As somebody who has been visiting Joshua Tree National Park (or at one time, Monument…) my entire life, I ponder things. One of them was the name of the Boy Scout Trail, which doesn’t match the naming convention of other places in the Park1
Joshua Tree National Park, despite it’s immense size, does not actually have a large formal trail system beyond the California Riding and Hiking Trail and the Boy Scout Trail. Most of my journeys off-road are non-trail walks. This was a source of interest.
Recently, I was discussing some Scouting history with a friend who mentioned the building of the Boy Scout Trail.
Ken DeWitt, who lives in Washington, grew up in Twentynine Palms. He mentioned that while he was a Scouting youth, a possible project was proposed by John Donaldson, the Park Ranger of the Indian Cove group campground who was a Scouting adult. This was 1967. His idea was to restore a trail that traces some of the historic path that the Chemehuevi and Serrano would make on their seasonal journeys from the Colorado River to the Mountains and back. In modern times, Bill Keys also used this route to reach the Lost Horse Valley.
The route existed but was not marked. The local Order of the Arrow chapter of the Boy Scouts of America took on the trail as their major service project. The Scouts did a lot of trail improvements and formally marked the trail. At the time, camping in the backcountry wasn’t allowed, but the Scouts were able to while doing the trail work.
Building The Boy Scout Trail
The Scouts then restored the trail system from Indian Cove to its terminus at the Willow Hole Road. inside the main area of the park. In the Summer of 1973, Ken worked as a Fire Control Aid in then Joshua Tree National Monument. At the time, they internally referred to the trail as the “Indian” or the “Keys Canyon” trail.
After the work of the Scouts, there have been additional improvements. The lower end of the trail at Indian Cove was later relocated. In addition, the last mile of the upper end also rerouted (around the area of the turnoff for Willow Hole).
Ken later moved from Southern California and has lived in Washington. He worked in property and real estate while keeping up his extensive volunteer work. It was great to find out how the work of him and many others over 50 years ago was recognized by the National Park Service who named it for those who restored it.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the story.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.