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Ladder Canyon shim John & Kristie

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hikes :: Thursday, June 29, 2006
Ladder Canyon
MECCA HILLS WILDERNESS, MECCA, CA :: As Kristie attended a conference for education consultants at Claremont McKenna College, I was enjoying several hikes in the Southern Californian wilderness. The first trail on my list was a four mile loop through Ladder and Painted Canyons, situated along the San Andreas Fault between Joshua Tree National Park and the Salton Sea.

I arrived at the trailhead early and the temperatures were rising quickly. It would be 100 degrees by noon. I wasn't too concerned about the heat, as I had plenty of bottles of water and the shade in the deep canyon would provide some relief. My biggest scare came from the soft, sandy road to the trailhead. A five mile path of compacted dry wash led to the trail. At about three miles into the road, I decided to park the rented Chevy Trailblazer on the shoulder to get a photo of the surrounding rock formations. Big mistake. I felt the wheels sink into the fine sand. I tried driving out, but the back wheels only spun, sinking further and burning through the rubber. Crap. I then realized I didn't have four-wheel drive. Trail-blazer, right. I was stuck in a glorified minivan.

Rocking back and forth for about five minutes (and trashing the transmission in the process) finally did the trick. I focused on staying on the road and maintaining momentum the rest of the way. Heed the warning signs and don't stop until you reach the parking area! And make sure that SUV you rent actually has some "utility."

The trail itself was wonderful! The slots got quite narrow, no wider than a few feet in many places. I loved the way the light played across the layered walls, curving and twisting like stretches of pink taffy, or silly putty. Several ladders are located to help climb the dry falls. As the trail slowly meanders up out of Ladder Canyon, there are cacti and views of the Salton Sea from a ridgetop before the trail turns back to complete the loop through Painted Canyon. I spent a few hours here and was alone the entire time.

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on Friday, July 7, 2006 at 5:04 PM

Nice pics - find it ironic that the pic that got you in quicksand isn't on here though. :)

on Friday, July 7, 2006 at 6:12 PM

I pulled over, stopped, grabbed the camera, sank, panicked, put down the camera and just wanted to get unstuck! I never even took the shot! Once I rolled free, I drove on and made sure I didn't stop again... There were warning signs all along the road, but until I got stuck, I just assumed a "trail-blazer" would have four-wheel drive!


on Monday, July 10, 2006 at 8:32 AM

I'm sure the same thing would have happened with an "explorer" or an "expedition"...either car companies have crappy marketing departments or they hold early 17th century explorers in poor view. Actually, I've noticed that most SUV rentals come in the 2wd variety. I don't think they want their cars to actually GO offroad.

on Friday, December 2, 2011 at 5:20 AM

Truly amazing. I have seen a picture of the up-view of this and it looks good as well. I bet the trek wasn't as easy as it looks.

on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 4:44 PM

My wife and I, along with our daughter, son-in-law and four grandkids did the Ladders and Big Painted Canyon Loop last weekend and we couldn't believe how beautiful this little hike was. The kids thought we were having our own "Indiana Jones" adventure! It took us just under four hours which included ample time for rock stacking along the way.

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