Lost In A Mecca Hills Maze

Rain clouds were forming as we hiked up a 2′ wide canyon with 300′ walls on either side consisting of soft mud, we were deep inside flash flood country. 

If it started to rain hard we would have to run to stay ahead of a wall of water…. a flash flood.  But the pups were having a great time so we continued on.


This post finds us exploring the highly eroded range of mountains called the Mecca Hills Wilderness just north of the Salton Sea and east of the Coachella Valley near the town of Mecca California.

It has taken thousands of years of rain storms and flash floods to form these deeply eroded canyons, this is one of the most eroded landscapes within California deserts.

We were not interested in experiencing a flood first hand so we eventually retreated but returned when the weather improved.


In the 1930’s Box Canyon Road (old State Highway 60) was one of the main access roads into Los Angeles from the east.  With the construction of the Interstate 10 bypass it is now just a backroad but remains the primary access into the Mecca Hills.

Box Canyon Road
Box Canyon Road

Box Canyon Road is constructed in the bottom of a major drainage and often closes due to mud and debris flow during the winter wet season.  

I can’t imagine what early westbound travelers thought as they entered these rugged hills for the first time, most likely it produced a fair amount of angst.  

Mecca Hills With Coachella Valley Beyond
Mecca Hills With The San Andreas Fault Bisecting The Range, The Coachella Valley Beyond

These uniquely eroded formations are the result of major movements along the San Andreas Fault making the Mecca Hills one of the more unusual geological sites of its kind.

Denise In Lader Canyon In The 1980's
Denise Hikes In Ladder Canyon In The 1980’s

The narrow steep-walled canyons wind in every direction creating natural mazes.  Colorful Painted Canyon runs in a general north-south path basically cutting through the middle of the Wilderness.

Sandy washes sprinkled with ironwood, smoke trees, beaver tail cacti and palo verde trees sprinkle the area, while ocotillo grow on gentler slopes and the tops of mesas.


Painted Canyon or ladder canyon as we called it back in the 1980’s, is a moderate day hike following a beautiful narrow red canyon.

One must be capable/willing to climb several 15′ tall ladders set up at numerous vertical waterfalls to be able the reach the upper canyons.  It is worth the effort.

But a decision must be made to hike the 5 mile round trip otherwise one must climb back down the ladders which for some folks can be harder then climbing up.

Old 1980's Ladder in Painted Canyon
Old 1980’s Ladder in Painted Canyon

Today the old wooden ladders have been replaced with modern steel versions making for a safer climb.

Unfortunately Painted Canyon has become a very popular tourist destination with regularly scheduled guided tours, we did not explore Painted Canyon on this visit.

The Pups Enjoy Running Through The Slots

There are other extended hikes into the area where you’ll find Sheep Hole Oasis and Hidden Springs Canyon (both reliable sources for water) where you may see bighorn sheep.  There are also caves, known locally as grottos.

A Local Ground Cover
A Local Ground Cover

Sadly the non-Wilderness corridor along Box Canyon Road has become very popular with target shooters and parking areas are littered with shell casings and shattered targets.

The major canyon entrances are blocked off with large boulders to stop off-road travel into the wilderness.

Fortunately as one heads up the canyons human litter slowly disappears.

The Wilderness Area Is Managed By The BLM
Beautiful Erosion Abounds In The Mecca Hills
Rocks Reveled In Slot Canyon Wall
Colorful Rocks Are Revealed In The Slot Canyon Walls

During our stay in the area we set up base camp at Mecca Beach Campground at Salton Sea State Recreation Area just 10 miles away.

This is where we were lucky enough to get to know the camp host and visitor center volunteer Beverly Robbins.  She is an exuberant 83 years young and is full of energy with a wealth of local knowledge and expertise. 

Beverly Enjoys A Maze

We invited her to hike with us through the mazes and she gladly accepted, easily setting the pace deep into the slots all the while keeping up a running commentary about the local flora and fauna, she was great fun to be around.

img_8221LuLu And Beverly Relax In Camp

For those of you that enjoy exploring slot canyons, the Mecca Hills are a must see.  There are hundreds of canyons to get lost in where one can lose the sense of direction in no time at all.  

If you thrive on serendipity and new discovery this place will not disappoint you.

The Pups At The Entrance To Another Slot Canyon

A word to the wise if there is a chance of rain reconsider hiking in the very narrow mazes.  Heavy rain up canyon can produce flash floods down stream without warning.

But with that said I would love to photograph a flash flood in a slot canyon and witness nature at its best…. maybe one of these days! 

Evening Light In The Hills
Evening Light In The Hills

With this winters current weather patterns for California it is very important to monitor the forecast while visiting theses mountains.

Speaking of rain and the current long range western states forecast, we have decided to head east until we leave this weather pattern behind.

Who knows maybe Texas?  

Dont miss our latest video “Lost In A Mecca Hills Maze”

Keep you posted!

12 thoughts on “Lost In A Mecca Hills Maze

  1. Mecca Beach Campground and Beverly. We gotta add that to our list of “Big Dog” recommendations. Especially with the cool hiking opportunities. Again great pics and video. And yes, listening with buds make a difference…however listening with “Dolby Tin Cup” is even better. Home now, so we are catching up on your posts.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the sound track, Sidney would really enjoy those slot canyons as well you. Thought of you guys as we found more of the precious Tin Cup in Tucson today. Thanks for the fun times in the wind and rain!


  2. Wow, I am a native Californian and I did not know these canyons existed. This is a major must do for us during some trip. Thanks for posting this.


  3. Thanks again for the great pictures, information and video. I am always amazed how nice these pictures and videos are but by now I should only expect the best! hahaha! We did miss you at BBB but Sam and Chris came and I did get to spend some time with them. We just had our yearly average of rain in the month of January. Santa Ynez River has water in it which has not happened in the last three years. Have a great trip and hope to see you again sometime soon.


  4. There’s no way I would’ve guessed Beverly to be 83. What an inspiration. And your drone footage was sheer magic …. wonderful. Unfortunately I can’t always view your videos. I’m loving the free WiFi at this RV park in coastal Texas and taking full advantage. Weather has been great in Rockport TX and the birding plentiful, but I already look forward to returning to the desert to dry out from the humidity 😉 Should be a good showing of desert blooms this spring!


    1. Thanks for the kind words Ingrid, Denise and I really enjoy producing videos these days, labor of love. Yes Beverly is a hoot, if get a chance to meet her don’t hesitate. The reason were are currently in Texas hill country is due to all the wet weather out west including in the deserts. Before you go make sure flash flood season is over although camping around the Salton Sea has recently been great and lots of migrating birds! Ya looks like maybe another super bloom this spring enjoy!
      Always love your amazing bird photography! very cool! Thanks


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