The Oasis of Mara is a must-see for anyone venturing to Joshua Tree National Park. Its entrance is slightly off the beaten path, and most are too enthralled with the journey to the park to give this gem the time of day. Shame for them, win for you!
As the story goes, the indigenous Serrano—a people known for inhabiting the most rugged and desolate corners of California’s terrain—first settled the oasis. They were named by Spanish settlers; Serrano translates to “highlander” or “mountaineer” from the Spanish language. As is likewise predictable, Mara reflects the region and the indigenous people that inhabited it, and it translates to “the place of little springs and much grass” from the native Serrano language.
These indigenous tribes purportedly came to the oasis because a medicine man spoke of its gentler living conditions and a higher likelihood that its inhabitants would give birth to baby boys. Legend holds that they were instructed to plant a palm tree each time a boy was born, and in the first year, the Serrano planted 29 palm trees—it's now the namesake of this friendly town.
In the 1940s gold-hunters and cattle ranchers displaced the natives, and soon thereafter the spring ceased bubbling to the surface. Water is now pumped in by the National Park Service, thereby preserving the ecological system and making for an enjoyable hike.
The freshly paved 0.5-mile loop is packed full of desert wildlife and is a great walk for the whole family to enjoy. Expect to see quail, lizards, rabbits, squirrel, and an array of chatty birds. Don’t overlook the numerous placards—they are packed full of useful information. The clean visitor center also offers up educational resources and a wealth of information.