Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hike 2012.054C -- Hidden Valley Loop, Joshua Tree National Park

Hiked Saturday, August 4.

After getting off the tram, we headed east, across the Coachella Valley, and in search of CA-62, which runs through Morongo Valley and Yucca Valley before reaching the village of Joshua Tree. At Park Blvd in Joshua Tree, you make a right and continue on to the park boundary.

In retrospect, it probably would have been faster to just get on I-10 at Exit 120, go west three miles, and take Exit 117 north, which would be CA-62 east. Instead, I took surface streets all the way, before running into CA-62 pretty much where I thought I would. Still, there's something to be said for taking the smaller roads and appreciating the expanse of the American West.

After reaching Park Blvd, it's about three miles to the park boundary, where I flashed my America the Beautiful Pass and picked up the map and newsletter that allowed our friend to do a quick read to decide which of several possible short trails we'd take. We settled on Hidden Valley.

About six miles later, we arrived at Hidden Valley. It was around 7pm. That would give us about 90 minutes to kill walking around before it got reasonably dark, when we could briefly set up one of my telescopes. My wife insisted our friend was interested in doing some viewing. I never know if people actually want to look or are just willing to put up with the viewing as a cost of spending the day with us, but I packed my 100ED refractor and Orion Sirius mount for this night.

Despite my many visits to Hidden Valley, I had never actually taken the little nature trail that leaves from there. It starts at the north end of the main lot (there's a smaller lot further away from the highway--don't go there if you are taking the hike). There's a large trailhead sign there, which tells you this was private grazing land relatively recently. That means the flora was probably pretty heavily altered by the cattle grazing. Still, the rocks are impressive, and there are plenty of Joshua tree and assorted other succulents. Somewhat surprisingly (to me), there were also quite a number of pinyon pine, as well as a small-leaved oak that I had never noticed before.

The trail leaves the parking lot and begins a slight climb as it heads into Hidden Valley. The entrance to this hidden valley was blasted away by the private land owner, creating the pass we walked through. Undoubtedly, fencing and other "improvements" had been made in the past, and I'm pretty sure I saw evidence of that past fencing and blasting. Still, if you didn't look to closely, it looked pretty wonderful.

Like much of Joshua Tree National Parks, the rock outcroppings were other-worldly, and lit up nicely in the late afternoon sun. They get a much warmer tinge to them, versus when you view them in the harshness of a midday sun.

Plenty of adventurous souls wandered off-trail and climbed the rocks, mostly without any sort of technical equipment.

When your cherry-stem trail reaches the loop portion of the trail, the arrow points left, to put you on a clockwise path. I suppose that's so you don't pass as many people, and helps spread the crowds out and give you a greater sense of solitude on this short little trail.

As with the Barker Dam trail of last week, I really enjoyed this little hike. I'm glad I did this one, too.

After we got back to the car, we grazed on the assorted foods that had survived the day. I had a surprisingly large collection of Power Bars and Cliff Bars that had collected in my day pack over the past month or so. We also had a few more Mandarin oranges and bananas, as well as diet sodas and the last of the Powerade that I brought with me up to San Jacinto State Park. Also, a can of Pringles. Ah, the food of champions. ;D

We then moved the car over to the west end of the lot, where we had a clear view of the southwest. Once it was dark enough, we saw Mars and Saturn, then looked at Albireo. As it got darker and it appeared we would stay longer than I thought we would stay, I went ahead and did a goto alignment.

My Sirius mount has been really poor with gotos the past few years, and, as a result, I hadn't even bothered with trying an alignment for a year or more. I just use it as a tracking equatorial mount. Nonetheless, this night, with the car battery providing a strong and consistent power source, I went ahead and did a two-star alignment.

The results were mediocre, but good enough. With the relatively wide field of my 100ED (compared to an 8" or 11" SCT), the gotos were close enough to put the object in the eyepiece if it was close to one of my alignment stars (Vega, which meant M57 and M27), or inside the field of view of my finderscope for things further away (M17 and M31, for example). It helped speed us through a very quick tour of a fair selection of summer objects: planetary nebula, globular clusters, open clusters, emission nebula and a galaxy. Then we packed up and headed home.

Pulled into the driveway not long after midnight. This made for a pretty long day, but a pretty excellent one, at that: Several nice hikes, two different destination parks, and some time under a reasonably dark sky. It also meant I was pretty beat on Sunday, but I'm not complaining. It was definitely worth the trip.

Hidden Valley is an easy one mile loop (tougher in the summer sun, of course), with options for rock climbing all around. There's a slightly gain of altitude (I would guess no more than 20 or 30 feet) near the start, and a few other gentle inclines along the way. Not a lot of shade unless you're hiking very early or very late, though.

It's not a destination all by itself, but it's a nice place to stretch your legs, and one of many 1 to 2 mile long nature trails scattered around the park. After the drive to Joshua Tree, I figure most folks would want to take at least a few short walks, and this one would be a gentle introduction to the park.


  1. Very cool. Going anywhere to view the Perseid meteor shower this weekend?

  2. I was thinking about either Joshua Tree or the local mountains, but some monsoonal stuff set up and the clouds really built up. Plus, I got lazy. Also, I need to work on Sunday. Might try to fit in a hike after my shift.

  3. Hi,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blog posts about Hidden Valley to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you :)