Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Quiet Wilderness: Hiking at Mid Hills, Mojave National Preserve

Dates: March 10 and November 29, 2013
Place: Mid Hills campground, Mojave National Preserve, California
Trailhead Coordinates: 35.12307,-115.43283
Length: full length trail is 10 miles. We hiked in and out 3 miles.

After hiking the Rings Loop at Hole in the Wall, raiding the visitor center's gift shop and spending a couple of hours on a lengthy branch, we were ready to go hiking again. There was some debate as to which trail to go on. Since time was very much a concern we eventually decided to hike in the area of Mid Hills campground, which didn't require much driving to get to.

Mid Hills campground is situated at the north part of the Providence Mountain range, and it is about 1000 ft higher than Hole in the Wall. The first time I was there it was with my botanist friend on our big desert tour. On that time we had arrived from the north and I was still thinking we might be camping there for the night. Turning east from Kelso Cima Road to Mojave Road, which very quickly becomes a dirt road, we were driving in a beautiful forest of Joshua trees. They were just beginning to bloom and of course we stopped to appreciate them from up close:
Early-blooming Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) 3/10/2013
As we turned south onto  Black Canyon Road and were getting higher and higher, and I saw the snow patches on the ground. My friend had fallen asleep and I thought we might just go past the snow before she wakes up ... but then, right after turning west onto Wild Horse Canyon Road, I saw this cutie sitting on top of a pretty granite formation and woke her up to see.
Antelope ground squirrel
As we continued on, my friend had noticed the snow. I knew right then that there was no chance of convincing her to spend the night there. We did, however, stop at the campground and walked around.
Only one of the campsites was occupied. Otherwise, the place looked deserted. We didn't see much fresh growth, and the only thing blooming was an invasive species of Stork's Bill. A past fire has left most of the trees dead and bare, and there was snow on the picnic tables.
On some of the trees, though, we saw birds. One of them I even managed to photograph:
Loggerhead Shrike 3/10/2013
After spending an hour walking around the empty campground we returned to the car and continued to Hole in the Wall, where we hiked the Rings Loop Trail.

Going there with the family last November, we had arrived Mid-Hills with little more planning. We had thought to hike down the 10-miles trail that stretches between Mid Hills and Hole in the Wall and turn back when we felt like we've walked enough. Thinking this to be a pretty simple and straightforward plan, I left the topo map in the car and we set out with the park's brochure, some water and light sweaters.
A pinion that survived the fire (barely). Mid Hills, 11/29/2013

The trailhead is right at the turn to Mid-Hills campground. We parked and headed out.
There was an official sign at the trailhead with a map but, being busy with one of my chikas, I didn't pay much attention to it. The other adults in our group had seen a loop trail on that map and decided we should walk that loop.  I didn't argue.
This time I paid more attention to the devastation area left by the big fire a few years back. Very little greenery was left of a vast forest of pinions and junipers that grew there once.
Fire devastation area. 11/29/13
We started down the trail and, almost immediately, I noticed tiny pink and blue flowers very close to the trail and very close to the ground. I stood guard by it to protect it from being trampled by careless children.
Gooding Verbena (Verbena gooddingii)
In its beginning, the trail goes up a small hill. Coming over the divide, the trail descends into a dry creek, leading down and down.
Most green vegetation we saw there was on the slopes of that creek and on its bottom. That included some cacti,
Cactus (Opuntia sp.)
 ... the only other blooming plant we saw on that trail,
Goldenbush (Ericamria sp.)
... and some sage 'bonsai' growing out of the creek bed and shaped this way, no doubt, as a result of floods.
Desert Sage (Salvia dorrii)
 We haven't seen too many birds there, and those we did see, didn't yield themselves to the camera. This sparrow being the exception:
White-crowned Sparrow, juvenile
 The only wildlife other than birds that we've seen was this cold and lonely millipede:

After a bit less than a mile the creek opens up into a wide plateau covered with dry grasses and dotted with gray shrubs. We kept going straight southward and down without seeing any sign of any trail looping back.
It started to get cold and the sun was getting low. At some point we came through a cattle gate with a sign saying that we are 1.2 miles south of the trailhead. After some debate, during which I raised some doubts about the existence of a loop trail, it not being labeled on the park's brochure, we decided to walk a little further. Papa Quail, who was one of the two that had seen the trailhead sign had continued alone even further but, having seen nothing of a different trail looping back, we decided to back track our steps and return on the very same trail we came on.
A pretty rock formation west of the trail.
We didn't want to get stuck on the trail in the dark. We had no lights, no warm clothing, no food and only little water left. Going back was the safe thing to do. The only choice, really, when hiking with children.
Sunset illumination
There were dark clouds in the west and a crack in the clouds that let the sun rays seep through. It was quite a sight - the photo really doesn't do it justice.
Naturally, we were wondering if we'll get rained on. As it happened, we remained dry.

In this light I was finally able to photograph the snow on the peaks of Providence Mountains State Recreation Area (sadly now closed due to budget cuts).

The late afternoon light was also better to photograph these pretty rock buttes north of the trailhead. As tempted as I was to go and climb them, they were a bit far and it was already pretty late.

Near-sunset light as its special beauty. Even if the illumination isn't good enough for and ID. I am happy with just the silhouette. 

A final look at the creek we ascended before crossing the divie and going down to the parking lot:

After getting the chikas into the warmth of the car I strode straight to to the sigh post and, sure enough, there's a loop trail marked there. I meant to ask the ranger about it the next day but never got to do it. To me, it is still a mystery.


  1. The last pictures are great.

    That was the place where you found the turtles, right? :-)

    1. Yes indeed! And since then they were put to play at the more suitable place: the beach :-)