If you are looking for a challenging yet serene hike without traveling far from the heart of Palm Desert, the Hop-a-Long Cassidy trail, at the south end is your best bet. It is a peaceful stretch with grueling switchbacks and daunting ledges which lies between the Art Smith trail and the infamous Cross trail (near Stone Eagle Golf course). This trail is, by no means, for the faint of heart and it absolutely warrants you bringing plenty of water especially on warmer days. Far too many rescues have taken place on ill-prepared travelers of this trail. Every time I hike this, I shake my head in disbelief to recall the few times I traversed this beast on my mountain bike. i’ll equate it to either being horribly foolish or dangerously self-confident! This is one I never have to ride again.
My most recent solo hike (not recommended, by the way) had me questioning my own sanity. After traveling up and over the first few sets of switchbacks and along the steep, narrow ledges, I began dropping into the canyon paving the way to the final set of killer switchbacks. I spotted a herd of bighorn sheep ahead and I stopped to watch them for a few minutes. They had positioned themselves across the trail I needed to travel. I began to consider turning back and returning via the Art Smith trail where I had begun. i waited a bit longer and decided making noise may scare them off and send them scattering. Nope. My noise only made them curious. They were now staring up at me. I picked up some large rocks and launched them, sending them skipping down the mountain, close enough to hopefully scare them but far enough not to threaten their safety. No luck. They continued to stare.
I scratched my head. It was a fairly warm day and I knew turning back would be just as grueling as traversing the switchbacks and heading out. I made several more attempts to scare the sheep off of the trail but they weren’t having any part of it. So I did what any rational hiker would do and began moving toward the herd. Now mind you, if they were to charge, I would have no where to go and there’s not a chance ANYBODY would be able to hear my screams for help. I was too deep into this. As I got to the turn in the trail, I made an about-face and turned back toward my starting point. This was going to have to wait for another time. Just then I heard a rumbling. Something had spooked the sheep and they scattered from the trail. I watched with a steady eye as they made there way up the steep canyon wall and then I made my move and began jogging down the trail and across he stretch they had previously occupied. I didn’t stop running until I reached the sandy wash and knew I was a good distance from the sheep.
And, by the way, YES! I am afraid of bighorn sheep as I have been chased by a ram on more than one occassion. . . .and I have witnesses. But that’s a story for another time.
For more information on the Hop-a-long trail and for safe hiking tips in the desert, click for the links. Be safe and be smart!