Sheep Mountain, Martinez Mountain
4 May 1991
By: Ron Jones
Leaders: Ron Jones, Maris Valkass
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 50 year Sierra Club member, Fred Johnson, who is also an original Desert Peaks Section member dating from its founding in 1941. Fred had driven down from Berkeley especially for this hike as he is both an HPS and a DPS member. We drove 8 miles south on Hwy. 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 Hwy.
It was 32° at 6am Saturday when we met for the backpack in along the Cactus Spring Trail. In addition to Fred, we had long-time Sierra Clubber, George Toby, desert rat Jim Conley, Wendy Reuss and her husband John McCully, Rosina Mueller, Anna Valkass and her husband Maris who assisted on this trip. Shouldering our heavy packs, each with at least 16 lbs. 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 17,000 acre Phillip L Boyd Deep Canyon Research Center, one of the 26 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 southeast of the main ridge and climbing the ridge line east of that gully. Stay right as you approach the summit area.
Returning to our packs, we headed down the trail looking for Agua Alta Spring a couple of miles away. The trail was very colorful with two kinds of yucca in bloom and wildflowers starting at the higher elevation. We passed several seeps and even a small stream and finally stopped at 7pm 1/2 mile short of Agua Alta at a delightful pinyon shaded 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. Agua Alta Spring is posted with a large sign and would also be a nice place to camp. There was a small steady flow of water. Immediately below Agua Alta lies Pinyon Alta Flat with many clay pottery shards and other evidence of seasonal use by the Cahuilla Indians.
At about 4200', 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 Cyn. After descending steeply on the old Indian trail, we dropped into Martinez Cyn. at 2800'. 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'. Shortly below the first remnants of an old jeep road were encountered and the remains of an old stone cabin. By noon, the temperatures were creeping up to 90°, then 92°, then 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 Cyn. at 650' 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' shown on the topo. Maris then took a bearing on the corner of the lemon orchard shown in the middle of section 19. We all stayed together and 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 reached Valerie Jean's (-30') and Leora at 3pm. All of us were nearly out of water and I had no trouble drinking 3 delicious wet cold date shakes.
This was probably the best HPS Backpack 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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