My first trip to Mecca Hills Painted Canyon on Sunday 2/13/2016 was amazing. I have never been to anything like this canyon before and didn’t know that this place existed so close to home.
We started this trip like any other trip going out to the desert, super early! Taking the 10 freeway out from the IE to Indio first thing in the morning has a way of calming your spirit almost like a morning mediation. The sun rising up between the windmills and the flat desert is breath taking and peaceful.
We got to the small town of Mecca and made our way through the farm land. It is surprising to me that there is so much farm land out in the desert. The fields were green with produce as far as the eye can see. I couldn’t make out what they were growing but it looked like grapes. I will have to google it one day lol.
We got to the Painted Canyon Road turn off where the pavement turns to dirt and took off. As you drive down the dirt road the canyon walls slowly start making their presence known as they inch towards the sky. The brown dirt turns to pink and white stone. You can see the hints of why they call this area painted canyon. As you leave the flats and enter into the Canyon the dirt road becomes softer. We had to pass some cars because they were going too slow. We saw every kind of vehicle in there including motorhomes and mini vans. You are able to make it in but beware you may get stuck if not in a 4WD. We made it to where the road ends about 9am and found that there was hardly any cars there. There is an area that you can park at the end. It loops around and you will see that cars are parked all over the place. You won’t need any type of permit to park either. Make sure not to leave any valuables in your vehicle though. We didn’t have any problems but while researching this location I had found that some people had their vehicles broken into while they were hiking.
We started our journey into the mouth of the canyon. The canyon walls towering over us with their beautiful red stones. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Not only was I starting up hiking again but I got to start it in this majestic location with the man I love. It really couldn’t get any better, but it did. We made it to an opening in the wash with a large stone made arrow pointing us to the Ladders. A side note this arrow is about .4 miles in from the parking lot if you miss this you will continue up the wash without any indication that you missed it. We saw several groups walking up the wash a good 3 to 4 miles pass the ladders on our way out.
As soon as you make your way into the Ladder Canyon you are faced with climbing over boulders and finding that there are many little areas to explore. Take the time to explore, it is a lot of fun to see the little sections off the trail. To the left there is a crawl space the will take you to the next opening. It is a little tight for adults but perfect for kids if you bring them along. I did this hike a month later with my brother and a coworker with their sons. The youngest was 6 and they loved it! This is a very family friendly hike.
Your first ladder that you come to is a normal size ladder. You climb down this one and this is the start of your adventure in the ladder part of the canyon. The path in the canyon walls are carved out by the years of water rushing through the desert. The walls have a feeling of sand paper but keep it’s form as you touch it. The layers mimic the rings of a tree placing a sense of age to the trail. The colors of the layers go from all shades of clay red and orange to a light tan that melts into the sandy trail that you follow along. The first ladder going up has been placed in a Canyon Rotunda of sorts.
Once you got up the second ladder the canyon narrows and winds down a beautiful narrow trail of towering canyon walls.
The narrow part of the trail ends when you get to the third ladder but the beauty doesn’t stop there. Take your time and enjoy everything. The smells of the Desert Sage with their purple flowers in full bloom around every corner. The yellow flowers of the desert marigold are hard to miss, their colors tend to vibrate against the subtle tones of the sand and clay. As you make your way to the top of the canyon the Ocotillo’s stand tall into the sky with their rich green stems and the blooming red flowers that pop against the clear blue sky. Stop and have lunch in the shade of the Palo Verde Trees scattered along the trail. The canyon has so many sites to offer it is hard not to stop at every flower to take a picture.
You will come to a fork in the trail about .4 miles from the entrance where the Ladder Trail starts. Both trails will take you to the top of the ridge, but we ended up taking the trail to the left. When you enter this trail you will come to a large Palo Verde tree to the left and some rock totems that other hikers have placed along the trail. It really sets the tone of your mood to see those. Once again the desert has calmed my spirit and taken my mind to a very peaceful state even though I was already there. You continue along this trail and hit several more ladders. My favorite ones are the wood ladders. They may not be the sturdiest but they fit so well with the desert landscape.
When you get to the top of the canyon the view will not disappoint you. Looking out to south you will have a clear view of the Salton Sea, the rest of your view is mazes of canyons and ridges with painted colors of pinks, reds, oranges and browns. There isn’t a camera that could capture the beauty in front of you.
If you want to continue with the whole loop you will find an arrow at the top of the ridge directing you down the path, but you can always go back the way you came and enjoy the ladders and canyon one more time. We continued down the path that will take you back down to the original wash that you started in which is about a .7 mile hike from the arrow to the bottom of the canyon.
When you get to the bottom of the canyon and enter into the wash the landscape will change at every turn. When we first started to walk down you can see imbedded into the canyon walls what looks like pink limestone layering diagonal up the canyon. Cliffs that once hung 30 foot up the canyon lay toppled on the wash below. The every changing landscape goes from dark lava type rock to beautiful red clay type stone. Voids craved out of the rock from the waves of water that once rushed through there. You realize how tiny you are to the world around you. As we made our way through traces of the human race made it’s presence know with more rock totems on boulders planted in the middle of the wash.
We made a small detour from our trek back to the truck when we came up to a small canyon on our left that had 3 more ladders to check out.
The first ladder was about 20 feet, probably the tallest one of them all. It was also the only one that was tied down to a rock wall. The second ladder seemed to be the trickiest of them all. It wasn’t tall but it was angled to the right of where you had to enter. It moved as soon as you got on as if it was going to fall backwards from the wall but the bottom of the ladder was buried under the dirt so never made actually fell from the wall. The third ladder was wood, which you know is my favorite type, it lead to a garden of rock totems. It was so beautiful at this spot we had to add our own totem to the garden.
We explored a little past the garden but ended up deciding it was time to get back to truck. We made our way back down the three ladders and back into the wash. A few turns down the wash we came to our last set of ladders. Two small ones that laid against smooth grey rocks. The first one was easy to get down but the second one threw us for a loop when we saw bees around the base of the ladder. There were a good 20 bees drinking from the little water that had pooled under the ladder. I’m not allergic to bees but I still don’t like them all that much and my heart was racing a little bit on what to do. After being a pansy for a few minutes I bit the bullet and rushed down the ladder half way and jumped the 2 incredibly high feet to the ground. Yes that was a joke and yes I was being a total baby.
We made it out of the wash and back to the truck unhurt, unstung, and still full of energy. The total loop of our hike was about 6.5 miles. We ended our hike about 11am and it was just starting to get really warm. People were flowing in as we were leaving and the parking lot was pretty much full. I had so much fun on this hike I brought my brother and friends back out a month later to experience everything I had.
We had to make sure to say hi to Burt Reynolds on our way out on the 111.
Watch the video with GoPro footage and pictures.