Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hike 99: Warren Peak

My initial plan for today was Eureka Peak, also out of the Black Rock Canyon area. However, a change of plans had me dropping a friend off at Casino Morongo on the way in. I needed to shorten my hike to accommodate my fellow-traveler and gas cost splitter. So I went with Warren Peak, which would still let me explore this section of Joshua Tree that I hadn't been to before.

From I-10, I took CA-62 to Yucca Valley. Once in Yucca Valley, I kept my eyes peeled for Joshua Tree Lane. I made a right at the well-signed corner.

From the main drag, Joshua Tree Lane quickly becomes a residential street, although the speed limit through much of the drive to the end of the road is 50mph. I have read it's five miles from CA-62 to the end of the road, and that sounds about right.

Joshua Tree Lane winds its way south and east before it t-bones into San Marino Drive. A sign points you to make a right here to get to Black Canyon campground. After a few hundred yards, the road makes a 90 degree turn to the left, where it becomes Black Rock Canyon Road. A 1/4 or so later, the road crosses a sign announcing that you are entering Black Rock Canyon campground. Immediately on the left, you might notice a small sign which is the backcountry self-registry for people planning to camp in the Joshua Tree backcountry. The permits are in a small metal mailbox-like container. Also in the container is a flyer with the trails heading out of Black Rock Canyon. (I didn't discover this until I was driving out of the area after my hike). This is where you'd park (if you could find room along the side of the road) if you were planning to hike the California Riding and Hiking Trail, or the Eureka Peak, Fault, or Short Loop trails.

Instead, I continued on the main road, eventually coming to a visitor center. Unfortunately, when I got there, the ranger was out making her rounds, so the VC was closed and I couldn't pick up a flyer or get additional info on my trail options. Fortunately, there was a map of the campground. I wasn't planning to camp, but the campground map had the handy feature of indicating where the trailheads were. It turns out the access to the Warren Peak (and Burnt Hill and Panorama Loop) trail was just pass campground #30. The map also showed me the numbered sites, so I could find Site 30. It also indicated a number of flush toilet/running water restrooms in the campground. Camping here is $15 a night, incidentally. But day use is free, even if it weren't a free public lands day.

From the camp-ground, I headed south. After what seemed like just a few hundred yards, the trail reached a dirt road. Ahead on the dirt road was a water tank. It looked like a use trail ran past the tank and to the right. However, the official trail was left (down the hill) on this dirt road about fifty yards. There, a sign indicated this was the West Side Loop trail. The West Side Loop trail is not marked on the NPS flyer or on the Joshua Tree pamphlet or newspaper the NPS hands out at entry stations, by the way. But it is marked on the National Geographic/Trails Illustrated map you can buy in the bookstore (as I said earlier, I couldn't do that until after I got back from my hike). Nonetheless, the trail marked on the Nat Geo map does NOT match reality. In reality, there is a trail that links the Warren Peak/Panorama Loop trail to the West Side Loop trail, but on the Nat Geo map, those trails are entirely separate but parallel.

So after a relatively short period on this West Side Loop trail, I came across a sign indicating the Panorama Loop and Warren Peak trails was now making a left turn, while the West Side Loop trial continued to the right.

My trail soon brought me into the thick of a relatively dense Joshua Tree forest (lots of Joshua Trees, though not particularly tall ones).

From here on, most of the trail was across a sandy wash bottom. In many areas, the wash was quite broad, although further up it became narrower. The Joshua tree forest also gives way to pinion pines and juniper.

The sandy footing made this a deceptively difficult hike--although your brain tells you you're walking more or less level and on a normal surface, you're actually climbing upward, and losing traction on the sandy wash floor. That means that by the time you've made it 2 1/2 miles to near Warren Peak, you (or at least, I) was wondering why I was feeling so tired after such a short walk.

Conversely, when I was walking back, the descending path was MUCH quicker than it was coming up. I forgot to take my cell phone with a clock, but I felt like I got back in under an hour (maintain 3 mph, once I got off the mountain). Total walking time was a bit under three hours.

There was one point along the way when I got off-trail. I thought I had reached the point where the Panorama Trail splits off from the Warren Peak trail, so I turned right. But I was wrong. This was a use trail I was on, which, after about 1/4 mile, ran into the West Loop trail, again. So I had to backtrack to get back on the Panorama Loop/Warren Peak Trail

Also, when I got to the top of Warren Peak, the NPS map and flyers indicate the trail ends. However, in real-life, a very well-defined trail continues to the north. I followed it about 2/10ths of a mile. It very well may eventually go all the way down to link with the West Side Loop trails, but that I didn't have time to investigate this possibility, since if I was wrong, I'd have to backtrack the entire distance back to Warren Peak.

From Warren Peak, there's a very expansive view. Beyond the foreground hills to the south, you overlook the Coachella Valley. Mt. San Jacinto stands tall on the other side of the valley (That's the picture at the top of this post).

To the west, beyond some steep canyons and foreground hills, there's Mt. San Gorgonio. To the north is Yucca Valley, and many deserty hills beyond that (That's the second picture in this post). The whole rest of Joshua Tree is to your east. I assume Eureka Peak is one of the peaks to the east, but I could not be sure which one. I'll find that out the next time I'm in the area.

Along much of the trail, either modern metal signs with white names and directions indicate directions, or old, thick wooden stakes with PL or WP or WV point the way. The wash does make it easy to be misled without the signage.

I'm not sure how much rain this area got in the last storms, but sections of the wash were moist. I even saw a small amount of standing water along the way.

Not much in the way of wildlife I saw, either. One shot of a bird. A number of other species were sighted, but I couldn't id them. Same with the lizards. Small and quick.

All told, this hike is supposed to be six miles roundtrip. But that distance is given from the backcountry register at the north end of the campground. Parking near the visitor center and heading out near campsite 30, it's got to be a little shorter. On the other hand, I did have my little detour when I accidentally left the Warren Peak trail. That, plus the little bit I added on to the end of the official trail at Warren Peak, means I probably did do a six mile hike.


  1. All right Skyhiker! One more to go!!

  2. Yep. :D

    I was hoping to do the Mt. Baldy trail (Bear Canyon), but now I'm starting to think I'm not in good enough shape to do that, what with the days getting shorter. I might just do the Mt. Wilson trail. Maybe on Sunday. Then I can celebrate at the top with something from the Cosmic Cafe. I don't know if it opened before you left, but the snack shop on Mt. Wilson reopened in June, after many, many years of being closed.

  3. Thanks for the very thorough report!! I will be hiking this trail next month and all your details have helped to clarify things for me.

  4. You're welcome. :D I usually don't give very detailed descriptions, UNLESS the trail on the ground differs from what Internet or print sources describe.