Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2016 Journal Topics       Home       Next




Continued from the previous page.


The third mile had most of the elevation gain but the gradual slope and switchbacks made it pretty easy for me.

Starting up the switchbacks, looking back toward the long canyon I just walked through

Above and below:  This ascent has loose rocks but is fairly gradual.


Near the top of the major climb I met the first hikers coming toward me, a group of three 20-somethings. They said a large group was coming soon.

Indeed. There were eleven of them with large backpacks, college kids who did the trail out and back from the north end and spent last night somewhere along the trail. I saw them as I was beginning my descent from the first ridge and they were heading up to it:

I saw only ten more hikers the rest of the day going northbound and three runners who passed me going southbound. This is a good trail for solitude, especially if you start at the north trailhead. It was almost two hours before I saw anyone. 

After climbing up to between 4,100-4,200 feet, the trail undulates along the ridge between interesting rock formations, with some views down into the Morongo Basin to the north:



I saw lots of jet contrails to the south today.




Another high spot on the ridge with views to the Morongo Basin; it's a rollercoaster up here.


Juniper tree, brittlebush with yellow flowers, beavertail cactus not yet in bloom




In the fourth and fifth miles the trail winds through another wash with more difficult footing in the soft, deep sand. There are also some rocks to walk over and around:


Above and below:  I passed an old concrete water trough near here.
There was a little more forage in this area for cows or pack animals, but not much.



Right after I took this photo a sign indicated Keys West (south end of trail)
was another 3.9 miles, so I was a little over half way done.




Soon after I saw the large Joshua tree in the photo above, I popped out of the rocks onto firmer sand through more open desert and knew I was finally on the home stretch.


This last section is scenic through more open desert with lots of Joshua trees and rock piles in the distance but it wasn't as interesting to me as the northern part of the course because I've "been there, seen that" on other trails.

I was also getting increasingly hot and tired. I'm glad I started at the lower-elevation north terminus because it would have been even hotter if I'd ended up there today. I could see the sun glaring off windshields in the parking area at the southern trailhead from almost a mile away.

My last three miles were the fastest because the trail was generally more smooth and slightly downhill -- and I was motivated to get done!



I could see rock formations and hills in the Wonderland of Rocks in three directions, plus some pretty cool cloud formations:


Along this high plateau I could also see distant peaks --including one with snow on top -- in the San Bernardino Mountains to the west:


More shrubs, cacti, yuccas, and wildflowers were in bloom in the open desert than the middle miles of the Boy Scout Trail even though it was still over 4,000 feet elevation.

A variety of different kinds of wildflowers were blooming in the high desert.

Evening Primrose (L) and Wallace's Wooly Daisy

Mojave yucca (foreground) and Joshua tree (directly behind yucca) in bloom at Keys West

Scarlet Milkvetch, an unusual flower that is new to me

Here's another unusual plant.

The next picture shows part of a shrub that is about four feet tall and wide. It is located near the southern trailhead. The pretty light green ruffles with pink tips appear to be some sort of flower. I can't find the identity of this plant but it sure intrigues me:

I do know a hedgehog when I see one, though!

I was as amused as surprised to see this hedgehog cactus right in the path as I neared the parking area at Keys West:


I bet I know how that happened -- so many people probably wanted to see it from all sides that the path gradually widened and the hedgehog ended up in the middle.

When I got to the parking area I noticed several backpackers who were arriving, planning to camp out along the trail this weekend. This trail is popular with backcountry campers, including the Boy Scouts for whom the trail is named.


Elevations ranged from 2,816-4,125 per my GPS, a total gain of 1,513 feet and loss of 323 feet (1,836' total elevation change) in 8.3 miles.

It took this aging female hiker 4:21 hours to complete the hike, less than the Park Service's predicted "up to six hours." That included stopping to take 328 photos (!!) and a couple stops to get sand out of my shoes.

Approaching the southern parking lot

Because of the length of this trail and the significant sun exposure, if you're going to do the whole trail point-to-point I recommend getting an early start -- even in the winter or spring -- and going in the uphill direction. It'll be cooler to finish at 4,000+ feet at the southern end of the trail than at 1,800 feet down at Indian Cove.  

I loved seeing so many spring flowers in bloom along the entire trail. I kept looking for bighorn sheep and other large critters but saw only rabbits, little ground squirrels, lizards, and birds.

On the way home to the Marine base after my hike I drove on the narrow dirt Queen's Valley and Bighorn Pass roads on my way to the NE park exit at Twentynine Palms. I'll have photos from that valley in the next entry and some information about hiking trails in that area.

Next entryscenes from Queen Valley

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil