Joshua Tree National Park Association

Notes From The Field

Desert Institute Stories

The Desert Institute offers classes for adult learners in cultural history, natural science, survival skills, desert naturalist studies, women’s programs, citizen science, and creative arts. All programs are taught by expert instructors who provide a personal and enjoyable learning experience on these educational adventures.

If you are a member of JTNPA you will get a $10 discount off every Desert Institute class. If you are not a member you can become one here.


We know that lifelong learning is important to our mental health and has even been found to help preserve memory as we age. The Desert Institute is the perfect organization to support lifelong learning in southern California. Our desert is unique and the classes give participants the opportunity to learn about and better understand how to enjoy and protect desert plants and wildlife.

As a volunteer, I have the opportunity to stay active and support my community. I enjoy meeting the participants and learning from the instructors. It is a pleasure to keep everyone safe while they learn about our desert. I learn so much from the classes and in turn, I am able to share what I have learned with people that I come into contact with while I am out on the trails. The Desert Institute has given me an opportunity to give back to this beautiful place that has provided so much peace and joy to me. – Pam K., a volunteer since 2014 and JTNPA Board Member since 2023

I have taken many Desert Institute courses over the years, mostly in photography and birding, and have always been impressed by the caliber of instruction. The instructors are very knowledgeable about their subjects and are good communicators. Beyond that, the classes are well organized and flow well, due in no small part to our volunteers. They help sign students in, assist during hikes, keep watch on time, and are prepared to deal with any emergencies that might arise. I will soon retire and thought I would volunteer and try to give back a little to the Desert Institute. I enjoy camping but my wife is not a fan, so it gives me an excuse to break out the tent more often as well. Having volunteered for a few classes, I not only learned from the courses but enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow volunteers and instructors as well. I hope my efforts as a volunteer enhance everyone’s experience of the class. – Kurt M., a new volunteer


Joshua Tree National Park was the first park we visited when my husband and I moved to California ten years ago. We drove through, saw the rocks and Joshua Trees, and didn’t really explore much. A few years later, we made another trek to the park and spent a few nights at Jumbo Rocks campground. Waking up on my second day without cell service, I felt a little less twitchy without the tech and really embraced the ability to disconnect from the distractions and reconnect with myself.

Fast forward to 2020, and I was invited to develop a new track of programming to introduce Wilderness Wellness to the Desert Institute community. To be able to introduce folks from all over the country to the healing power of nature in our beautiful park is hands down one of the best experiences of my life. When the people who participate in our programs have a deeply transformational and healing experience in the park, they become profoundly connected to the land and want to protect it for themselves and for future generations. Please consider supporting this incredible organization so we can continue to educate, enlighten, and inspire the next generation of conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, and advocates for public lands. – Sydney (and Barry) Williams, Hiking My Feelings

I’ve been teaching for and taking classes from the Desert Institute since the very beginning and I know a good educational value when I see it. This is why I tell everyone I know about all of the wonderful classes being offered that celebrate our beautiful desert! Many if not most of the classes I teach outside of my “day job” at College of the Desert are offered through the Desert Institute because I know that their dedicated staff will make sure that everything runs smoothly and efficiently. We want to do everything we can to keep these very affordable classes going so that we can continue to support Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding Mojave/Sonoran/Colorado Deserts. Please consider donating to the Desert Institute and sign up for a class while you are at it! – Kurt Leuschner

The Desert Institute and the Hiking My Feelings are a perfectly balanced partnership. I had already participated in one Hiking My Feelings retreat, and when the opportunity to camp in Joshua Tree National Park and reunite with Sydney and Barry came up, I signed up right away. It had been 20 years since I last visited and camped in Joshua Tree, with my then junior high school-age daughters and their science teacher, which was a long way for a field trip from the San Francisco Bay Area, but Mrs. Moore was a truly dedicated teacher.

The professionalism and willingness to fully participate in the program by the volunteers from the Desert Institute, Misha, Nancy, and Gabaccia, made me want to become a volunteer myself even if it’s a very long drive from the Bay Area! The privilege of being in the park absorbing and appreciating all the beauty, raw energy, clean air, incredible rocks, wildlife, history, gorgeous sun rises and sunsets, solitude, camaraderie, healing, laughing, Love, sharing, growing, living, and being, filled me with a joy and a renewed gratitude for all that is life and I drove the whole way home smiling and feeling at peace. I cannot and will not wait another 20 years to visit and camp in Joshua Tree again. Thank you to the Desert Institute for partnering with Hiking My Feelings.  – Ann A.

I am writing this impact statement regarding The Desert Institute in Joshua Tree. The Desert Institute has been essential in assisting me with my photography goals. I have been a member of the Joshua Tree National Park Association for many years which helps to reduce the already affordable tuition cost of classes and membership also gets the students access to limited areas and times for photography. Being a Retired Army Veteran allows me to visit Joshua Tree many times throughout the year and photograph different images and learn new facts about the desert on each visit. The choices of Institute instructors are top-notch and they groom the Institute students to be better photographers and make working with the instructors an interesting and memorable experience. I will always be grateful to the Institute instructors, staff, and volunteers for their support, knowledge, and kindness. – Ellis M.

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