Story by Marissa Sumire Contributor
We call each other adventure soul sisters, or the A.S.S.
It started new years 2016 when Stefani, Judy, and I made a pact to gain new life experiences together in anyway we could. The awesome thing about living in LA is that within a day, you can drive to a different world.
This weekend, Stefani asks us if we want to stay with a family friend in Palm Springs to hike and explore the area.
Flying down the 10 east, we pass the windmill farm as the desert spreads against the backdrop of the Jacinto Mountains. We’re listening to “Young” by Frankie Cosmos, I just want to be alive, that’s it // alive // alive.
Today we’re heading to a trail in Painted Canyon, also known as Ladder Canyon.
We exit the freeway to Mecca, a small agricultural community. The GPS leads us to 62nd avenue, then 66th avenue, and left on Box Canyon Road. We’re bumping down a dirt path and we’re surrounded by hills covered in white gravel and mounds of huge rock formations. The afternoon sun reflects off the ground and we’re squinting even in our sunglasses.
Stefani’s car isn’t a four-wheel drive or anything. At one point, her tires are spinning in the gravel and we aren’t going anywhere. After several tries, maneuvering the wheel and accelerating, she gets back onto more solid ground and we’re moving forward again.
Four miles down the dirt road, it dead ends at the trail head.
Judy is always prepared with her selfie stick, but sometimes she says, “Take pictures with your eyes.” It is only our human senses that can fully soak it in: the dry breeze, the dust particles we breathe, and the sun warm and beating into our skin. I love the sky in the desert. It never looks so blue than when it’s contrasted against the hard white and nearly lifeless earth.
The trail is a dry wash running between the canyons. I look up and see the rock walls towering at least thirty feet above me on both sides, streaked with reds, greens, and purples. Walking through the thick sand makes my ankles tired. It’s late October, so at least the sun is beginning to tone down its heat. This is a good time to be here.
Only a quarter mile down the trail, there’s a pile of rocks in the middle of the wide trail. We didn’t notice at first, but the rocks are arranged to form an arrow pointing left toward the canyon wall. That’s where we enter the ladder portion of the trail.
The first time walking by, we miss it, but then we ask a couple of hikers who direct us back to it. As we walk closer to the wall, following the arrow, we see footprints and a path leading up. As we climb, I imagine we’re big horn sheep, jumping up through the slots.
The walls of the canyon are narrow here, smoothed like waves from the water that has washed through. If we were caught in here during a flash flood, there would be no escape.
Sunlight beams from above revealing the glistening dust particles. Our voices echo off the red walls and a light breeze whistles through our hair.
Metal ladders lean against the walls, some only three feet tall and others up to ten feet tall. One ladder wobbles in the gravel as I lean forward, one hand up, one foot up. At the top, my footing is a little slippery on the smooth rock but it’s manageable.
This area is remote. Along the way, we only see one other group of three guys and two girls, all around our age. They are taking a break eating oreos and sitting in the sand.
A quarter mile in and we’ve ascended all the ladder. From here, the trail zigzags through shorter canyon walls and leads up so you’re walking along the canyon’s edge. Then it loops back around and down to the wash and you end up in the parking lot again. It’s about a four miles total.
But our water bottles are empty and we have no snacks. (This was bad planning on our part; this is a desert, come prepared!) We choose the easier route and head back down the ladders the way we came.
Back on the road, our first stop is a convenience store, Beacon and Bridge, in Mecca to buy water and food.
After this, we will go to Salvation Mountain and the Salton Sea. The Palm Desert is full of hidden treasures to explore. It’s another life experience added to our repertoire.