Big Morongo Canyon Trail: Mar 2019

Updated: Feb 27

Hike distance: 10.8 miles


The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve created in 1982 by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a 31,000 acre wildlife preserve, desert oasis, and cottonwood and willow habitat located in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley. The Preserve is recognized as an important wildlife corridor that links San Gorgonio Wilderness with the San Bernardino National Forest and Joshua Tree National Park. This corridor allows wildlife, including mule deer, big horn sheep, and mountain lions, to move freely within this area in search of food and water.

Hiking Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

The Morongo fault running through the canyon causes water draining from the surrounding mountains to form Big Morongo Creek and the marsh habitat. The high water table in the canyon made the growth of tall trees and lush vegetation possible.

Big Morongo Creek supports marsh habitat in some areas of the trail

After passing through the oasis, we followed the trail into a canyon wash.

Hiking Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

Erosion from heavy fall and winter rains was evident in certain sections.

Heavy soil erosion caused by recent rains in some sections of the Big Morongo Canyon Trail

The rains also created an abundant variety of wildflowers and flowering bushes.

orange desert globe mallow

Orange desert globe mallow plants along the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

desert blue bells

Desert blue bell wildflowers along the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

desert dandelions

Desert dandelions along the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

bladder pods with their bright yellow flowers

Bladder pods and their bright yellow flowers along the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

All these blossoms attracted butterflies which were everywhere.

Butterflies drawn by flowering plants along the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

Unfortunately, large stands of Sahara Mustard plants were visible along the trail. This weed is native to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. It became notorious during the 20th century after it invaded the deserts of the United States and Mexico. Recently it has become an abundant weed of low deserts including the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, plus the desert valleys such as the Coachella Valley.

Sahara Mustard invasive plants growing along the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

The plant disperses easily at the first hint of rain. When the seed coats are moistened they form a gel and become very sticky and readily adhere to people, animals, and objects. Thick stands of the plant can crowd out native flora. Well-adapted to desert life, it monopolizes any moisture in the soil before other plants can get it and forms seeds before other species do. It produces seed as early in the year as January. I tried my best to pull some of the plants hopefully before they produced seeds.

Sahara Mustard invasive plants growing along the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

The trail ended after 5.4 miles at a locked gate that led to Desert Hot Springs. In the satellite image below, you can see the neighborhoods located at the outskirts of Desert Hot Springs.

For lunchtime, we climbed a ridge that provided views of the wash we had hiked for the last several miles.

Lunch time spot along the ridge of the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

A side blotched lizard joined us for lunch.

Side blotched lizard along the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

We hiked back to the wash and began our return trip to the preserve entrance.

Hiking in the wash of the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

More green vegetation was seen as we approached the stream, oasis and the end of the hike.

Hiking in the wash of the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains in Morongo Valley

We did not observe much wildlife during the hike, However, after reviewing the animal track educational panel we identified several of the animal tracks that we saw in the wash sands.

Wildlife tracks poster at the Big Morongo Canyon trailhead

I couldn't resist taking a picture of this sign. Seeing a 'mountain lion warning sign' was a first for us.

Warning not to leave children unattended due to mountain lion sightings on the Big Morongo Canyon Trail in the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

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