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Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Covington Park
San Bernardino County, California
Birding Around Las Vegas, Favorite Places Far Away

big morongo
big morongo canyon preserve


The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, a riparian area in the desert mountains north of Palm Springs, straddles the transition zone between the Mojave (higher elevation) and Sonoran (lower elevation) deserts. Springs feed a stream that waters lush vegetation (including trees, palms, brushy thickets) and small ponds in the nature preserve, plus open grassy fields in the adjacent community park. Combined, these well-vegetated areas amid arid desert slopes provide habitat for a remarkable density and variety of resident, migrant, and vagrant species of birds; more than 235 species have been seen here (Bird List).

Link to Map.

big morongo canyon preserve Big Morongo is out of the way for most Las Vegas travelers, but stopping here is worth detouring off the interstate or taking the back roads across the desert when traveling between Las Vegas and southern California.
big morongo canyon preserve


Situated in the Little San Bernardino Mountains north of Palm Springs, the upstream end of the preserve lies in the Mojave Desert, while the downstream end lies in the Colorado Desert. Elevations range from about 600 feet on the canyon floor to over 3,000 feet on the ridges. The Morongo fault, which runs through the canyon, causes water draining from the surrounding mountains to form Big Morongo Creek, which emerges, flows intermittently, and provides water for the riparian and marsh habitats.

big morongo canyon preserve The lush vegetation, one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian habitats in California, stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding desert slopes. Five distinct plant communities occur here, including Mojave Riparian Forest (stands of cottonwood, willow, alder, and mesquite trees along the streams and marshes), Fresh-water Marsh (vegetation along streams, ponds, and boggy areas), Desert Wash (dry streambeds where water flows only after rain), Creosote Bush Scrub (dry flats and hillsides where plants only get water from the sparse rainfall), and Open Fields (historic grazing areas and disturbed lands that are revegetating naturally or are maintained as a community park).
big morongo canyon preserve

Several trails, including boardwalks, meander through the preserve. The 0.5-mile (15 minute) Marsh Trail is a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk. If you have time for nothing else, walk the Marsh Trail, which runs along the stream and marshes under a canopy of cottonwood and other trees. A birding paradise during the spring and fall migration, this area supports the second highest density of breeding birds in the United States (1,400 nests per square kilometer).

The Bureau of Land Management designated Big Morongo Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in recognition of its special values. The land is managed by the BLM to protect rare and endangered wildlife, enhance sensitive riparian areas, promote a variety of plants, provide for scientific research, and offer educational opportunities.

big morongo canyon preserve


Big Morongo is located on the south side of Highway 62 at the east end of the town of Morongo Valley, California. To get there from Las Vegas, find your way to Palm Springs, then drive north on Highway 62 for about half an hour. Morongo Valley is the first town after you drive up the steep, winding canyon. Watch for signs to the preserve on the far (east) end of town.

Alternatively, from Las Vegas, drive south on Interstate 15 and take one of the roads across the desert to Twenty-nine Palms, home of the world's largest Marine Corps Base. Pick up Highway 62 and drive west towards Palm Springs. After driving through the town of Yucca Valley, the road runs down a long, steep, straight hill. The preserve is located at the bottom of the hill on the left (south) side. Watch for the signs.

Added new photos
Covington Park


Day-use only: 7:30 to sunset. Visit during the cooler seasons (fall, winter, and spring); the best birding is during the fall and spring migrations.


None. Donations are welcomed.

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Covington Park


Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is an internationally recognized birding site. Several rare or unusual species are known to nest here, and many other species are abundant during the spring and fall migration seasons. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy, the American Birding Association, and Watchable Wildlife National Program.

Added new photos The preserve is home to a number of other species, including mammals (desert bighorn sheep, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, and kangaroo rats), reptiles (gopher snakes, rosy boas, red diamond rattlesnakes, California kingsnakes, common whiptail lizards, chuckwallas, coast horned lizards, and side-blotched lizards), and amphibians (California tree frogs).
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For More Information

Visit the Preserve website. Trail maps, information brochures, picnic facilities, and restrooms are available at the preserve. The adjoining Covington Park can handle large groups for outdoor events (e.g., group picnic area). For more information call the Morongo Valley Community Services District (760-363-6454).

Added new photos Big grass and big trees -- lots of places to look for birds
Added new photos Boardwalk after 2005 fires.

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 111223

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