Sheep Mountain, Martinez Mountain


By: Ron Jones


The success of this trip was due to my wife, Leora, being able to help set up the car shuttle on Friday and then to meet the group on Sunday afternoon. Friday afternoon in Coachella we met Fred Johnson, an early Desert Peaks Section member dating from its founding in 1941 (the oldest hiking Section in the Angeles Chapter). Fred had driven down from Berkeley for the OPS banquet and decided to get a couple of peaks on the same trip. We drove 8 miles south on Highway 86 and left Fred's car at Valerie Jean's Date Shop and then Leora took us up to Pinyon Flats Campground on the Palms to Pines Highway.

Back in 1963 I read in the DPS SAGE about this trip. Trudie Hunt, former Section Chair, led the hike. It sounded like a wonderful desert exploratory, walking over old Indian trails looking for desert springs and I was sorry I hadn't gone on the trip. But I kept it in the back of my mind and finally decided to go for it this year.

It was 32 at 6am Saturday when we met for the backpack in on the Cactus Spring Trai1. In addition to Fred we had long-time Sierra C1ubber, George Toby, Wendy Reuss and her husband John McCully, desert rat Jim Conley, HPSer Rosina Mueller, Anna L Valkass and her husband Maris, who assisted on this trip. Shouldering our heavy packs, each with at least 16 pounds of water, We hiked the road to the Dolomite mine and then the obvious trail down to Horsethief Creek, which had a good rush of water. At the start of the trail there is a log book maintained by the San Gorgonio Chapter of the Club.

At about 5 miles we came upon Cactus Spring with a small steady flow of water, we dropped our backpacks and hiked up to Sheep Mountain. We saw lots of deer sign and some big horn sheep sign up on the ridge. Sheep Mtn marks the southern boundary of the 11,000 acre Phillip L Boyd Deep Canyon Research Center one of the twenty-six reserves maintained by the University of California in its Natural Land and Water Reserves System.

Returning to Cactus Spring we continued on the trail to the 5168 foot crest of the trail, south of Martinez Pk before it begins the descent into the Martinez Canyon drainage, We had a late lunch here before setting out for Martinez via the South ridge. This is a rocky steep ridge and one can do better (as we did on the return) by crossing one major gully or wash south-east of the main ridge and climbing the ridge line east of that gully. Stay right as you approach the summit area to avoid rocks and brush.

Returning to our packs we headed down the trail looking for Aqua Alta Spring a couple of miles away. The trail is was very colorful with two kinds of yucca in bloom and wild flowers starting at the higher elevation. We passes several seeps and even a small stream and finally at 7pm stopped half a mile short of Agua Alta at a delightful pinyon shaded sandy wash. The sky was clear and the evening warm.

The next morning we started hiking at 7am. We had a gallon or a little less of water each and I hoped we would reach V Jean's about 1pm. Temperatures in Palm Springs were 10 warmer this day than Saturday and this didn't help. Passing Aqua Alta Spring we found it posted with a large sign and it would also be a nice place to camp. There was a small steady flow of water. Immediately below Aqua Alta lies Pinyon Alta Flat with many clay pottery shards and other evidence of seasonal use by the Cahuilla Indians.

At about 4200 feet the trail becomes rather obscure as it turns east across the upper end of a large wash, avoiding the obvious drainage and staying on the high ground and ridge line leading toward Tahquitz Canyon. After descending steeply on the old Indian trail we dropped into Martinez Canyon at 2800ft. I, for one, was amazed at the large amount of water flowing, rushing, down this desert canyon. We followed the water down until it soaked into the ground at about 1200 feet. Shortly below the first remnants of an old 4wd road were encountered and the remains of an old stone cabin. By noon the temperatures ware creeping up to 90, then 92 and 94, and our water supply was diminishing. The low desert scenery was gorgeous. The ocotillos were in full crimson bloom, many flowers were in bloom and there were tens of thousands of Painted Lady butterflies flitting about the vegetation. Finally we reached the mouth of Martinez Canyon at 650 ft and the temperature reached 100!!

I had the Valerie 7-1/2' topo with me and we followed the old jeep trail north to hill 427 feet, shown on the topo. Maris then took a bearing on the corner of the lemon orchard shown in the middle of section 19. Everyone stayed together and we finally reached the power pole and reservoir at the corner of the grove and then followed roads through the orchards, dropping down below sea level until we finally reached Valerie Jean's (-30'), and Leora, at 3pm. All of us were nearly out of water and I had no trouble drinking three delicious, wet, cold date shakes.

This was one of the very best DPS backpacks I have ever been on and one of the top backpacks ever through gorgeous desert scenery. Our group was strong and evenly matched. I hope to repeat this outstanding hike next year. Thanks to Maris for a wonderful assist.

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