While staying in the Desert Hot Springs area of southern California, we learned about this hike which is about an hour away. It sounded interesting, so we joined some friends and made the drive over. The hike has scrambling, ladders, a slot canyon, and a high-walled "painted" canyon. It's a fun, diverse hike.
We were in Desert Hot Springs, California, and we decided to join our friends Esther & Steve for We got ready and piled into Esther & Steve's Jeep at 8:00 this morning for the 45-mile drive to Painted Canyon near the town of Mecca in the Mecca Hills Wilderness Area managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Actually, on the trip down, we added about 20 miles and exited I-10 east at the Joshua Tree National Park exit. But we turned right instead of left and drove through a very pretty area on Box Canyon Road.
Eventually, we came to Painted Canyon Road and drove another four miles back the washboard, dirt road that had some deep sand mixed in just for kicks. Around 9:30, we were parked and preparing for the day's five-mile hike.
I printed out this map (not to scale) from the Hiking In Palm Springs website.
Our plan was to hike up the canyon to the right of the parking lot, ....
take a left and go up the Ladder Canyon, hike to the trail junction at the top of the map and return down the right side through Big Painted Canyon.
Just inside the mouth of the canyon, Linda spotted a tarantula.
We gathered around, ....
and then I knelt down for a close-up.
That was pretty much the extent of the wildlife sightings.
We continued on following some other hikers between the high walls.
A little ways into the canyon, we were looking for a sign on the right that pointed to the left and the entry into Ladder Canyon. Well, the sign was there, but it was very hard to see and you couldn't really read it or see the tiny arrows pointing to the left.
Fortunately, I had read that you couldn't really tell it was a trail due to the rock-slides, but the webpage I linked to above assured us there was a trail to the right of the fallen rocks.
Also, Steve had some waypoints plugged into his GPS that helped confirm the path. Somehow, we missed this big rock arrow pointing the way (until the return trip).
As you will see later, we weren't very good about following big rock arrows.
So, we scrambled up through the rocks ...
and walked into some narrow openings until we came to the first ladder. Steve was our ladder tester, and we had to climb down the first one.
Some of the aluminum ladders were pretty beat up and there were some sharp edges, so we went up and down them with caution.
The next ladder was the only wooden ladder of the bunch.
Looking back at Linda and Esther as we waited for them to come up.
Sometimes, the top ladder rung was a bit far from the next step up, so we had to move slowly and improvise to help Linda up to keep pressure off her knees. It wasn't always pretty.
Then we proceeded into the narrow slot canyon.
We love slot canyons. There is just something about walking through narrow passageways in what appears from the outside to be solid rocks.
Linda took a little video in one section.
We came to another ladder, and I went up first to scout the best way for Linda to come up.
That one wasn't too bad, and she videoed Esther and Steve coming up behind her.
The slot canyon was pretty short, but still worth doing. Then it was an uphill climb in the dry creek wash toward the canyon rim.
Of course, the views improved the higher we climbed.
I waited at the top where the trail came to a "T" intersection. We could see the Salton Sea in the distance from up there.
Misreading my directions, we took a right instead of a left at that point. I thought we were at a different point on the map than we were, so we walked in the wrong direction for awhile.
In fact, we ignored several rock arrows on the trail that pointed the opposite way. There was even a rock arrow that, in retrospect, was probably a U-turn arrow telling us to go back. But we kept going down a steep descent until the trail dead-ended here.
Oops. With the return trip it was about a three-quarter-mile error which wouldn't have been so bad if not for the fact we had to climb back up on some steep terrain for most of the way.
Once we got back to the intersection where we made our wrong turn we saw .... you guessed it .... another big rock arrow that was pointing in the direction we were supposed to go.
So, we continued on up the hill ....
and our view of the Salton Sea expanded.
Finally, the trail started to descend and we made our way down into Big Painted Canyon.
As soon as we found a nice, shady spot with rocks we could sit on comfortably, we took a break and had lunch.
After 20 to 30 minutes, we were refreshed and ready to go. We had about two and half miles to go. But it was all downhill and the scenery was very nice.
The different colors of the rocks in the canyon were stunning although the photos don't quite bring out how vibrant they were.
We stopped to take in the aromas of the various plants and to feel their leaves and look at some of the tiny blooms.
There were, however, lots of thorny cat-claw acacias so just grabbing any branch was not advisable.
We came to a section that looked like the rocks had been poorly white-washed. Even in the afternoon shade, it really did look the canyon had been painted.
There were some pretty contrasts and the walls got higher.
After awhile, we came upon the next ladder section.
There were two ladders we had to go down in this area.
There was an in-ground beehive at the top of the first ladder, but they didn't bother us at all.
Here's a shot looking back up at both ladders.
From there, it was a pretty short walk back to the parking area. We returned as others were just coming into the canyon, and Linda and Esther posed for one last photo.
On the "Hiking in Palm Springs" website, they warned of cars being broken into in the parking area. So, we made sure we left nothing of value in the Jeep and were happy to find no signs of foul play.
Well, our five-mile hike turned into almost a six-mile hike, but it was certainly enjoyable and not too tough. Some scrambling and climbing is required in the Ladder Canyon portion, but I would call it "moderate". The walk through the other canyons is pretty easy except for the walking in fairly deep sand which gets old after awhile.
It's definitely a worthwhile hike if you are staying in the area. The diversity in the loop hike keeps things interesting.