Off-Trail in Joshua Tree NP
Nov 29, 2023 at 5:21 pm #3794181
Wondering if anyone on here has experience off-trail in Joshua Tree NP? A few stretches some intel would be greatly appreciated.
1) South part of the park: From Lost Palms Oasis over Eagle Man, on a north bearing. Will eventually hit Black Eagle Mine Rd. I’m particularly interested in the portion from Summit Spring over Eagle Mountain down to the flat basin.
2) Porcupine Wash from Pinto Basin Rd, heading west. Should hit Washington Wash, head north. Hit Fried Liver Wash, head north (approx 3 miles). Continue north over hills(?) to join up with Golden Bee Mine trail and connect to Cholla Cactus Garden.
Anyone wander those stretches in the past and want to share some beta? Thanks in advance!Nov 29, 2023 at 6:52 pm #3794189
Nothing recent. I went from the Cottonwood Springs visitor Center to Chiriaco Summit once. Barefooted. I’ve been up Pinto Basin Road. Maybe 1967? Maybe Nick?Nov 30, 2023 at 12:06 am #3794204
You need recent confirmation by a reliable person of any natural water sources.
There is water at the Cottonwood campground. Usually ground water can be found around Lost Palms, but you are starting your hike in this area and it isn’t very far from the campground.
Buzzard Springs used to be a reliable source and is in the Eagle Mountains, but probably further east than your route. Good luck on finding current status. Most rangers up there don’t even know where it is. Also it is a special use area to protect big horn sheep and you cannot overnight within the special boundary area (it isn’t that large of an area).
Conejo Well is prominent on maps, but has been dry for decades.
All of the above are my favorite parts of Joshua Tree, which means you will probably see zero people once you get away from Hidden Palms until you approach Pinto area. There are no other water sources along your route. Best to cache water ahead of time and have bail out plans just in case.Nov 30, 2023 at 4:09 am #3794208
I re-read your post. Is Summit Spring the one in Munson Canyon? That’s some pretty rugged terrain heading north. That’s why I posted those links so you could see what it looks like. Are you starting from Cottonwood Springs to get to Lost Palms Oasis or hiking up Lost Palm Canyon from the east? Hiking up from the east is climbing up some humongous boulders.Nov 30, 2023 at 4:37 am #3794209
I believe Pinto Basin Road was designated as a jeep trail. We made it through with 2 wheel drive and a camper. There was a number of soft sand washes. On the way to Chiriaco, I remember stepping pretty close to a sidewinder, only to jump back next to a diamondback. I haven’t been to Buzzard Springs, I can guess that any spring with sheep around can be kind of nasty. It may also contain a high level of fluoride, or even uranium. Ain’t killed me yet, but I don’t count on the springs.
I hope to make it out that way soon. Get some pictures of the cave that Fletcher missed.Nov 30, 2023 at 8:05 am #3794218
Nick, thank you for the input so far! I’m starting over at Geology Tour and heading to Cottonwood visitor center via Berdoo Canyon and Pinkham Wash. From Cottonwood visitor center I’d like to get to Lost Palms Oasis (easy) and then continue east briefly to Munsen Canyon. Turn north and find a route over Eagle Mountain. Yes, Summit Spring is in Munsen Canyon.
I found one route report of someone who got from Summit Spring to the summit of Eagle Mtn with some class 3 work. So that’s doable. That person descended to the west though, I’m hoping to continue north. Ideally I’d like to hear at least one more experience on moving north through Munsen to Eagle Mtn summit and some beta on the north descent.Nov 30, 2023 at 11:13 am #3794222
Nick. On your 2 day loop. The picture of the miners home. We found the same thing up around Queen Mountain. A large hollow bolder. It had some stripes painted on the inside.
Sandy. That sounds pretty ambitious as far as water. Eagle Mountain looks doable. Maybe slightly to the east going up and slightly east going down. The sandy washes can be a workout. Sometimes after a good rain, you can find puddles in the rock. The sand will pack down.Nov 30, 2023 at 1:46 pm #3794233
Yes, a lot of class 3, but you know that ahead of time.
I haven’t gone up Munson Canyon that far, but it doesn’t look too difficult. As you found, most people are approaching from the west. On a topo map, if you look north from Eagle Summit you’ll see Conejo Well, probably a little over a mile north. Not only is that area steep, but there is a lot of brush/shrubs to deal with especially in the drainages — I’d avoid that. I agree with Terran Terran to head easterly and then drop down into that large basin. Towards the east the rock formations are lovely.
Plan some extra time crossing the basin to get to Black Eagle Mine Road. A lot of those flat looking washes are kinda steep and it becomes a lot of up and down in soft sand. Easy walking but tiring.
Be cautious of any trip reports prior to this summer. Tropical Storm Hilary hit parts of Joshua Tree pretty hard. Flash flooding might make some routes, that were reported on trip reports, very difficult.
