Sunday, November 16, 2008

Joshua Tree day hike: Lost Horse Mine Loop

This past weekend we took the Scouts out to one of my favorite outdoor venues in Southern California: Joshua Tree National Park. I like camping in the desert because it's relatively quiet and empty compared to the rest of Southern California.

One way the desert is similar to the rest of Southern California is that almost every inch of it has been subject to human activity at one time or another. Our day hike on the Lost Horse Mine loop trail showed evidence of that.

Lost Horse was a gold mine, one of the biggest in the area, and it's fun trying to spy the various ruins still strewn about, such as old car parts, cables, scraps of metal, and rusty nails (make sure your shoes have thick soles if you do this trail). The actual mine site is fenced off. I shot this picture through the chain links.

The mine is situated on the side of Lost Horse Mountain. It took just a few minutes to scramble to the top, and the view was well worth it.

Most people visit this mine as an out-and-back hike. We continued on the less-traveled 6.5 mile loop option for some real desert solitude. The trail grew fainter as it descended Lost Horse Mountain and wound along and around a ridge. There was more evidence of mining in this area, including at least one open shaft and this interesting chimney thing.

The trail was flatter for the final few miles, following a wash along the western base of the Lost Horse Mountains. This was a good place to concentrate on the desert plants. I was impressed by the circular leaves of this yucca.

This part of the trail also had the most Joshua trees. These two looked very friendly. It's nice to have someone to go through life with.

Right about the time when our eyes started to blur with the same desert plants, rocks, and sand, and our water started looking frighteningly good, we were back to the truck. The parking lot, which had only a handful of cars at 9 AM, was now overflowing at noon.
For lunch we hopped in the truck and took a side trip down to Keys View. This is where you reach the edge of a desert plateau and can see a broad swath of the Salton Sea, Coachella Valley, and San Gorgonio Pass areas.

I imagine on even a normal day Keys View would be windy, but this was during a Santa Ana wind event and the gusts were almost enough to knock you over. From the viewpoint, we saw the smoke of the Orange County fires over 80 miles away, fanned by the same winds.

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