Covington Crest (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Sunset on the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset on the Covington Crest Trail

Joshua Tree at dusk, Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree on the Covington Crest Trail

Covington Crest (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: High desert near Yucca Valley. From Highway 62 (23.6 miles east of I-10 and 18 miles west of Twentynine Palms), head south on La Contenta Road. It becomes dirt after a mile when it crosses Yucca Trail. Continue on the dirt road, which is generally in good condition and should be passable by all vehicles. After 1.9 miles, bear left at the fork, following the signs for the park and Covington Flat. Follow this road into the park for a total of 6 miles and turn right on another dirt road. Follow it to its end, turn left and drive 1.8 miles to Covington Flat.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • USGS topo maps: “Joshua Tree South”, “East Deception Canyon”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip description here; Flickr album here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
Covington Crest Trail Head, Joshua Tree National Park

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short trail is a little bit off the beaten path, but it is well worth the effort to reach it. Highlights include views of some of the biggest Joshua trees in the park, pleasantly cool high desert air (almost a mile above sea level) and an exceptional view of the Coachella Valley at the end. The trail’s remote location gives it a very isolated feel.

Grove of Joshua Trees on the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:19 – Grove of Joshua Trees (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the signed Trail south. You walk through a forest of Joshua trees, some towering more than thirty feet high. Other vegetation includes cacti and junipers; at about 1.2 miles from the start you walk through a hallway like passage with the trees close on both sides.

Soon after, Toro Peak, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio all come into view. You will notice the land dropping off not far in front of you and then you reach the lip of Covington Crest.

Juniper trees on the Covington Flats Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:32 – “Garden” of junipers

Here, you get as dramatic a view as you will find of the Coachella Valley.  The Santa Rosas in particular look spectacular from this angle, rising above Palm Springs and off course the “Saints” never disappoint.  Sunsets are excellent here so take your time and enjoy them; the route back is short enough and easy enough that with a headlamp, or a good phone flashlight, it can be done fairly easily in the dark.

Dusk view of San Jacinto Peak from the end of the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:45 – Dusk view of San Jacinto and the Coachella Valley at the trail’s end

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Coachella Valley Preserve (McCallum Nature Trail)

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McCallum Nature Trail, Coachella Valley Preserve, Thousand Palms, CA

View of the desert on the McCallum Nature Trail

Cottonwood Tree, McCallum Nature Trail

Cottonwood Tree, McCallum Nature Trail

Coachella Valley Preserve (McCallum Nature Trail)

  • Location: East of Palm Springs, Coachella Valley.  From I-10, take the Bob Hope Drive exit.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn left and go 4.8 miles to Thousand Palms Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 2 miles to the visitor’s center. Turn left into the lot.  Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency: Coachella Valley Preserve
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo map: “Myoma”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information:  Preserve homepage here; Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 5
Visitor center, Coachella Valley Preserve, Thousand Palms, CA

0:00 – Visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short trail serves as a nice introduction to the landscape of the Coachella Valley Preserve. If you don’t have time for the longer Pushwalla/Horseshoe loop, the walk to and from McCallum Pond is an enjoyable excursion.

0:02 - McCallum Trail Head, Paul Wilhelm Palm Grove (times are approximate)

0:02 – McCallum Trail Head, Paul Wilhelm Palm Grove (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head toward the visitor center. The rustic building, cozily hidden in the tall palms of the Paul Wilhelm Grove, is worth a visit; inside you will find displays including fragments of Indian pottery, animal bones, maps, guides to plant and animal life and more. You may also be able to get a trail guide here.

The McCallum Nature Trail begins past the visitor’s center, near the restrooms. Follow it into a the palms, where you will walk on a boardwalk. Stay right as another trail (also a boardwalk) branches off to the left and soon you will exit the grove. The trail meets up with another trail from the parking lot; stay straight and head toward the palms, which will now be in sight.

