Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


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"Perspective -- that is the reward for hiking to the top of Ryan Mountain.    
The steep, 2.8-mile round-trip trail climbs 1,000 feet to the summit,
providing hikers a panoramic view of the park landscape . . .
From the summit the desert's parts -- alluvial fans, bajadas, valleys,
canyons, washes, boulder piles, and mountains -- make a whole."
~ Interpretive panel at the Ryan Mountain trailhead

This hike is listed in the park spring guide as "challenging" mostly because of the elevation gain, uneven footing, and the time it takes some hikers to reach the summit.

Hot, dry, sunny weather may also be a challenge for some folks, especially if they don't carry enough fluids with them on this hike.

I would consider it to be a moderate hike for anyone in good condition. It's not all that long, half of it is down, and it's not at very high altitudes (about 4,400-5,500 feet elevation). Despite all the hiking I've done near sea level and on flatter terrain all winter, I had enough energy after completing this hike to do another 6 miles of hiking in five other locations today!

And I'm almost 67 now . . .

Above and below:  If this trail sounds too difficult for someone, (s)he can see lots of  
interesting rocks and plants like blooming yuccas just up from the parking area.

I took so many photos today that I'm putting each trail on its own page, in the order I hiked them today. That's why you'll find so many entries dated March 22. It should also be easier for anyone who reads this to know what each separate trail is like.

On this hike alone, I took a total of 195 pictures up and back. I was able to take better pictures on the descent because the sun was higher and there was less shade along the trail.

[Ironically, it usually takes me considerably less time to do a hike, any hike, including taking tons of photos, than it does to write notes about it afterwards, edit the photos, and prepare the entry about the hike for this website!]


Today was very windy -- gusts probably to 50 MPH, enough to rock the camper Jim said -- and dusty throughout the whole valley where Twentynine Palms and the Marine base are situated.

These are Santa Anna winds, common in southern California this time of year. Temps were just 64-73 F. at our campground, considerably cooler than other days this week. Jim stayed on base all day, mostly inside the camper because it was so unpleasant to be outside getting sand-blasted. He did ride his bike with Casey in the morning and evening, and walked both dogs when they needed to potty.

A few more clouds by the time I got to Mt. Ryan's summit, but clear enough to see almost forever.

Thankfully, I was in a different world from 8:15 AM to 4 PM -- the warm, clear, sunny, only mildly breezy world up in Joshua Tree National Park couldn't have been nicer.

No dust up there, no gusts of wind. It was perfect hiking weather. Heck, it was perfect for whatever any visitor wanted to do in the park today.

I was a little pessimistic when I left the valley because the mountains to the south (toward the park) were so hazy this morning. I took the next picture on the road from the base toward 29 Palms. The mountains in the background are the national park, where I was headed. Note the palm trees blowing in the wind:

Fortunately, even before reaching the park entrance I could tell it was increasingly pleasant as I gained altitude.

We learned years ago that even if the weather is crappy where our camper is located, to go ahead on a day trip, hike, bike ride, etc. miles away. I call it the "Olympic Effect" because we learned an important life lesson the day we drove to the top of a mountain in Olympic National Park back in the early 2000s.

It was like pea soup in the fog at sea level but as soon as we drove through the clouds on the way to the summit, we were in a beautiful, sunny world. The views were spectacular. I'll never forget it.


Hardly a cloud in the sky on Mt. Ryan when I began my hike -- looking up (above)
and back down toward the road and parking area (below)

My plan was to hike several relatively short trails in the park today.

My first choice was the three-mile trek up and down Mt. Ryan, then two other trails nearby. If it had been too windy or dusty in this area I would have either returned home or done a couple shorter trails in another part of the park.

It was so nice when I got to -- and done with -- the Mt. Ryan Trail that I stuck with Plan A and added even more trails to my agenda, for a total distance of 9.55 miles.

View of Saddle Rocks and the summit of Mt. Ryan; I took this picture
from the Hall of Horrors parking area after my hike to the top of Mt. Ryan.


Mt. Ryan is one of the most popular hikes in the park so I got there before 9 AM.

Only a few cars were in the parking area then but it was full to capacity when I came back down a couple hours later.

Mt. Ryan trailhead

Getting there fairly early was a good plan because I saw so few other people on the ascent. I saw six people coming down the mountain as I hiked up. One woman who was running passed me going up, and I passed four others who were walking.

That was it, people-wise, on my ascent -- nice!

