Friday, December 24, 2010

Hike 110: Eureka Peak

Hiked Thursday, December 23.

At long-last, the rain stopped. I figured a desert hike would be perfect after all that rain. Desert soils usually dry out pretty fast. The water either sinks into the sand or runs off somewhere else. Well, during my drive to Joshua Tree, I saw that it must have done a lot of running off somewhere else, because there was mud all over CA-62.

The trailhead for the Eureka Peak hike is the same one as for Warren Peak: I-10 East, CA-62 east, into Yucca Valley, then a right turn on Joshua Lane. Take Joshua Lane to the end of the road and follow the signs into Black Canyon campground. I parked near the visitor center. A map of trails out of this area is available here. Another map, with fewer trails indicated but short descriptions and mileages is available in the visitor center, or in a metal "mailbox" at the backcountry registration board, located at the north end of Black Canyon campground.

Note that, although this hike is entirely within Joshua Tree National Park, you do not need to pay an entry fee or day use fee to park and hike out of Black Rock Canyon. If you choose to camp, however, there's a $15 fee. Because you would be literally camping on the edge of town, this might make a good first camping trip. If things go south, you can be in Yucca Valley, eating at a McDonald's inside of 15 minutes. :D

To start the hike, I headed south, past site #30, and out of the campground. The first sign simply says "Access to Warren Peak and Panorama Loop, and West Side Loop (West Side Loop is not indicated on the NPS handouts). When I approached the water tank, I bore to the left and followed the West Loop signs until I reached a sign directing me to the Panorama Loop. After about a mile on that trail, I reached thet urn for the Burnt Hills Loop.

The Burnt Hills Loop was not very distinct, but easy to follow. By this I mean that there were plenty of possible routes and no signs. I just kept heading up the most obvious route, usually along where the water had flowed the previous night. Whether I was on the official route or not, I knew I was heading the right direction. However, I saw no trail markers until I reached a saddle (I believe the one indicated as just past three miles from the trailhead, and at 4,850' elevation). There, there was a downed 6"x6" stake. It was illegible until I looked on the other side, where a "B" and an "H" were visible: Confirmation that I was still on the Burnt Hill trail.

For most of this walk, Joshua Tree were a continuous companion. Near the saddle, pinyon pine and juniper briefly predominated. As I gained altitude towards the saddle, I could look behind me and see snow on distant mountains. The clouds were also starting to build.

From the saddle, I could see what I was pretty sure to be Eureka Peak in front of me. A Joshua Tree with "Mickey Mouse ears" stood at the top.

From here, the trail made a disconcerting and relatively steep decent (disconcerting only because I knew I would need to regain all that altitude). I passed a few more downed "B H" markers."

Finally, I ran into a small metal sign that marked the Eureka Peak trail. A right turn sent me up a wash, which gradually became steeper. The same peak with the Joshua Tree remained visible for much of this route.

Within a steep section, on this north-facing hill, I saw a few remaining patches of icy snow. Apparently, the snow line had briefly dropped to about 5,200 feet.

Nearing the summit, the trail finally reaches over to where you can see to the north. By now, the clouds had really built up, and much of Mt. San Jacinto was shrouded in clouds. The clouds would continue to build, eventually filling nearly all of the sky.

Within about 200 yards of the summit, the Eureka Peak trail runs into the short trail that runs from a small parking lot of a dirt road that runs in from Covington Flats. Yes, if you have a high-clearance vehicle, Eureka Peak is virtually a drive-up route. But that would be cheating. :D

From Eureka peak, there's a clear view north, back towards Yucca Valley and 29 Palms. There's also a clear view in most other directions, or there would be if not for the clouds yesterday. I couldn't see the Salton Sea, however. It was obscured by a nearby ridge. I'm pretty sure a rocky outcropping to the southeast was Keyes View.

From the summit, I walked down to the dirt road and followed it a short while. But after 1/4 mile of rapid altitude loss, I decided I didn't want to have to walk back up that far, and turned around.

Just a few hundred yards down the road, however, was a clear trail that ran further to the south. This promised a better view down into the Coachella Valley, so I made that walk. From there, I could see the Salton Sea, although it was somewhat hazy down there and the photos did not show it very well.

I returned via the Eureka Peak Trail, the Fault Trail, the California Riding and Hiking Trail, and on down to the backcountry board. With the exception of the Fault Trail, most of the return was along the bottom of washes. Runoff from last night carved sinewy traces along the floor.

Both coming and going, I repeatedly flushed quail from brush along the way. None stayed around long enough to photograph.

Total distance was about 10.5 miles. Net altitude gain is just under 1,500 feet, although gross altitude gain was probably closer to 1,800 feet.

Despite the scenery, good photos were hard to come by. The contrast between the glare of clouds blocking the sun, shaded and unshaded landscapes was just too great. Also, my timing was off. This shot of a Joshua Tree would have been pretty spectacular if I could have gotten my shot off about eight seconds earlier. For a brief moment, the sun broke through the clouds and cast a warm, soft, yellow glow on this tree, with the dark clouds as a backdrop. But by the time I got my camera out and ready, the light was gone. Only a faint tinge of yellow remained.


  1. Glad I found your blog! I've been looking for some new hikes to do and think I may do this one tomorrow. I've been concerned about various trail conditions due to all the rain we've had, so this one looks like a go. I read that you can take the CRH trail to Short Loop, which connects with Eureaka Peak (which supposedly is decently marked).

  2. Hmmm. You may already be out at Joshua Tree, so this comment is probably too late to help. But, yes, you can take CRH to SL to EP. And, yes EP was marked better than Burnt Hill. Hard for me to say for sure if it's "well marked," but I think it is sufficiently marked, as long as you have a general sense of direction and can tell which direction you ought to be traveling along the way.

    After reaching Eureka Peak, I heartily suggest going to Eureka Point. The better view into the Coachella Valley is worth it.

    Since most of EP and BH trails were just following washes, it's had to get really lost.

    If you get too late of a start to do Eureka Peak, Warren Peak is a pretty good substitute. It's only 6 miles round trip instead of 10.