Also watch the weather reports closely if you are going to do this in December. Cottonwood area is in the lower elevations of Joshua Tree NP, but this is what Cottonwood Springs looked like in Dec of 2008 . . .Nov 30, 2023 at 7:12 pm #3794253jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
Sidewinders to the left, rattlers to the right; no water anywhere; an unknown class 3 off trail route, unless a blizzard turns it impassible; flash floods and cactus and bramble bushes choking off descents; sandy trudges after you’ve twisted your ankle…what’s not to love? Invite Ryan, he likes this sort of thing too.Nov 30, 2023 at 8:27 pm #3794255
Sidewinders to the left, rattlers to the right; no water anywhere; an unknown class 3 off trail route, unless a blizzard turns it impassible; flash floods and cactus and bramble bushes choking off descents; sandy trudges after you’ve twisted your ankle…what’s not to love?
It gets even better. Check out this sign. GPS is unreliable in park (whatever that means) and cell phone service is spotty, which means non-existent in the area Sandy is going. Add in all the people who get lost and disappear and/or die every year, it is a great place to hike and avoid people if you are willing to go off trail for a few days.Nov 30, 2023 at 10:32 pm #3794262
I carry snake spray. Mostly you need to be aware of where you put your hands and feet. Stay away from them. I’ve seen guys catch them.
I find it a pretty safe place. The biggest danger may be getting hot and drinking too much water. Heat exhaustion in the summer.Nov 30, 2023 at 10:50 pm #3794263jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
“Matt Riley died of thirst”…
People often write about mountaineers who’ve died in accidents, “well, he died doing what he loved”.*** This attitude pis—es me off, frankly. Every one of those people would have preferred to go on living and doing what they loved. Life is precious. Take care.
***it’s mostly guys dying out in the wild, it seems. We’re the dumber half of our species.Dec 1, 2023 at 6:07 am #3794268
You’re more likely to get cremated or stuffed into a porta potty. One guy got lost on a 2 mile loop. I don’t recall many snakebites.
“‘60% of bites are to the hands and arms from people handling snakes, Norris said.
“We could cut out a lot of our snakebites if people would just leave ‘em alone,” he said.
His formula for the classic bite victim: testosterone plus tequila, T-shirts and tattoos.
While Figueroa waited in a Loma Linda examination room for Bush to check on his purplish finger, Bush said he fit the typical snakebite victim profile — a younger man whose curiosity gets the better of him.
“Young males … for whatever reason, feel the need to pick up a snake [and] get bitten on the hand,” Bush said. “Bravado is something in our makeup.””Dec 3, 2023 at 3:21 pm #3794457
Time to get this thread back on track . . .
Sounds like Sandy knows what he is doing and has been methodical in his research.
Some pictures from Google Earth:
Below is Lost Palms Oasis (far lower right). His plan is to hike up Munson Canyon, near Summit Spring, and then up on ridge lines to Summit Peak, or rather the high point of the Eagle Mountains, since the high point doesn’t have much of a prominence, like Pinto Mountain (he will eventually hike to Pinto Valley below this). On the picture, North is on the left.
In the next picture we see Eagle high point. West is at the bottom and is how most people get to the summit. No real trails and most people don’t find the summit that easy to find.
Last, Eagle Summit and the valley he mentioned, which is on the left, north of the summit. East is at the top, which is where I would head from the summit. North drainages are boulder strewn and often congested with shrubs and small trees. It is more difficult than the picture seems. Eastward is the area of Carey’s Castle. The Eagle Mountains aren’t that large and I have circumnavigated them a few times of the decades.
If Sandy does this trip, I for one would sure look forward to a trip report!Dec 3, 2023 at 3:53 pm #3794463
Straddle the ridges.Dec 3, 2023 at 4:43 pm #3794466
Thanks Nick for bringing this back to the front. I love the 3D satellite imagery. FYI, if you’re a Gaia GPS user, the web version now includes 3D rendering for both topo and satellite maps. It’s truly revolutionary for planning off trail travel. Not yet available in the iOS version.
Nick and Terran, based on your earlier feedback, I spent yesterday planning a 200 mile plan b route in JTree. It is focused on the more heavily travelled western portion but includes a trip through Fried Liver Wash to a water cache and possibly an off trail route up the backside of Hexahedron Mine. Plus a few other short and likely easy(ier) off trail connectors. Plus quite a few of the prominent peaks. I’ll game day decision A v B based on weather forecast.Dec 3, 2023 at 5:41 pm #3794472
Good to see you revisit your thread to update us.
Although the Eagle Mountains are my favorite part of Joshua Tree, Lower and Upper Covington Flats were a favorite of mine until the Internet raised its ugly head. There used to be a reliable spring just west of Upper Covington Flat, downhill. Same restrictions on not camping within a boundary area, which should be on a topo map (I don’t use electronic equipment when hiking other than a headlamp and sometimes a P&S camera).
Someone mentioned sheep making a mess of a spring. Not my experience compared to wild horses and their kin. Some wonderful springs in the Lake Meade NRA that are just about undrinkable unless one is desperate.
If you are confident in your navigation and rock climbing skills, I would highly recommend plan A, weather permitting.
