The Orocopia Mountains are a seldom visited range south of Joshua Tree NP in the Colorado Desert in California. A subset of the larger Sonoran Desert, the Colorado Desert is a bit of a blend between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, more lush than the Mojave and more forgiving than the Sonoran. With outstanding hiking to be had in Joshua Tree directly across I-10, the Orocopia Mountains only see a handful of hikers each year. While the isolation alone made Orocopia Mountain a worthy objective, it also features over 2,000′ of clean prominence and unmatched views of the Salton Sea, over 4000′ directly below. Requiring only a short detour off I-10, we decided to hike it on Thanksgiving Day while passing by on the way to Palm Springs. I followed the detailed and accurate directions from summitpost down a series of various gravel roads to the starting point. The road, although loose, was in reasonable shape until the final junction, where a sandy, steep stretch beat my Subaru and I parked the car to walk the extra half mile.
It wasn’t long before we hit the wilderness boundary, the official starting point, and continued to follow the old road. The road dipped in and out of a small drainage, but for the most part kept to a large, main wash just to our right. We followed this for roughly another half mile until both the road and the wash turned to the east. It was here that the road left the edge of the wash and was our cue to drop in. Once in the wash, the hike got much more interesting, weaving around boulders and climbing up short but easy dry falls.
I had read several trip reports beforehand, and it seemed that there were numerous options for when to leave the wash. In reality, you could probably climb Orocopia from almost any direction. After passing a series of shallow caves near the bottom of the wash, a secondary canyon came in from the southwest with a steep ridge separating the two drainages. We found a spot to leave the wash a bit farther up and started up the steep ridge towards the summit. This was easily the steepest part of the day, as we quickly climbed several hundred feet above the wash, giving us our first look at the summit since the drive in.
Holly was just ahead of me, and as she crested the ridge she startled a single Desert Big Horn, which took off down slope before I could snatch a picture. Once higher on the ridgeline, we found an easy to follow use trail that would bring us the rest of the way to the summit. Unfortunately, the higher ridgelines did not all radiate from the highest point, and we were forced to descend 200′ and over to a second ridgeline that had a more direct line to the top.
With the elevation loss behind us, it was fairly straight forward to cover the remaining distance to the summit. Cresting over the top, we were stunned by the incredible views of the Salton Sea, with the Santa Rosa Mountains serving as an impressive backdrop. I explored the broad summit for a bit, featuring a fairly large summit cairn, and some debris from what I assume may have been an old tower.
After about 15 minutes, our hunger and visions of Thanksgiving turkey began to take hold, and we descended towards the car. Knowing the route better on the return made things much quicker, as there was no guessing on which wash was correct or where to enter and exit.
We made it back to the car in about 3:30 total time and headed down the sandy roads towards Palm Springs for an early Thanksgiving meal at one of the diners in town before checking into our hotel for the weekend.