Morning marks the best time to hike the slot canyon or anywhere else in the Mecca Hills
Day hikers can explore a Mecca Hills slot canyon that’ll make them feel like a kid again.
The 3-miles round trip Big Split Rock Slot Canyon Trail heads past fascinating stone formations, through narrow passages, and up small rock chutes. The rocks appear in a range of colors – red, lilac, orange, coral, burnt sienna, and other desert hues.
Move over Disneyland’s “Alice in Wonderland” ride!
Morning marks the best time to hike the slot canyon or anywhere else in the Mecca Hills, for that matter. Not only will temperatures be cooler, but the rising sun brightens the rock walls in a slowly changing color show.
To reach the trailhead, take Calif. Hwy. 111 to Mecca. Turn left/northeast onto Fourth Street then at the roundabout go right/southeast onto Hammond Road. After a couple of blocks, go left/east onto 66th Avenue. As the street curves northeast, it naturally becomes Box Canyon Road. After crossing the canal, in a little more than a half-mile turn left/northwest onto the gravel Painted Canyon Road. That road can be sandy and sometimes is washed out; a four-wheel drive is recommended. Ultimately, the road winds into a canyons, ending at a sand parking lot.
From the lot, walk 0.25 miles south along the road. You’ll see the slot canyon on the left/east. Mesquite sits near the canyon opening.
Entering the canyon, it soon narrows. At times you’ll need to clamber over boulders, sometimes under them. A few low overhangs give you a sense of being in a cave.
You’ll be instantly fascinating by the trail’s geology. The Mecca Hills sit at the boundary of the North American and the Pacific tectonic plates and was lifted off the valley floor as the two plates slide against one another along the San Andreas Fault. Rain and to a lesser degree wind has cut canyons through the hills.
In about 0.7 miles, the canyon splits. This area is known as “The Big Split.” Go into the canyon on the left/north.
The open, wash canyon partially circles the base of a hill, which tops out at 1181 feet elevation. The canyon bottom here is around 500 feet elevation.
At 1.2 miles, the canyon narrows significantly. You may need to turn sideways to work your way through it.
The canyon’s varying colors offer a mini-lesson in the Mecca Hills’ geology.
If you see gray rocks that are extremely hard, they’re the Coachella Valley’s bedrock. This gneiss formed between 1.8 billion and 1.65 billion years ago, long before there was plant or animal life on Earth.
Mixed with the gneiss are layers of much younger rock. Among them are brown volcanic tuff – hardened ash – and sediments of Dos Palmas Rhyolite that settled here between 23 million to 5.3 million years ago.
Much of the Mecca Hills consists of reddish sandstone and conglomerate of the Mecca Formation. This formed about 5.3 million to 2.58 million years ago when flash flooding washed away sediment from higher land east of the Coachella Valley and deposited it on alluvial fans that already were here.
Usually above the red rock are the tan, buff and gray layers of sandstone of the Canebrake Formation. This was set down between 2.6 million years to 11,700 years ago when water flowing out of higher ground to the east deposited sediment here.
At 1.5 miles from the trailhead, broken rocks and boulders hang precariously above you. For safety reasons, you’ll want to turn back here.
If intrepid, you can continue on, though. The canyon eventually leads to its headwaters atop the Mecca Hills.
Never hike the canyon if rain is forecast or if it has fallen during the past 48 hours, due to the danger of flashfloods.
While California recently closed national forests to hiking and camping out of concern for wildfires, the Mecca Hills sits on Federal land run by the Bureau of Land Management and so is open. Most BLM land near Palm Springs, however, is in the desert, so always be aware of hot temperatures and carry plenty of water when hiking it.
- 05-Big-Split-Rock-Canyons-headwaters-sit-atop-the-Mecca-Hills.: Rob Bignell
- The trail is named for a big rock where the canyon splits.: Rob Bignell