Water has always been a limiting factor for me when hiking in Joshua Tree. In 1985 I bought a Kelty Serac Expedition pack to carry large quantities of water on some of my desert roaming. The pack is something like 115L in volume. My first trip was a circumnavigations of Joshua Tree. I walked from my house to the town of Thousand Palms (10 miles) where I filled 5 gallons of water containers, which was over 40 lb. From there I hiked through Sky Valley and up Berdoo Canyon, which was just wonderful. From there I worked my way to Cottonwood Campground (water stop) then down past Lost Palms Oasis, then north to Buzzard Springs (water). From Buzzard I walked down just below the north entrance of the Park, which was then a National Monument, and was able to get water from a nice homeowner. Walked back to the Calif Riding and Hiking Trail and then to the spring below Upper Covington Flats. Then back to Berdoo Canyon and home. IIRC it was a couple of weeks. More water means slower walking and more difficulty in canyons and such. I still have that pack and use it occasionally.
I still use these 3 packs below for an occasional nostalgic trip. (left to right) Kelty D4 purchased in 1971, Kelty Serac 1973, and Kelty Serac Expedition 1985.
Most of my trips I now use a McHale. I’m 73 so the most water I’m willing to carry at the beginning of a trip is 3 gallons, but most of my desert trips begin with 2 gallons which can carry me through 3 days in cooler weather and a reliable water stop on the third day.
Keep us posted on your plans.Dec 3, 2023 at 5:44 pm #3794473
BTW, Pinto Mountain is a fun and easy summit. The sand dunes at the southern base make a nice camp too. I usually hike up from the west side of the peak and once descended down the south side, which was sketchy. I’m not a peak bagger but Pinto was just begging for a climb.Dec 3, 2023 at 7:13 pm #3794483Naupaka ZBPL Member
Here’s a great trip report for that area:
I did this loop out of cottonwood springs a few years ago in late Nov. Carried in 10L of water. Was glad to have some lengths of cord to pull my pack up after me when scrambling up/onto enormous boulders in a number of places. Would have been good to bring a carabiner to add a munter hitch when hauling up the pack for a little rest. The scrambling in the higher reaches of the canyon means it can take a while and I recall having to take off my pack to squeeze through in some spots. When dropping down off the summit to descend the canyons to the west, be sure to go left to avoid the brushy canyons as others have mentioned. I went right and it went, but it was complicated and took a lot longer than anticipated, which is not great when you’re running low on water.Dec 3, 2023 at 10:03 pm #3794495
That’s a great trip report with good information. Your pictures accurately portray the terrain. Sounds like it was a fun hike, and yes, go left when descending the high point!Dec 4, 2023 at 8:34 am #3794506
Nick: I rather generalized about the springs. I’d refer you to the area of our last conversation. Lots of sheep and a definite musk smell. Even there, I believe it’s below the spring, where the water flows to. They trample the sand to get it.
Sandy: Are you familiar with the area or have you mostly studied it very well. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the desert experience, that’s a good one. Your biggest limitation being water. I’m not sure about the last few miles after your decent. I know Nick would eat it up. Myself, I’d probably make a loop from Cottonwood. I’d get up on top of Eagle Mountain and study it. You can get some idea from Google Earth, but it can be deceptive. A 10’ drop off can turn you around. I don’t have any special skill sets, but I think it’s doable. There are a bunch of day hikes around JT. Nick has a few out of the way places on his site. Queen Mountain is nice. 49 palms oasis. Depends what you want to see. Whitewater and Mission Creek are nice.
N]upaka Z: I’ve seen your report before. Excellent job. Makes me want to go back. It all looks so familiar. I think I’ve been up there a few times. Somewhere around 57 years
I love some of the names out there. Fried liver wash and buzzard springs. We lived on the other side of H***, California before they burned it down to put the freeway in.Dec 4, 2023 at 9:09 am #3794514
I could send you out to a hidden mine. There’s no record of it. Possible ties to Colin Fletcher. At least his trail. Possibly a fake. A little different area. I’ve tried to get Nick to go out there. I’m not sure he believes me. I sent him a picture of a bush.Dec 4, 2023 at 3:23 pm #3794568Drew SmithBPL Member
@drewsmithLocale: Colorado Rockies
Regarding water sources – the NPS asks/requires that you not use water from any springs or potholes in JTNP. We are in a megadrought, and the native fauna need this water far more than you do. It’s not so much that backpackers would use up the water as that they will scare off animals, adding to the stresses of climate change.
You are allowed to cache water, provided you label and date the containers and pack them out. There are enough 2WD-accessible roads in JTNP that you should never have to carry more than 2 days water, 3 at most.Dec 5, 2023 at 1:32 pm #3794643
Drew, thanks for the update on the Park’s natural water policy. I wasn’t aware of it.Dec 5, 2023 at 1:41 pm #3794644
Drew, yes – I am aware of the NPS restriction on water sources and I have planned routes that allow adequate water caches. I’ve scheduled a day for water drop offs before I start. I’ll be caching food in my rental car at the mid-point (day 4 of 8) as well to avoid heavy food and water carries. Thanks to all for your input on this adventure!
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