While in Joshua Tree National Park I went to check out Hidden Valley Trail. The trail is located off Park Valley Boulevard, the main east-west road near the Hidden Valley Picnic Area. It is a 1 mile loop trail that often draws rock climbers eager to scramble up the tall canyon walls. With markers along the way to help guide through the valley it is easy to keep your eyes peeled for a view of someone overhead.
I reached the trailhead and took a moment to read the sign about the valley’s history. Turns out the narrow rock gap at the trailhead funnels into a legendary valley that was used for rustling cattle in the late 1870’s. William and Jim McHaney and their band of cowboys, known as the McHaney Gang, brought their stolen cattle and horses to this corral for hiding and rebranding. They then sold their stock to out-of-state markets for a respectable profit until the end of the 19th century.
After learning this I couldn’t wait to get started on my hike. I walked down the path that William Keys blasted open in 1936 giving us access to the valley we see today and reached the split off of the loop. Following the arrow I headed left and started my trek soon reaching my first nature trail stop. I learned that Hidden Valley has a special microclimate that supports many plants and animals due to the rocks ringing around the area that allow the space to collect moisture and avoid the harsh desert winds. This valley has had an appeal to humans both now and in the past due to it’s protection and sources of food that can be found within.
Today, the Mojave Desert is much drier than it was in the past. Pinyon-Juniper woodlands used to cover the lower slopes of the present desert ranges and even some of the desert basins. Now they are confined to higher elevations and areas such as Hidden Valley where there is enough moisture to support them.
I continued down the path looking at the beautiful rock formations and different plant life. I came across another pinyon-juniper tree and read a little about how the natives used the tree as food, glue and many other things. I snuck under the tree and off the trail for a moment as I noticed a small crevice in the rocks behind. It was interesting to see how the rocks has split apart, looking above to see a larger rock being supported by the tall walls of the crevice I was in I thought about how one small earthquake might set that hanging rock ajar to come tumbling down. Not being able to go any further and reach the other side I doubled back to the trail.
I continued on and eventually reached what rock climbers call the Great Burrito. This wall was massive and so majestic. I took a moment to take it in scanning for climbers and then read that the same holes in the rock that climbers used as hand grips are also homes for the lizards in the area. There were no climbers that day, but I’m sure the lizards were nestled into their homes hiding from the hot sun.
I eventually reached a narrow path with stairs where the rocks were much closer together than they had been before. The vegetation of the valley was much greater in this area and I learned that these cavities are ideal for vegetation. As the rocks serve to collect moisture and provide shelter from the winds it is easier for the vegetation to survive the harsh desert conditions.
As I met back up to the beginning of the loop I stopped to look at the valley one last time. I learned a lot about this little world in less than an hour. The trail was pretty easy and good for all ages. It’s pretty straight forward with only one or two spots that are a little confusing. While I would try to stay on the trail, if you do take a wrong turn it usually puts you back onto the trail after a little bit so I wouldn’t be too worried. Get out and check it out. You won’t be sorry.