Getting Closer

Getting Closer
Getting Closer

Friday, January 9, 2015

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort  Desert Hot Springs California

The morning dawned over the desert yesterday like something in an old European landscape painting.  As we glided  silently in the pool, empty except for the two of us, we watched the puffy clouds shift from gray to pink to white and yellow, a slight breeze ruffling the nearby fine leaved eucalyptus trees. 

The temperatures were predicted to be in the mid 70’s, with some cloud cover and a 9 percent chance of rain.  Nothing to deter us from exploring a new place to hike.Big Morongo Canyon (1 of 63)

Not far north from Desert Hot Springs on Highway 62 in the Morongo Valley, is a lovely desert oasis of one of the largest riparian habitats in California, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, with the upper part of the canyon in the Mojave Desert and the southern portion entering the lower Colorado Desert.  The preserve is administered by the BLM, and supported by the Nature Conservancy, and The Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, a non-profit group. 

There are no fees to enter the area, but the signs are loud and clear about no dogs allowed.  The preserve is for plants and wildlife and there are mountain lions and other animals that would be terribly disturbed by the presence of dogs.  I understand completely.  It was with a bit of sadness that we traveled there for our day of dog free hiking, but a bit of relief as well.  Much as we miss them, the animals, like children, often called for adjustments in daily life and otherwise.  I certainly don’t miss cleaning the cat box!Big Morongo Canyon (63 of 63)

There is an excellent kiosk with information about the area, trail maps and guides and other brochures at the entrance.  There are bird lists for those who want to use them, but we didn’t bring binoculars or bird books, with apologies to Judy and Carol!  Yes, Carol, I am going to someday get those binoculars that you showed to me.  Today, however, our bird sightings were a bit thin, except for many of your famous “little brown birds” we had no clue about, and one exception, which I write about a bit later.

Big Morongo Canyon (6 of 63)By the time we entered the Mesquite Trail, the sun had come through the clouds and the temperatures were warm enough for shorts and sleeveless shirts.  The skies were beautiful.

Big Morongo Canyon (7 of 63)The excellent trail maps helped guide us to the trails of our choice and the markers were clear and exactly where the maps said they would be.  Hikers know this isn’t always the case. 

Big Morongo Canyon (8 of 63)We chose to walk all the trails except the Canyon Trail, a 9 mile round trip down Big Morongo Canyon ending at Indian Canyon Road and returning uphill to the starting point.morongo canyon hike 2

We did however, manage to see all the other trails, ranging in length from a few tenths of a mile to a mile or so.  In all, we managed 3 miles of easy hiking through several different habitats in the preserve.

Big Morongo Canyon (16 of 63)The preserve is most known for its bird population, and there are several large wooden viewing decks scattered throughout the lower trails in the riparian portions of the park.  After walking the beautiful Yucca Ridge trail with its wide open views, we slipped down into the thick willow, mesquite, and Fremont cottonwood covered trails to enjoy the shade and the sound of birds.  I wish I could learn bird calls, because I think that might help a lot with identifying what is impossible to see in the thick brush.

Big Morongo Canyon (52 of 63)Best moment of the day came at a small observation bench hidden in the thickets.  We sat down and Mo asked, “What do you suppose this is for?”

Big Morongo Canyon (45 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (50 of 63)I said I thought it was a place to sit and watch for birds, and the words no more than left my mouth than a very friendly, very curious western scrub jay flew right in front of us and landed on a branch not two feet away, checking us out for quite some time before deciding that we had no food and flying off in search of something more enticing.

Big Morongo Canyon (26 of 63)On the higher Yucca trail, that skirts the eastern perimeter of the preserve, there are many plants that are identified with signs, and while the minute differences are visible up close in person, overall all those shrubs looked like gray twiggy things with thorns!  Big Morongo Canyon (32 of 63)We laughed about hiking the beautiful desert in the dormant time of January.  The only sign of life was new green grass on the ridges and near the trails, evidence of the recent rains in the area.Big Morongo Canyon (22 of 63)

Although we only hiked 3 miles, we did spent more than a couple of hours enjoying the viewing platforms, the strategically placed benches, and shaded boardwalks meandering through the marshy areas.

Big Morongo Canyon (10 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (23 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (59 of 63)I do think that Whitewater Canyon may be a bit more picturesque, but does not have the big cottonwood and willow forest that makes this preserve a special place to visit. We especially enjoyed the variety of plants, habitats and terrain that we encountered in a reasonably accessible area.Big Morongo Canyon (62 of 63)