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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Flooding fouls California's Mecca Hills Wilderness

When flash floods raced through California's Joshua Tree National Park in mid-September, roads were washed away, campers displaced, and media coverage was heavy. But a lesser-known fallout has affected boondocking enthusiasts who frequent an area miles away--and geographically downhill from Joshua Tree.

Little known to drivers who rush through the area along Interstate 10, not to far from them is a slow paced alternative called the Box Canyon Road. The road runs from Mecca, east and upgrade to the interstate at the national park's south gate. This is the area known as the Mecca Hills Wilderness. Filled with strange rock formations and slot canyons, cagey boondockers have found solace in the quiet so near the Palm Springs metropolitan area.

But when the floods that ravaged Joshua Tree left the park, they continued on their way, under the interstate, and ripping their way south and west into the Mecca Hills. Dispersed camping areas and sites that had been in use for years suddenly vanished under silt and mud, brought down from dramatically eroded washes and ravines. Huge sections of Box Canyon Road's pavement vanished.

Today, the landscape, while geographically the same, is far different than it was prior to the flooding. Boondockers will still find places to camp, but there are far fewer areas available to those not equipped with four-wheel drive. One of our favorite camping areas still remains, but getting from the restored pavement level to the spot was beyond our truck and trailer: Flooding washed away any access, leaving a two foot jump from pavement to desert floor.

With time, as four wheelers and other brave (or foolish) souls make their way back into the desert, rolling, flattening, and firming up the soil, larger tracts of boondocking suitable lands will become available. Meanwhile, a large flat spot can be had on the south side of the road near the east entrance of the canyon, and a couple others, likewise on the south as you travel west toward Mecca seem safe enough for travel with two-wheel drive.

R&T DeMaris photos

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