Cactus Springs, Horsethief Canyon, Martinez Canyon, Martinez Mountain


By: Steve Smith, Ron Jones


Ron had led a traverse through Martinez Canyon last May. He enjoyed it so much that he hooked me on it so we scheduled to do it again. Since the 1991 trip had run into hot weather, we started a month earlier and the weather was not as hot for this years traverse. A little warm on the Salton Sea side but still quite comfortable. Our trip consisted of a traverse starting from SR-74 on the west and hiking about 24 miles east to SR-86. We followed the Cactus Spring trail and then the Martinez Canyon trail to the mouth of Martinez Canyon and then hiked cross country to Valerie Jean. On Friday night Debbie and I shuttled our car to Valerie Jean with the help of Ron and Leers.

It was a great trip. There was great scenery, extensive wildflowers, a nice trail to follow, and a crossing of the Santa Rosa Wilderness and State Game Wildlife Preserve - both designations made in part for the indigenous Peninsular Bighorn sheep that favor this area. A sign now states that a wilderness permit is-required. After the trip, a call to the USFS indicated the 20,160 acres Santa Rosa Wilderness was created by the 1984 California Wilderness Act. Permits are now required for entry and they will soon start enforcing the requirement. Their literature states wildlife consists of species such as deer, cougar, quail and Peninsular bighorn sheep. Much of the wilderness is within the boundaries of the proposed Colorado and Mojave Desert Bighorn Reserve.

Seven of us started out from the Pinyon Flats campground Saturday morning. Ron and I were joined by my wife Debbie, Dean and Pat Acheson, Michael Abbott, and Erlyn Felizardo. The group reached the ridge where the Cactus Spring trail passes around the south side of Martinez Mountain around 1:00p.m. and five of us made a successful three hour round trip climb of the summit. From the pass, the group hiked another hour to the Aqua Alta Spring campground. A small water now from the spring provided water. It was a nice camping area and beautiful night under the stars. The sunrise gave us a great view as the morning light lit up Toro Peak and the snow along the upper Santa Rosa Crest.

Sunday was spent descending from 4,800' down to below sea level on SR-86. We had a use trail the whole way and walking through Martinet Canyon with its plentiful stream flow was scenic. At the mouth of the canyon we encountered several groups of hikers and families who had driven into the canyon entrance and were enjoying playing along the stream. Another four miles brought us through a grapefruit orchard and by late afternoon, all seven were enjoying one (or more) of the famous Valerie Jean date shakes.

Thanks to Rods wife Leora who had attended the Desert Bill bearing in Palm Desert for the weekend and then met us at Valerie Jean, we had a vehicle to take two drivers back up to their cars on SR-74 while Debbie and I shuttled the others back to Denny's in Palm Desert where everyone could regroup.

This traverse is a great way to climb Martinez Mountain, have an enjoyable two day backpack and see great desert landscapes and vistas. We were all appreciative of Ron's willingness to led this fun desert backpack again. While we did not see any Bighorn sheep, there was plenty of evidence of their presence and hikers would undoubtedly see them on some trips through the area.

For Information on the Santa Rosa Wilderness Permits call the Forest Supervisor at 714-383-5588 or the District Ranger Station in Idylwild, 714-659-2117.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

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