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!

Moon Country

The Moon Country Trail is an extension of the McCallum Trail. It’s been a month since the October flash flood so Jeff and I decide to take the 4+ mile hike out and back to observe the water damage and examine the work of our repair efforts.

We head northwest from the Palm House Visitor Center along the boardwalk. White threads spread across the surface of the natural spring. These wisps are the tips of the palm roots.

The salt grass lays across the oasis channel, crushed by the weight of streaming water.

The new boardwalk hovers over the mud. An 80- foot section was built between 2 original sections. Now the boardwalk continues throughout the wetlands of the riparian forest.

The San Andreas Fault is so evident as we leave the palm grove and step out into the Colorado Desert. The hills inch up every year and the green arrowweed, creosote, cheese weed, and indigo thrive in abundance with a water source below. We are walking along the Mission Creek Strand of the Fault.

A plank guides hikers across a newly formed rivulet. To the left is the driveway to Chimney Ranch where the Powell family still owns homesteading property and living quarters. To the right, a boundary of rocks lines the trail to Simone Pond.

Beyond the line of rocks, notice the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the source of the flash flooding that wiped out most of the vegetation in the wash.

In the distance is an RV where David and Athena are staying. They are Preserve Hosts too, returning for their second winter.

David and Athena live about 3/4 mile west of the Palm House Visitor Center. The tree stumps are from cut-down Tamarisks, an invasive tree that sucks up precious water.

Tamarisk logs line the trail of the washed-out wash. Before drying out, the wash was a lake!

A phainopepla rests on a mesquite bush near the mound of red-orange desert mistletoe.

A creosote, confused that it’s springtime, starts blooming with its yellow flowers.

Meanwhile, the alkali goldenbush’s flowers fluff into seeds.

Desert holly… Jeff and I identify as many plants as we can.

On our hike through Moon Country, we stop and head to Vista Point.

Below is McCallum Grove shadowed by the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

And that’s the parking lot for Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve circled below.

We descend Vista Point and continue west along the ridge of the Moon Country Trail. The peak of San Gorgonio Mountain guides us.

As we descend the ridge we see the switchbacks of the Herman’s Hike Trail. And there’s a trail sign.

We know Moon Country is a loop so we continue west as the trail sign indicates.

After awhile, we realize we should have headed back when we came down the ridge. The sign should have read Moon Country Canyon instead. So, no problem… our goal now is to find the end of the box canyon.

With every turn, we think we are at the end only to find out we are wrong. The canyon hills are beautiful and entice us to continue.

Finally, we reach the end and turn around. I guess our 4-mile hike is becoming a 5+-mile hike.

As we connect with the McCallum Trail again, we loop around to the “jack rabbit house”. This pink building is an example of the minimum structure required to be built on homesteaded land.

Also, from this return loop from Moon Country, you get a good view to the entrance to Chimney Ranch, private property owned by the Powell family.

A Cottonwood Tree log…

And we’re back at Palm House. The fronds below blew down from yesterday’s wind storm.