The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a 31,000 acre wildlife preserve, desert oasis and cottonwood and willow riparian (stream) habitat located in the Little San Bernardino Mountains off Highway 62 in Morongo Valley. The Morongo fault running through the canyon causes water draining from the surrounding mountains to form Big Morongo Creek and the marsh habitat. The upstream end of the canyon lies in the Mojave Desert, while its downstream portion opens into the Colorado Desert.
The United States Bureau of Land Management created the preserve in 1982. Its stated aims are to educate the public about its purpose in protecting vulnerable wildlife and ecosystems. Volunteers host educational opportunities including bird walks and group hikes. Public outreach programs and field trips are available.
The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve has several short trails that are under a mile long, and one longer trail that is approximately five miles long. An information kiosk is located at the trail head just off the parking lot. Facilities include a nature education center, restrooms, and a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk through the marsh and riparian habitats.
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.
More than 235 bird species have been observed in the preserve, including several rare species. Many additional transient species are present during the spring and fall migration seasons. Water also attracts desert bighorn sheep, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, and other mammals. The preserve is listed as a National Watchable Wildlife Site.
In June 2005, a fire started on Paradise Avenue in western Morongo Valley. This fire quickly spread, torching about six thousand acres. Luckily, only seven homes were burned. The fire also damaged some of the walkways in the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, but all damage has been repaired and the entire preserve is once again open for birding and hiking. During my visit in Feb. of 2010 I could still see evidence of the fire in many of the trees, but for the most part the damage has been restored by nature and the hard work of the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve’s volunteers.
The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Hours: Open 7:30 AM – Sunset. There are no fees.
Services: Informative Ranger, map, brochures, and a kiosk. Walking tours offered and the preserve is only open for day use.
Facilities: Restrooms, drinking water, and a parking area are available at the preserve.
Phone Number: (760) 363-7190
Directions: From Palm Springs, travel west on Interstate 10 to State Highway 62. Travel north on Highway 62 for 11.5 miles to Morongo Valley. Turn right on East Drive and go a short distance to the Preserve entrance on the left.
Visitor Activities: Birdwatching, nature studies, hiking, and environmental education experiences.
Information: Winter, fall and spring are the best times of the year to visit this area. The Preserve has a desert climate with hot, dry summers and moderate winters. Rainfall is scarce, and winter and spring nighttime temperatures can be cool.