Friday, April 1, 2016

Slots and Ladders


On Tuesday we hooked up the car and took the long and winding road from north to south through Joshua Tree National Park. Our destination was the south overflow camping area on Cottonwood Springs Rd just past the south entrance, about a mile north of I-10. The sites aren’t very level, but it’s free and convenient, and we have good 4G Verizon, which you don’t get inside the park.


When Suzanne was at Jacumba a few weeks ago she emailed and asked if we had heard of the Mecca Hills Ladder Canyon hike, as one of the hiking club members there recommended it. I was familiar with the name and had wanted to hike this slot canyon when we stayed at Lake Cahuilla in La Quinta several years ago but we never got around to it. I saw that the trail started just 20 miles from the south Joshua Tree overflow area, so we put it on our list.


The drive from here along Box Canyon Road is lovely. After 15 miles it’s a right turn onto the unpaved washboard Painted Canyon Road for another 5 miles to the huge trailhead parking area, which surprisingly was nearly full. Guess some schools are still on Spring Break, as there were quite a few families. We were a little disappointed as we thought on a weekday there would hardly be anyone else there, but after the first canyon we only saw a couple other people.

After entering the high-walled canyon in about a quarter mile we came to a not very visible sign pointing out a trail to the left.


There is also a giant rock arrow in the sand, but we almost missed both.


By the look of this rock fall it  just didn’t look like there was a way into a canyon but there was no one else around to ask so we gave it a try.


This might be the way.


We lost sight of Jim so figured we’d better follow him.



We knew we had gone the right way when the first of many ladders appeared. I am not keen on climbing ladders, but with our recent ring climbing in Mojave I was up for the challenge.



But there are other challenges more difficult than the ladders along the way.


Slots and more ladders.


In some places they ended a bit short of the top, which made it even more challenging.





At the top of one of the ladders we encountered sweet little Mila, a very friendly girl. I watched her mom hand her off to dad after he got on the ladder to go down. No way could I hold a dog and climb down that ladder. I could barely move my hand to the next rung!


More slots.



And another ladder before the end of the slot.



After exiting the canyon we walked along a ridge for over a mile while overlooking the Mecca Hills and the Salton Sea.




The trail then takes an abrupt turn down into Big Painted Canyon.



Don’t know if it’s called Painted Canyon because of the variety of rock colors,







Or the places where it looks like someone flung paint all over.



Jim found a big handsome chuckwalla crawling around the rocks but wasn’t quite able to get his whole body in the photo.


We found an interesting looking side canyon with the tallest ladder yet, so we went to check it out. Jim and Suzanne climbed to the top but it was a bit too high for me so we continued on the main canyon.



As it was we came to two more ladders before we got out of Painted Canyon. This one not only was difficult to get down to, but there was a swarm of bees just above it. They were all flying around Jim as he was headed down.


The bees were all congregated in one spot on the ground, which we had to go by in order to get to the ladder.


Suzanne and I tried to stay as far away from them as we could, which made it even harder to reach to the ladder.



I hate bees even more than I hate ladders, but we all made it down without getting stung.


The final ladder was short and sweet, and although they made the hike more unique and memorable I was glad to be done with them. Kudos to whatever hiking club it was that installed them so people like us, who aren’t climbers, are able to explore these beautiful canyons.


We hiked a little over five miles, but with the ladders and walking through sand much of the way, it felt longer. We would definitely recommend this hike if you find yourself near Mecca, CA.

Next up, one more Joshua Tree hike, then a little hiking hiatus.


  1. Wow!! No kidding a thank you to the ladders. But some of them look really spooky. I like going up better than down. What an amazing canyon. Driven through the canyon before but didn't know about this. Definitely not a dog trail in my mind. Or Sasha's either I'm sure.

  2. I laughed out loud at that little tiny sign, "Bees here." Are you kidding me?? Weren't bees EVERYWHERE?? It sure seemed like it in trying to get onto that ladder. LOL!

    Such a fun glad we both got to cross it off the list, as it would have surely haunted me otherwise.

    1. That WAS a fun hike, one I would do again. Bet it would seem much easier the second time around.

  3. Gale, you are overcoming your acrophobia. I remember a time when you would not have done some of these hikes. As for the bees... I get skittish around them too... they are Africanized nowadays. Congrats.
    Box Canyon Mark

    1. I know, I even amazed myself on this one, especially with the bees. But it would have meant going back and repeating all the previous ladders, which I was definitely not up for at that point!

  4. I enjoyed your 'Lord of the Rings' hike, now you have added to that with the what I called 'Shoots and Ladders' - having failed to complete this hike, not once but twice! And BTW those are ladders not stairs, for safety face the ladder going up and down, just had to say that for the rest of your audience that will want to do this trip.

    1. I only went down the last one like that, as it was very short and harder for me to turn around than just be done with it facing forward!
      Maybe the third time will be the charm.

    2. I also have to add that although the picture doesn't show it, that last ladder was almost a 45 degree angle, which made it much easier to just sit on a rung and scoot down rather than risk trying to turn around and face it at that odd angle.

      GREAT Chuckwalla, BTW! (Is he wearing coral?) ;-)

  5. Not a ladder fan either, although tucked in the narrow slots they look less intimidating. Until that last one with the bees - nope :-))) Beautiful area, so glad you shared it!

  6. Makes the ladder at Arizona Hot Spring look like kids stuff!

  7. Now I am sorry we didn't go and do this hike when we were in Desert Hot Springs! How was the glass in the parking lot? There was an article in the local paper while we were in Desert Hot Springs about the trailhead parking lot and the number of cars with smashed windows and break ins. They said the area isn't patrolled. Someone in our park recommended not going. He went and said there was glass everywhere and a shady group guys just hanging around. Kinda scared us off. We didn't need a smashed Jeep window. But, boy, sure looked like an awesome hike!! Love the slots and the ladders:)

    1. We didn't notice any glass in the parking lot. We had to wait for a space as it was full when we arrived but by the time we got finished the lot was less than half full. Didn't see any shady characters hanging around, either. Maybe we got lucky but any trailhead parking makes you vulnerable to theft since everyone knows you are probably going to be gone for a good while. Just one of those risks we take, like rock scrambling and ladder climbing!

    2. Good to know the area was cleaned up. The newspaper even photos of the glass. Maybe next time:)

  8. Love your perfect title for this post. The ladders are good by me, the bees, not so much. Sounds like the drive in is another one Ruby might not be able to handle. But I want to do this hike. Your pictures and description make me feel like I am right there with you. Great idea to wear pink or red or carry a red backpack. You definitely stand put in the photos. Chuckwalla looks like he is sneaking a peek at you. Cute shot! Terrific hike. Thanks f I r showing it to me.

    1. Sherry, the road in was rough and sandy in spots but it did not require high clearance or 4WD. There were lots of small cars in the parking lot.

  9. This is one I've got on the list but so far we haven't stayed near that entrance to Joshua Tree.

    Cudos for catching a shot of a chuckwalla!