Hike with T: Safely enjoy the beautiful Randall Henderson Trail and get ready for the Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival

For a few years before the pandemic, I helped organize the 5K on the Randall Henderson Loop Trail that kicked off the Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival on the first Saturday in March. Many participants still proudly wear “I survived the Wildflower 5k!” shirts.

Today, while COVID-19 remains a threat, many people are still trying to avoid crowds. In the meantime, we have to use our creativity and find a safe way to keep going, so instead of the 5k the Wildflower Festival is promoting something called the 30x30x30 (30 miles in 30 days to raise $30) where we can get out and enjoy the trails safely in small groups.

More on that later; in the meantime, let’s talk about the Randall Henderson Loop Trail. This is a 2.5 mile loop (more or less) starting at 1000 feet, with about 425 feet of elevation gain. It includes three smaller loops (the Wash, Cholla, and Canyon loops) within the perimeter of the main trail; this offers a variety of mileage and workout options. The trailhead is located just off the parking lot of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center on Highway 74 north of Palm Desert. It’s a perfect trail for beginners, and it’s also good for a quick run or a mountain bike workout. Note that dogs are not allowed on the trail.

The best time of year to hike this trail is October through March. So now is the perfect time to get out and enjoy all the new flowers, cholla, and ocotillos as you meander along the trail, through small canyons, gradually ascending. incline, then along the ridges back down to the starting point. You might even be lucky enough to spot the endangered peninsular desert bighorn sheep. If you happen to see bighorn sheep (or any other desert animal), be careful; Keep your distance; and don’t disturb them. You are on their territory, so please respect that.

Guided hikes are offered January through March by the fabulous Friends of the Desert Mountains volunteers, who support the Visitor Center staff. The Visitor Center is currently closed due to the pandemic, but you can schedule your guided hike online at www.desertmountains.org/calendar. As you can see from the online calendar, interpretive hikes and other events are offered on many trails in the Coachella Valley. The Randall Henderson Trails Interpretive Hike is currently scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The front door must be open, but if it’s closed, you can park across the street or around the area, but be careful if you’ll be crossing the busy 74 freeway.

Ada Nuckels, a Friends of the Desert Mountains volunteer and hike leader, said their “full moon hikes” surpassed anything they did in terms of popularity. She went on to say that pre-pandemic entries for full moon hikes were unlimited and well over 100.

“Now, due to the pandemic, each hike has a limited number of small groups (10-12 people), and everything must be scheduled using the calendar on the Friends website. … You can click on the map and send directions straight to your cell phone. That’s pretty cool,” Nuckels said.

She also pointed out that hikes in the pandemic era often reach limited capacity, so they have increased the number of tours to accommodate the growing number of interested hikers. A donation of $5 per person is suggested when registering for these guided hikes.

Ada Nuckels leads a hike in Willis Palms. Credit: Michael Rosenkrantz

The hikes are most instructive. Nuckels speaks to his groups and explains how the missions of the Friends of the Desert Mountains, whose volunteers also help maintain the land, and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument are pretty much one and the same: protect and preserve the land for future generations to enjoy!

When I asked Nuckels about his favorite trail in the Coachella Valley, his response came as no surprise: “It’s hard to pick one particular trail as a favorite because they all have some uniqueness to them,” said she immediately declared. I couldn’t agree more; I have so many favorites myself.

She mentioned that one of her many favorite trails is the Indio Hills Badlands trail. To get there, take the Golf Center Parkway exit from Interstate 10; the trail is just north of the freeway at the end of Golf Center Parkway and Ave 42. It’s a moderate loop, just over 5 miles, that crosses the San Andreas Fault, with twisted, distressed rocks that have been heaved and moved over millions of years. The trail also features beautiful wildflowers and is best used November through April. Dogs on a leash are welcome. According to Nuckels, the trail starts out pretty boring…until you enter the slot canyons. As she explains, “Holy Cow! I had no idea something like this existed in the Coachella Valley. …if you continue and climb to the ridge, you can see the entire Coachella Valley, Mount San Jacinto and the Salton Sea, all the way to the Cottonwood entrance to Joshua Tree. It’s a trail I haven’t experienced, but I’m going to check it out soon, with Ada as my guide.

Nuckels also plays an important role in planning and hosting the annual Friends of the Desert Mountains Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival. It takes place on Saturday, March 5 and will return to Palm Desert Civic Center Park this year, with a huge thank you to the City of Palm Desert as Presenting Sponsor.

In addition to the one-day in-person festival, CVWF will run throughout March with various DIY activities, such as the aforementioned 30x30x30. You can walk, hike, run, bike or ride no matter where you live and take on challenges while helping Friends raise funds. Participants will have their own fundraising page at www.desertmountains.org/cvwf. Everyone who completes the minimum 30 miles during the month of March will earn a special CVWF t-shirt.

Other fun virtual activities include “Flowers in the Field”. You can grab your hiking boots, water, and camera, and hop in your car with the Friends Field Guide to visit all the wildflower hotspots in and around the Coachella Valley. There will also be a scavenger hunt, youth art contest, silent auction and more.

Please continue to be vigilant and be safe there. Remember to keep your distance; wear a mask (even if you are vaccinated and boosted); and use hand sanitizer. Also, don’t forget the 10 desert essentials when hitting the trails.

Comments are closed.