Trail junction, McCallum Nature Trail, Coachella Valley Preserve

0:12 – Junction with the other trail from the parking lot

Just before the grove, you’ll reach a Y-junction. Head right and soon you’ll reach the pond, where you can sit and enjoy its peacefulness beneath the shade of the palms. The pond is home to the endangered Desert Pupfish.

Continuing past the pond, you reach another junction. You can extend your hike to a part of the preserve known as Moon Country by heading right but if it’s a hot day and you’re short on time, you can return to the visitor’s center by heading left. Soon you’ll rejoin the McCallum Trail, heading back to the visitor’s center.

McCallum Pond, Coachella Valley Preserve, Thousand Palms, CA

0:22 – McCallum Pond,

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Knapp’s Castle

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View from Knapp's Castle, Santa Barbara, Los Padres National Forest

Looking northwest from Knapp’s Castle

View of the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara, CA from Knapp's Castle

Looking northeast from Knapp’s Castle

Knapp’s Castle

    • Location: Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, head north on Highway 154 for 7.8 miles.  Make a hard right on East Camino Cielo and follow it 3 miles (0.9 miles past Painted Cave Road). Park in dirt turnouts on either side of the road.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 0.8 mile
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 7
View of the Santa Ynez Valley, Los Padres National Forest, Knapp's Castle trail head

0:00 – View from the trail head on East Camino Cielo (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Excellent views and historic ruins for very little effort (unless you use the more challenging Snyder Trail) make this understandably one of the most popular hikes in the Santa Barbara area. The hike is on private land but as of this writing, the public is allowed access by the grace of the owners.

The original owner was George Knapp, who completed his mansion in 1920. Unfortunately, like its counterpart in the Santa Monica Mountains the Tropical Terrace, the mansion fell victim to fire; the Paradise Canyon Fire of 1940 to be precise.

On the trail to Knapp's Castle, Los Padres National Forest

0:08 – Junction with the Snyder Trail; stay right (times are approximate)

The hike to reach the mansion could hardly be simpler. From East Camino Cielo, follow the dirt road downhill, taking in outstanding views of the Santa Ynez Valley the entire way. At about 0.3 miles, stay right as the Snyder Trail heads left and downhill toward Paradise Road, almost 2,000 feet below. Pass a fence and follow the trail to the ruins of the house.

Here you can enjoy a 270-degree panorama. Stone arches that were once windows frame the landscape; the old chimney still stands in the midst of a small oak grove. After taking it all in, retrace your steps or, if you’ve left a car a the bottom of the Snyder Trail, you can continue downhill for a point-to-point hike.

Ruins of Knapp's Castle, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:11 – Chimney among the ruins of Knapp’s Castle

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.


Chatsworth Trails Park

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Oaks, sycamores and eucalyptus trees in the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

Oaks, sycamores and eucalyptus trees in the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

Sandstone geology, Chatsworth Trails Park

Sandstone geology, Chatsworth Trails Park

Chatsworth Trails Park

  • Location: Chatsworth. From the San Fernando Valley, take the 118 Freeway west to DeSoto Ave. Turn left and go 0.7 miles to Chatsworth St. Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Canoga Ave. Turn right and follow Canoga 0.8 miles back toward the freeway. As Canoga Avenue becomes Mayan Drive, look for a trail head with a small dirt parking area on the right side of the road.  From Simi Valley, take the 118 Freeway east to Topanga Canyon Blvd. Turn right and go 0.9 miles to Chatsworth St. Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Canoga Ave. Turn left and follow Canoga 0.8 miles to the trail head, just on the opposite side of the freeway overpass.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Oat Mountain”
  • More information: Article about the restoration of the park here; Wikimapia entry here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3
Chatsworth Trails Park trail head

0:00 – Trail head on Mayan Drive at the north end of Canoga Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with the nearby Chatsworth Park South and North, Chatsworth Trails Park re-opened to the public in 2006, restored thanks to the efforts of community volunteers. The small parcel of land sits between Browns Creek and Michael Antonovich Regional Parks to the north and Stoney Point to the south. A large network of trails cross through and circle the park, some official and some not, making many different trips possible. The loop described here is short enough to be a convenient before or after work (or lunch break) excursion, but it also samples the area’s natural scenery, including geology, canyons and woodlands. Despite its proximity to civilization, other than some freeway noise, it feels pleasantly isolated. Adding to the appeal is the fact that this hike is one of the few in the San Fernando Valley that can be done even on hot days, due to its short distance and large amounts of shade. Chatsworth Trails Park is a great example of what happens when communities appreciate the value of public lands and come together to prioritize their existence.

