This year’s hike during the May Naked Yoga Retreat may have been our best ever! An energetic (albeit small) group of us went down into the Mecca Hills (the Painted Canyon area to be exact) on a beautiful cloudless day in May, and enjoyed one GREAT hike on the Painted Canyon/Ladder Canyon Loop.
The Mecca Hills sit directly above the San Andreas fault, at the very edge of the North American plate. As a result, the earth, rocks, and mineral deposits in the area have been squeezed, compressed, contorted, and pushed up to the surface many times over the past Millennia. This almost continuous upheaval, has created a profusion of shapes and colors in the stone and earth that make up the hills - red abuts tan, dark gray abuts pale lilac, orange abuts dark purple. Add to all that activity, the action of rain and water over hundreds of thousands of years, and the result is a beautiful, if somewhat otherworldly desert landscape with a plethora of deep vertical canyons, sharp cliffs, soft-edged caves, and spectacular rock formations.
Access to the area is relatively easy, and as long as you don’t mind dirt roads, you can get pretty close in to the camping and hiking areas. Our trek took us into the Painted Canyon, where we parked the car, then continued on foot. I saw one snake (nonpoisonous) less than five minutes after we got out of the car. It was seeking the same shade that I was! I let the snake have it.
We continued on into the Canyon, which had several large groupings of shrubs, grasses and small trees (mostly Palo Verdes), and saw quite a number of Hummingbirds, as well as several Western Tanagers (that were clearly dressed in their Spring mating colors). The males were beautiful – bright red heads, yellow bodies, black tails, and wings that were yellow with black stripes. Females were less colorful – mostly soft yellow and gray. Tanagers are song birds, and these were singing joyfully. The hummingbirds were raucous as well; chattering after us to keep moving and leave their small hidden nests alone.
Following the stone arrows on the ground, we entered the ladder Canyon – a deep vertical canyon carved out of the solid rock by water. The way is steep in places; so steep in fact, that you have to climb a series of ladders to access the trail. Portions of the trail are just wide enough for one person to pass, and the walls on either side rise up hundreds of feet above you. Pretty amazing!
After some rigorous walking (they said this was an easy/moderate hike, but I’d hesitate to take just anybody on it), we came back out into the open at the top of the hills above the Painted Canyon. The view was spectacular. You could see the Salton Sea to the West and South, as well as the surrounding Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. We then descended a loop trail that eventually brought us back to the ladder Canyon, where we crawled back down the ladders and back into the Painted Canyon. I highly recommend this hike, and am looking forward to exploring the area further.