
Morongo Valley, CA 92256


Gallery of Photos