Descending into the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

0:01 – Descending into the canyon (times are approximate)

From the parking area, walk past the metal gate and follow the fire road. Almost immediately, bear left on a narrow trail heading down into the canyon. There are several trails branching off but this is the only one that goes downhill. (The fire road that continues straight ahead is your return route).

Bottom of the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

0:04 – Reaching the canyon bottom

The trail drops down into the canyon, reaching the stream bed.  Bear right and head up canyon into a woodland, reaching a junction at about 0.3 miles. The trail that branches off to the left is an option for further exploration, but to follow this loop, bear right. You head into an attractive woodland in which the eucalyptuses play nicely with the oaks and sycamores, all working together to provide shade from the Valley’s infamous heat.

Woodlands in the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

0:09 – Right turn at the junction in the canyon

The trail climbs out of the canyon to a T-junction (half a mile from the start). Both routes head back to the parking lot, but taking a hard right provides more scenic variety. You curve around the upper edge of the canyon where you just were, taking in some views of Oat Mountain to the north and Rocky Peak to the west. The trail then bends south, providing views of Stoney Point, the northern San Fernando Valley and the distant Simi Hills before returning to the parking area.

Dirt road in Chatsworth Trails Park

0:15 – Right turn on the trail leading out of the canyon

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Narrows Earth Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

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Ocotillo "arch" on the Narrows Earth Trail

Ocotillo “arch” on the Narrows Earth Trail

Narrows Earth Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of Julian and south of Borrego Springs.  From Julian, take Highway 78 east for 23.1 miles and look for a parking area on the right side of the road near mile marker 81.5.  From Borrego Springs, take Borrego Springs Road southeast for 11.5 miles to Highway 78.  Turn right (west) and go 3.9 miles.  The trailhead will be on your left.  From Highway 79, take San Felipe Road/County Road S-2 (3.6 miles south of Warner Springs, 4.3 miles north of the junction with Highway 76) southeast, 16.8 miles to Highway 78.  Turn left (east) and go 11.5 miles to the trailhead on the right side of the road.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 50 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map:  “Borrego Sink”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4
0:00 - Trailhead on Highway 78 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Highway 78 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short but interesting hike showcases some of the Anza Borrego Desert’s geology.  The trailhead is conveniently located off of Highway 78, one of the park’s major arteries, making it a nice stop to or from a longer hike.  Because it’s so short,  it is one of the park’s few year-round hikes.

0:06 - Slot in the rocks (times are approximate)

0:06 – Slot in the rocks (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signs for the loop. If there are pamphlets in the box near the beginning, you can pick one up and read about the geological features, including metasedimentary rock thought to be half a billion years old. You pass by a slot in the rock wall on the left side of the trail and then a small round cave. It’s at this point that the trail turns around, though you can explore a little farther up the canyon if you see fit.

0:09 - Rock cave near the south end of the loop

0:09 – Rock cave near the south end of the loop

Heading back to the parking area, you pass by another cave and underneath an arch-like branch of ocotillo. The trail is less defined at this point but with the highway as close as it is, route finding and terrain shouldn’t be an issue.

