Monday, January 9, 2012

BIG MORONGO CANYON PRESERVE (Morongo Valley, San Bernardino County, CA)

Big Morongo Canyon is a 31,000 acre desert preserve at the western end of the Little San Bernardino Mountains in San Bernardino County. Encompassing a transition zone between the Mojave and Colorado deserts, this area is known for its amazing diversity of flora and fauna. This unique desert environ also includes a desert oasis, marshland, and one of the largest riparian (willow & cottonwood) habitats in California. No wonder it's been pegged as a Watchable Wildlife site and also an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the National Audubon Society. We've been to the preserve twice before, with the last time being almost a decade ago, and I still have very fond and fun memories of those visits. There are 6 well-marked trails, with a board walk traversing the marsh trail through a riparian area. The flowing water and lush vegetation are a cool respite from the stark desert surroundings and summer heat. 

The highlight of our last trip with my sister Elaine was a mountain lion warning at the preserve entrance. Indeed, we saw what appeared to be muddy mountain lion tracks on the boardwalk entering the Marsh Trail and, sure enough, about 100 yards ahead, I was shocked and amazed to actually see one - a young, but good-sized male (gender later confirmed by the preserve host). My first mountain kitty sighting!! Kitty (and I say that facetiously) and I locked eyes momentarily before I began to gesticulate wildly in mute disbelief to Gil & Elaine, but he disappeared into the vegetation in a nanosecond before they could catch a glimpse of him. To this day, Gil and EE are not sure if I was making it up or hallucinating. I don't have a vivid imagination and, as far as I know, am not prone to hallucinations, so I'm pretty sure I saw what I saw.

As a postscript, the Morongo Valley/Paradise Fire on June 22, 2005 destroyed over 3,000 acres of vegetation, most of it on the preserve. Many of the trails were damaged, along with signs, benches, 1000 feet of the wooden boardwalk and, very sadly, the historic barn. We were lucky enough to visit the historic barn back in 1997 and have a few photos of it, which I've posted below. By now, I'm sure that most of the damaged areas have been restored and the trails reopened to the public. So, by all means, and especially if you're a birder and/or just love the desert, do stop by for a leisurely hike through this amazing preserve. It's only about 15 miles north of Palm Springs and an easy detour off of Hwy. 62 en route to the north entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.

7/27/97 Trailhead.


7/27/97 Gil on the Barn Trail.

7/27/97 Historic barn, which was sadly destroyed in the 6/22/05  Morongo Valley/Paradise Fire. Glad we got to see it before it burned down.

7/27/97 Historic barn.

7/27/97 Historic barn.

7/27/97 Trying not to get too close to the thorny Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa torreyana). Mesquite Trail.

7/27/97 Historic barn.

7/27/97 Willow Trail.

7/27/97 Gil in a thicket of Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa torreyana). Mesquite Trail

7/27/97 Yucca Ridge Trail.

7/27/97 Yucca Ridge Trail.
7/27/97 Yucca Ridge Trail.

7/27/97 Yucca Ridge Trail.

7/27/97 Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica). Marsh Trail.

7/27/97 Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). Desert Willow Trail.

3/3/02 Northern Red-Shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus). Willow Trail.

June 2000. Mountain lion tracks. They resemble bobcat tracks, but are more than twice the size. Marsh Trail.


Location: 15.5 miles from Banning, 1/2 mile SE of the town of Morongo Valley in the Little San Bernardino Mountains

Elevation: From 600 feet on the canyon floor to 3,420 feet at the top of the ridges. 

County/State: San Bernardino, CA

Management: Bureau of Land Management

Size: 31,000 acres

Closest Town: Morongo Valley

Directions: From I-10, take State Hwy. 62 (29 Palms Highway) north for 10.5 miles to Morongo Valley. Look for a sign for Covington Park. Turn east here on East Drive and drive 1 block (200 yards) to preserve sign on the left. Turn left into preserve. Parking lot is at the end of the lane. Trails start at the kiosk/information center.

Road Conditions: State Hwy. 62 is paved, 2-lane. Short, gravel road from East Drive to the preserve entrance.


Trails: There are 6 trails (about 11 miles total) that will take you into different habitats: Desert Willow Trail (0.8 mile, 25 min., easy), Barn Trail (0.1 mile, 5 min., easy), Yucca Ridge Trail (0.7 mile, 25 min., moderate), Mesquite Trail (0.5 mile, 15 min., easy), Marsh Trail (0.5 mile, 15 min., easy), Canyon Trail (5.5 miles, 2.5 hours, moderate). 

The Marsh Trail is wheelchair accessible and leads through marsh & stream habitat. 

Map of the trail system: No bikes, no pets, and no motorized vehicles. Ticks, rattlesnakes and mountain lions are always a possibility.

Amenities: Restrooms at the information kiosk (there's no visitor center), parking & picnic area. Bird feeders and hummingbird feeders, which attract many birdies, have been set out at the trailer near the parking lot by the preserve hosts. 

Fees: None

Hours: Open daily, year round, 7:30am to sunset. Best times to visit are fall, winter & spring. The preserve has a desert climate with hot, dry summers and moderate winters. Average annual rainfall is only about 8 inches. Day use only - camping not allowed.

Pets: Not allowed.

Flora & Fauna: Many resident, migrant & vagrant birds (254 species recorded). There are several rare or unusual species known to nest here, including Least Bell's Vireo, Brown-Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Lucy's Warbler, Summer Tanager, and Vermillion Flycatcher. Mammals include Desert Bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lion, gray fox, kit fox, raccoon, bobcat, coyote, and kangaroo rat. Reptiles & amphibians: gopher snake, California kingsnake, common whiptail lizard, chuckwalla lizard, coast horned lizard, side-blotched lizard, and Pacific tree frog. 

Contact Info: 11055 East Drive, Morongo Valley, CA 92256

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, POB 780, Morongo Valley, CA 92256
Tel: (760)363-7190   Email: 

No comments:

Post a Comment