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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 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.
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.
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.