0:10 - Looking up the canyon at the south end of the loop

0:10 – Looking up the canyon at the south end of the loop

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:15 - Cave on the return leg of the loop

0:15 – Cave on the return leg of the loop

Hemet Maze Stone

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Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Hemet Maze Stone

    • Location: Northwest of Hemet.  From Highway 74 (8.5 miles east of the 215 Freeway and 5 miles west of downtown Hemet) head north on California Avenue.  Follow it a total of 3.2 miles to a dead end (turn left on Tres Cerritos Avenue after about a mile and then turn right to continue on California Avenue) and park before the fence.
    • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
    • Distance:  0.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Best season:  Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Lakeview
    • More information: Article about the stone here; blog descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 4

For those interested in the obscure and unusual, a trip to the Hemet Maze Stone can be an oddly rewarding experience.  Whether it qualifies as a hike is a matter of opinion, but it is a designated California Historical Landmark – #557, to be precise.  The Maze Stone has a cult following of sorts, lending its name to a nearby housing development and a restaurant at Soboba Casino.

0:00 - Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The destination of the hike is a boulder containing ancient petroglyph depicting two intertwined mazes.  Sadly, vandalism has necessitated two barbed-wire fences around the stone, but you can still get a peek at it. From the end of California Avenue, cross through the fence and follow the abandoned road uphill.  For its location in a dry corner of the valley, the landscape surrounding the Maze Stone is fairly diverse; you will see sycamores, a desert willow and buckwheat, among other plants.  The hills are dotted with granite boulders similar to those at the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecogical Reserve.  As you climb the hill, if visibility is good, you can get a glimpse of the San Bernardino Mountains.

0:08 - Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

0:08 – Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

At 0.3 miles, you reach the stone.  You can climb on a rock to get a better look at it although it’s hard to get too much of a view through the fence.  Still, it’s an interesting site–one worth visiting if you’re in the area and are curious, perhaps hungry for a different type of outdoor experience.

0:10 - The maze stone and the fences

0:10 – The maze stone and the fences

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

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Wetlands in the south end of the park

Wetlands in the south end of the park

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

  • Location: Del Mar Avenue and Virginia Vista Court, Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach.  From the 405 Freeway, take the Long Beach Blvd. exit and head north for 0.2 miles.  Turn left on 36th St., go 0.3 miles and bear right on Country Club.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Los Cerritos Park Place.  Follow it past the side of the park to a T-junction and turn right on Del Mar.  The entrance (unmarked, just a gap in the fence) to the wetlands will be on the left in half a mile, just before Virginia Vista (a private road).  Park on the street for free, keeping in mind posted restrictions about time and days.
  • Agency: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works
  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: Long Beach
  • More information: Park description here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 1
0:00 - Entrance to the park on Del Mar Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Entrance to the park on Del Mar Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Most hikers probably won’t drive too far to visit the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, but for residents of Long Beach – the Bixby Knolls area in particular – this pleasant little pocket of open space is an enjoyable place to explore.  The park occupies a thin corridor between the 710 Freeway and the Virginia Country Club.  In addition to the attractive pools of water, this spot is a good one for birdwatching.  Ducks, blackbirds, hawks and cormorants are among the fowl that might be seen here. From Del Mar Avenue, enter the park through a gap in the chain linked fence.  Follow a wide walkway a short distance to the beginning of the loop.  There are a few benches beneath a shade structure and interpretive plaques describing the restoration process of the wetlands.

0:05 - Interpretive plaque beneath the shade shelter (times are approximate)

0:05 – Interpretive plaque beneath the shade shelter (times are approximate)

The loop can be hiked in either direction.  To go clockwise, look for a dirt walkway descending slightly (as opposed to the spur leading to the paved bike trail).  The opposite end of the loop branches off on the right in a similar manner; use this if you would prefer to hike counter-clockwise.

0:12 - Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

0:12 – Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

The trail borders the wetlands, briefly sharing a portion of the bike path, crossing under a railroad bridge before finally reaching a turnaround point at Del Amo Blvd (about 1.2 miles from the starting point).  Along the way keep an eye out for plant life including California Golden Poppies and Indian Paintbrush as well as the diverse array of birds (possibly rabbits too).  Once you reach Del Amo, turn around and follow the opposite side of the loop back to Del Mar Avenue.

0:27 - Looking back from just before Del Amo

0:27 – Looking back from just before Del Amo

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.