Although I was facing the lower mid-morning sun where I wanted to take some pictures on the way up, most of them came out OK. Here are more of the dozens of photos I took on the ascent, some looking ahead and some back:  

View toward Saddle Rocks and the summit of Mt. Ryan

View back toward Hall of Horrors in the valley (rock formations popular with climbers)

Above and below:  an unusual flower called Devil's lettuce AKA Bristly fiddleneck


View of Saddle Rocks again

There are quite a few rock steps on this trail.


Above and below:  looking back


Nearing the summit


It took me less than an hour going up, despite talking to several folks and taking dozens of photos.

Three young people were getting ready to leave when I got to the summit sign and large rock cairn. I pretty much had the broad summit to myself for several minutes after that as I walked around, taking photos of plants and the panoramic views from 5,457 feet elevation:







I didn't go to Lost Horse Mine but I'll have photos in another entry from Cap Rock.

There was a tall type of yucca in bloom on the summit:



My timing to get up there was nearly perfect -- on my descent I soon lost count of all the hikers going up. There had to have been over a hundred.


It took me about the same amount of time to go back down the trail because I took more pictures and stepped aside for so many people going up, sometimes answering their questions about what was ahead and how much farther it was to the top.

Here are some pictures in order on the way back down to the trailhead:

Wide view looking north from the summit

Teddy bear cholla cactus

The upper part of the trail is on the eastern slope of the mountain.

Above and below:  transition through a pass from one side of the mountain to the other



The lower part of the trail is on the western slopes of Mt. Ryan.

Steps looking back up

Saddle Rocks, on the western flank of the mountain, and the Hall of Horrors,
on the right down in the valley, are both popular with technical rock climbers.


Desert globemallow

There is a red barrel cactus on the hill among all the agaves/yuccas and other shrubs.

Some of the rocks along this trail are very colorful.

Approaching the rock formations near the trailhead






After my sixth hike of the day at Barker Dam, I stopped at a pulloff along Park Boulevard for the Ryan Ranch Trail to take some photos of Mt. Ryan and Saddle Rocks from a different angle:

Saddle Rocks is below the left red dot, the true summit of Mt. Ryan under the right dot.
Another peak above Saddle Rock looks higher but it's just closer from this viewpoint.

Although the level trail is only half a mile to the remains of Ryan Ranch, it was getting late enough in the afternoon that I didn't go back to the ranch site. I just took some pictures and read the sign about the ranch, a homestead established in 1896.

According to the park's interpretive panel at this location, all that remains are crumbling walls of the adobe house and bunkhouse, a collapsed windmill, a rock-covered well, several graves, and some machinery.

I quote from the panel:

Jepp and Tom Ryan homesteaded this site to secure the natural spring once located here. The water was essential to the Lost Horse Mine, which they owned with their brother Matt and local prospector Johnny Lang. The ranch supported the mining operation, pumping water 3.5 miles to the mine, processing ore, and serving as a mining office and home.

The cattle raised here helped feed the family and workers; some 60 people lived at the ranch and mine during the gold boom. By 1908 full-time operation of the mine ceased and the Ryans turned their attention to cattle ranching, until the establishment of Joshua Tree National Monument halted grazing.

Photo from the park's interpretive panel

In addition to the trail that leads to the old ranch, hikers can also access a 4-mile hiking loop to the Lost Horse Mine and the 35-mile California Riding & Hiking Trail nearby off Keys View Road.

I didn't hike those trails while we were here, either.


Elevations on the Mt. Ryan Trail ranged from 4,392-5,430 feet per my GPS, although the sign at the summit said 5,474 feet. Total gain and loss was about 2,100 feet, with lots of rock steps along the way.

I can highly recommend this hike on a relatively cool, clear day for folks who are fit enough for the distance, elevation, and uneven footing.

I loved the views, the interesting rocks, and all the flowers in bloom. I've shown only a few of the wildflowers here.

This Mojave lupine and white forget-me-nots
were blooming near the summit.

I saw lots of little lizards but had trouble getting photos of the little rascals because they disappeared in the rocks and plants so fast.

My total distance at Mt. Ryan was 3.24 miles. I had the motivation, energy -- and great weather! -- to do another 6+ miles before leaving the park. Those hikes are coming up in the next four entries.

View from the Mt. Ryan Trail down to the Hall of Horrors rock climbing mecca

Next entryflat but interesting Hall of Horrors hike around a popular rock climbing area that's not even mentioned in the park guide or map

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil