Thursday, August 18, 2022

Hiking to Shangri La from Rattlesnake Canyon

 I've hiked once to the area my friend Mitch calls "Shangri La" (read my post here), and I swore I would never do it again. It was 11 miles of the most rugged, difficult, and inhospitable terrain I've ever hiked, with an elevation gain of 1759'. About a year after that hike, Mitch tells me he thinks he found a new approach to Shangri La. There is an initial steepness, but after that, easier and shorter. The biggest thing luring us back was a beautiful arch we spotted from a distance. We agreed it would be great to hike in closer to the arch for some better quality photos. I reluctantly said yes to the hike.
Roger, Mitch and I met at about 6:30AM at Rattlesnake Canyon. See the black arrow in the photo? That's our first big altitude push. In my mind, I'm thinking if I can make it up there, the rest will be relatively easy going. But that first push is very steep and covered in boulders, so it's not going to be easy.
We will be following the red line.
Up we go!

We come across a few areas where the rocky soil has been disturbed and smoothed out, and lots of bighorn sheep poop, so we know they are sleeping up here.

Mitch and Roger still feeling feisty as the sun crests the hillside. But keep in mind it's only 7:30AM, and we aren't even to the top of the hill yet!
Rattlesnake Canyon in Joshua Tree has these interesting boulders... hard stones with a softer rock matrix holding everything together. As the rock erodes, it leaves these small hard stones covering the ground. Roger calls them marbles. Image walking up (and at the end of our hike, down) a super-steep mountain of marbles, and you'll get the picture!
Finally up on top of the hill, the news isn't good. Going straight ahead to our destination, the hill drops off just as steep as the one we just climbed up! And then we would have to climb another hill. And another. We decide to take a longer route with less extreme elevation changes.
Mitch shares a screen shot from his phone. In a little over 1.5 hours, we've gone just one mile but gained 935' in elevation. Slow & steep!
Me standing next to a very large red barrel cactus.
I think Mitch took this one. That's Indian Cove campground and the road leading in to Rattlesnake Canyon over my shoulder.
Window framed by rocks.
A virtual friend of mine was kind enough to alert me to the existance of an old exploded rocket from WW2. Yes, you heard that right... in Joshua Tree National Park!! So it was definitely something I wanted to track down on this hike. The first thing we came across is some debris, so we knew we were getting close.

Mitch taking a photo of what we think is the main part of the rocket. Very cool!

My friend did some research and somehow figured out that this is a Tiny Tim air-to-ground rocket that was developed at the China Lake Naval Air Station during WW2. His best guess is that a plane test fired it into (what was then) Joshua Tree National Monument. Sounds crazy, but it's the only possible explanation. You find the strangest things in the desert. Any nearby hikers would have had the bejeebers scared out of them!
Rodger riding the bomb!
Did anyone see the Dr. Strangelove movie??

Flowering cactus near the rocket.
We came across a number of Pinyon Pine branches in the area with this mysterious red stuff all over them. We finally figured out it is likely bird poop. There's a bird called the Phainopepla (see below... internet photo) that's common to the area, and who feeds on Desert Mistletoe (see below). It appears the red mistletoe berries pass right through them!

After finding the rocket, we came across this huge rock formation (I'm at the base for size perspective). I didn't see any rock art, but definitely signs that Native Americans were here long before us.
Somewhere in this area is the arch we are hoping to find. We're coming at it from a different direction, so it takes more exploring than I anticipated, but eventually...
We spot it!! And it's a beauty. Now that we found it, we're hoping to get closer for some good photos. But getting up those rocks won't be easy, and I'm really starting to get fatigued. 
Mitch and Roger on their way up to the arch.
One of my favorite photos from the day.
It even looks good in b&w!

Roger is very comfortable in high places.
Time to head back down from the arch.

Late afternoon light on a pancake prickly pear.

Seems like all we've been doing all day is climbing over boulders!
An ominous sign. Perhaps from a bighorn sheep?
Roger really should not be wearing shorts on these hikes!
I'm truly at the end of my endurance limits. We still have to push over the top of the peak in the distance and down the other side, and I tell the guys I need a rest stop. It's been a long difficult hike on a hot day, and I'm out of water. I have a headache and feel a little nauseous (both early indicators of heat stroke). Thankfully, Mitch has extra water, but I know I'm going to have to proceed slowly and carefully if I'm going to safely make it back to the car.
We are treated to this beautiful sunset as we finish up our hike. We've been hiking down steep terrain on marble-like rocks with tired legs. It's a bad combination, and I think we all slipped (but caught our balance) at least a few times on the way down. Thank goodness for hiking poles!
I'm relieved that I completed such a challenging hike, but a little bittersweet knowing I will likely never return to Shangri La. As I age, I need to pick my hikes carefully and recognize my limitations so I can stay safe. What a wonderful adventure it's been, and a privilege, to hike into this seldom seen area!
My Garmin tells me we hiked 12.0 miles. My Gaia GPS app on my phone says 11 miles. Elevation gain was 1,785'. Total hiking time was 12 hours and 41 minutes.
Thanks for joining me on this adventure, and if you stuck with me to the end, it's very much appreciated!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.


  1. ...there's no way that I could make this trip. I thank you for showing me what I would have missed.

  2. That looks too steep for my short legs. Glad you got to do it, thanks for sharing the amazing photos with us!

  3. Very beautiful pictures and nature
    Interesting about the rocket
    Must have been a very nice hike

  4. Yeah, I can see why you wouldn't want to do that again. Beautiful, but grueling.

  5. Wow, that's a lot of miles for one day! But you have some very interesting pics of rocket, skeletons, and amazing cactus flowers. It's worth an applause:):)

  6. Congratulations for completing this 12 mile rugged hike. You're a lot tougher than I ever was. I do love your photos as always.

  7. Always a pleasure reading your blog and I have to admit I think that hike would kill me, the ones I do are mild in comparison and at times climbing a hill really takes it out of you let along clambering over boulders like that. Well done

  8. That's a long time to hike and I can't believe WW2 remnants were found by you all there. I hope you took loads of water with you.

  9. That one black and white photograph is a 10! Awesome! It is good to listen to your body. Totally committed to look at your blog weekly. It is the BEST. Be safe.

  10. Dearest Peter,
    Glad you made it safely back down and also got to see that special arch!
    You are so right about Roger not supposed to be wearing shorts when around sharp boulders and cactus and...
    Those cactus blooms are such a joy to capture on photo; incredible colors!
    Thanks for sharing your adventures and I sure would have loved to see this on

  11. I am always moved by your excellent narrative of desert adventure and a great series of photographs for the journey. The artefact from WW2 and the varying texture of the rocks in the place are just wonderful to see.

  12. Whew! What a hike. Glad you got a beautiful sunset in the end.

  13. Landscape is spectacular, but the hike is for professional hikers. Good job.

    Worth a Thousand Words

  14. I stuck with you to the end!!! I'm glad the three of you arrived home safe and sound.

  15. I can’t imagine doing that. It looks so rough.

    I saw Dr. Strangelove, but I did not stop worrying Or love the bomb.

  16. Great pictures of a great adventure. It's a wonder you didn't melt!

  17. Great that you made this challenge because the pictures are wonderful again and the arch is really an elephant. Also the rocket find and the bird poo are very interesting illustrated stories. But mindful of age, keep it safe.

  18. Wow. Th eup I would manage, the down... nope.
    That cactus is amazing. And Rattlesnake per se sounds rather scary! (I know snakes avoid people. Yet...).
    That rocket... weird. In Carnarvon (Western Australia) you can find pieces of the Sky lab. What stuff comes down, huh.
    Love the tree-pic, too! As the cacti.
    I once... started crying cause I was so exhausted and it was still such a long way to go.

    A hard, beautiful, fun trip!

  19. What an absolutely stunning achievement, Peter!

    Not just the physical aspects of such a challenging hike, but the terrific observations throughout the day. As with most trips involving an increase in elevation, the views from the top are worth the effort. Just the other day, here in central Florida, I managed to scale a six-inch ant mound for a panoramic view of the surrounding swamp. Of course, I was completely wiped out after that adventure.

    Seriously, thank you for sharing what, for me, would be an experience of a lifetime!
    I'll be sending this to my son, the geologist, who will begin planning for us to make the trip. On second thought, maybe I'll keep quiet .......

  20. Buenas pendientes hay para subir y algunas dificultosas, al caminar sobre las rocas. Buenas piernas hay que tener para esta actividad.
    Feliz fin de semana.

  21. I would have given up in the first five minutes of the hike, so that's why this world needs people like Mitch, Roger and you, so we can see sights like the rocket, the bird poop and the cactus flowers. I also appreciate the "have to budget my energy; I'm not as young as I used to be" feeling all too well. And yes, I saw Dr. Strangelove, too many years ago.

  22. Grata por esta extraordinária partilha! Adorei ter acompanhado este aventura, em modo fotográfico! Os registos da mesma estão fantásticos!
    Parabéns por este espaço altamente interessante, que será um gosto acompanhar... e que já estamos seguindo!
    Temos um blog de fotografia. Se desejar visitar-nos estamos em
    Um grande abraço, daqui de Portugal! Tudo de bom!

  23. Wow! What an adventure! Rockets, bones and red poop!

  24. Wow is right. Twelve hours for 11 miles is an indicator of how slow and steady you had to go in this terrain! My favorite pictures are the blooming cactus. Glad you made it safely!

  25. Stunning photos from another great adventure. Wow!

  26. That was quite the arduous hike with some wonderful photographs of beautiful scenery to prove it. I'm glad you all made it out safely.

  27. So glad that all three of you hiked up and finally found the arch and then coming back down to level ground in one piece. Love the sun rising up from behind the mountain. A bonus for finding the bomb. Love the beautiful cactus flowers.

  28. what a hike, what a post, what a physical form! ;-) chapeau!

  29. wow ! Congrats on this very varied, intriguing and tedious hike ~ glad you are back safely ~ great photos ! Xo

    Wishing you good health, laughter and love in your days,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  30. Wow, what a trek, and not a trail to be found it looks like. Clambering over huge boulders and some steep climbs and descents. Kudos to you and your fellow explorers. You guys are badasses.

  31. That was quite a hike. I don't think I would even attempt such a hike but, if I was 30 year younger I probably would. Great photos again. The arch is beautiful and finding that rocket is quite an achievement. You guys are truly pros when it comes to hiking in the desert.

  32. Wow, what a great hike, story and photos.

  33. What A Righteous Adventure For All And The 12 Miles Was Worthy Of Every Scratch Across The Bare Shin - Incredible Photos And The BLK & White Shot Rocks - Good On You Guys - Stay Creative And Enjoy The Family Time


  34. Wow, so glad you made it back out to that special valley and got to see the rocket! I doubt very many people have visited it in the 75+ years it's been sitting there.