Flying over the farm fields between the Mecca Hills and the Salton Sea will be the red-tailed hawk.

Day hikers can see dinosaur-like creatures in a remote canyon of the Mecca Hills.

Well, that’s dinosaurs with an asterisk. But the forerunners of dinos – reptiles – as well their descendants – birds – are plentiful in Never-Ending Canyon. A 3.72-miles lollipop trail runs the length of the Mecca Hills Wilderness box canyon as well as a connecting wash.

To reach the trailhead, take Calif. Hwy. 111 to Mecca.  Turn northeast onto Fourth Street then at the roundabout veer right/southeast onto Hammond Avenue. Next, go left/east onto 66th Avenue. As the street curves northeast toward the Mecca Hills, it becomes Box Canyon Road. After crossing the Coachella Canal, drive about 3.4 miles into Box Canyon with the Mecca Hills badlands formations rising on both sides of you. Park off the side of the road. The trail is on the road’s north side.

Take one of the feint dirt paths to a wash that heads east on a roadside ridge’s north side. The canyon is the first and westernmost wash coming from the northeast.

Walking into it, you’ll immediately feel like you’ve left the civilized world for the Land of the Lost, as the trail serpentines between gradually narrowing canyon walls.

You’d half expect to see a small dino lurking around the bend. While dinos went extinct about 66 million years ago, the descendants of reptiles that gave rise to them are still around. Because of their similarities, dinosaurs have long been thought to be reptiles, but there are significant differences. Among them is reptiles’ thigh bones are parallel to the ground while dinos, like mammals, have thigh bones that are roughly perpendicular. Dinos split from reptiles on the family tree of life about 260 million years ago.

Lizards, Birds Abound in Mecca Hills Canyon

The colorful Great Basin collared lizard resides in the Mecca Hills’ many washes.

Among the common reptiles in the canyon today is the Great Basin collared lizard. Running between 2.5 to 4.5 inches in length, it’s easily spotted by a pair of black bands on its neck. Common across the Southwest, the collared lizard mainly eats insects and spiders, but its strong jaws allow it to much on other lizards, snakes and even rodents.

At 0.52 miles, the canyon splits. Go left/northwest. Shortly after, at 0.65 miles, you’ll reach the first of two washes coming in from the right. Take the second of them north.

Another reptile in the canyon is the western long-tailed brush lizard. Its gray or tan color makes them difficult to spot, but they’re usually spotted near the canyon’s few shrubs. They often cling to branches where they wait to snack on insects flitting by. One way to know that you’re looking at a brush lizard rather than another species is that its tail is more than twice the body length.

Along this stretch of the hike, the trail heads around a small hill. About 0.88 miles in, the trail splits again. Go left/north.

Lizards, Birds Abound in Mecca Hills Canyon

The zebra-tailed lizard flashes its striped tail when running away.

Should you scare up a lizard during the hike, you may be lucky enough to see it flash a black and white banded tail as running away. This is the zebra-tailed lizard, which ranges from 2.5 to 4 inches. Colored gray to sandy brown, a pair of dark gray spots run down the back, gradually merging to form black crossbands along the tail. They dine on ants, bees, moths and spiders and smaller lizards. During spring, you might catch them dining on leaf buds and flowers.

At 1.75 miles, the canyon climbs to the ridge. Awesome views await. The blue Salton Sea spreads southward beyond the hills while the Santa Rosa Mountains rise to the west.

The vista is also a great spot to see birds, descendants of dinosaurs. About 150 million years ago, birds began to evolve from the type of dino known as theropods. The T. rex is a theropod, though birds split from a much smaller species rather than any of the large ones.

Flying over the farm fields between the Mecca Hills and the Salton Sea will be the red-tailed hawk. It prefers open country, where it can more easily spot prey, over the badland canyons. If you see one dive slowly, its legs outstretched, it’s in attack mode. They are dark brown with light barring on their wing feathers and brilliant red tail feathers. They are vital to population control of rodents, which can make up to 85 percent of their diet. They also enjoy a good snake and lizard now and then.

After taking in the views, walk a few yards to the north, looking for a saddle on the left. Descend it into the canyon on your left. Take it south.

Lizards, Birds Abound in Mecca Hills Canyon

Rock wrens use their downcurved bill to probe for and snatch bugs to eat.

This canyon has an entirely different feel – thanks its color and width – then the one you were in, even though they are only a few yards apart.

A dino descendant you may spot on the walk back is the rock wren. Between 5-6 inches long, their topside is gray to brown upperparts with small black and white spots. A light gray line runs over each eye. They sport a long slightly downward curved thin bill, which they use to extract insects and spiders while hunting on the ground.

At 3.25 miles, the trail reaches the three-way junction where you took the middle option. Continue right/south onto the stem portion of the trail that you walked in on from the road.

Be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and a sunhat as well as bring plenty of water on this trail. Dogs are allowed.

Never hike the trail if rain is forecast or if rain has fallen within the past couple of days.