Herman’s Hike Again

Counterclockwise This Time…

Today we want to hike up the switchbacks and along the ridge of the Willis Palms Loop in search of the trail that cuts through the palm grove, the trail we couldn’t find on November 14th.

We head out on the McCallum Trail toward Simone Pond and cut through to the wash of Moon Country. Purple rain clouds compete with white cumulus clouds for attention in the sky.

Three autumn rains send wildflower seeds spinning into confusion, bringing early blooms and blossoms and making Jeff and me crazy with trying to identify the flora that we see.

Cattle spinach, sandpaper, or burro bush?

Now you know… but we still confuse these 3 plants until you touch and smell. Cattle spinach has no smell and the leaves feel soft. Sandpaper is distinctly coarse. Burrobush smells lemony when you crush its yellow buds.

Here’s something new that we identify later. The caterpillar gives it away.

This caterpillar will turn into a monarch butterfly, we learn later.

We arrive at the trailhead to Herman’s Hike wondering how many switchbacks there are to the top. I start counting.

Moon Country Canyon lies below.

After almost a mile of 9 gradual switchbacks, we stand on a plateau of desert gravel where I take a picture of the Salton Sea. (It’s the bright white radioactive-looking horizontal line below the clouds.)

The snow-topped peak below to the west is Mt. San Jacinto hovering over Palm Springs.

To the “other” west is San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California.

This pile of rocks adorns the highest point of Herman’s Hike. Last time we were here we stopped to rest, hydrate, and grab a snack. Today we just take pictures and head down toward Willis Palms identifying flowers along the way.

Now the 2 snow-capped mountain peaks can be seen in the same picture frame.

Meanwhile, we discover a plant we recognize…

And another we don’t…

Until I send a pic to our Preserve Manager, Ginny Short, who identifies it as alkali golden bush. We know this plant that blooms in October! But we have never seen a smaller version with prominent green leaves and wilting flowers that don’t look straw-like…

The erosive fractures on the hills remind me of stalagmites.

We descend along the trail ahead. And, just in case you were wondering, that IS Mt. San Jacinto in the background.

Down off Herman’s Hike we take the ridge trail toward Willis Palms. Desert trumpets blast through the sandy soil.

Below is the trail along the wash.

This rounded shrub is a popular plant around the Preserve. Its branches are brittle and woody with a fragrant resin. Small but radiant yellow flowers bloom on long stalks sticking up above the leafy stems in late winter or early spring. This year’s late autumn rains, however, have started early blooms.

We follow the ridge trail heading toward Willis Palms instead of the trailhead parking area. It’s narrow, steep, muddy, and rocky.

Finally we are inside the palm groves.

As we exit the grove we see a trail sign, the one we missed last time.

We exit into the wash and walk right into another new plant blooming. I’ve seen this plant before but always wondered why I could not see the shape of a wishbone in its leaves. Duh, it’s the stems that carry the shape!

Instead of heading back to the Willis Palms parking area and trailhead, we plow our way through a cutoff suggested by Harlan. (Please don’t do this on your own!)

Finally, we see Thousand Palms Canyon Road which we follow back to the Preserve.

Flowers, familiar bushes, and the Indio Hills escort us.

Willis Palms and Herman’s Hike

We start from the Thousand Palms Oasis parking lot trailhead and cross the street to hike to Willis Palms alongside the Bee Mesa.

Indigos bloom.

Insect galls grow like pom-poms on creosote bushes.

Desert trumpets swell.

Pencil cholla spread.

I’m not sure what this is…

Or these leaves…

Dodder colorfully covers smoke trees like an ill-fitting toupee.

We cross the street again to reach the parking area and trailhead to Willis Palms. Broken glass warns visitors not to keep valuables in their car.

We head toward the palms looking for the trail that bisects the grove.

Cat’s claw… Notice the thorns pointing downward.

Willis Palms has survived 2 fires, one in the early 1980s and the other in 2010. As long as the crown of the “grass tree” survives, the palm is still alive and continues growing fronds that fold into skirts.

The black trunks, green and yellow fronds, and blue sky make a beautiful picture!

We never do find the trail through the grove, so we continue along the wash heading west, on a gorgeous, sunny, and warm day where blooming creosotes pose against the blue sky.

These sand-colored hills are remnants of the ancient seas that once washed the valley. If you dig deep enough, you will find seashells.

We hike through the wash and follow it as it curves to the north. We’ve taken this segment of the trail before, but from the opposite direction, so we know it leads up to a ridge that loops back to the trailhead. Trail signs are scarce as we wind (what feels like forever) through an enclosed valley searching for the trail leading up to the ridge.

At last…

We reach the top and have to make a decision. Do we head back to Willis Palms and retrace our steps? Or do we take Herman’s Hike back to Moon Country and Simone Pond and then proceed to where we started at the parking lot trailhead?

Jeff and I make an executive decision and turning around is no longer an option. We’ve reached the halfway point now, so Herman’s Hike it is and up we go.

Behind us you can see the valley wash we just hiked through.

Desert verbena crawl in the desert soil.

Almost to the top of Herman’s Hike, you can see San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountains.

On the top we rest beside a pile of rocks and eat a mix of cashews and raisins and drink water.

Heading down we encounter lots of blooming desert trumpets with very tiny yellow flowers. These striated curly green leaves with red veins eventually send out tall shoots.

We reach the switchbacks overlooking Moon Country Canyon.

Four and a half hours later we arrive back home, tired, sweaty, and thirsty. We have no idea how many miles we hiked or how hot it is temperature wise. We just know we had so much fun and enjoyed glorious views. The desert is really growing on us!