Hike Mecca Hills: Mar 2020

Updated: Jan 17

Hike distance: 6.3 miles


Established in 1994 by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management manages the 26,356 acre Mecca Hills Wilderness located only 35 miles from Palm Desert and just south of Joshua Tree National Park.


Mecca Hills were formed by the convergence of the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault. In fact, these hills are a rising block of sedimentary formations sandwiched between earthquake faults associated with the southern San Andreas Fault System that runs right through the hills.


In the picture below, notice how the rocks have been pushed up in the direction of the fault. Normally you think of rocks are being hard and brittle. However, with enough time and pressure, most rocks behave like taffy, twisting and bending in graceful arcs. Such deformations are most evident in the sedimentary rocks of Mecca. The once-horizontal layers of sediment deposited in lakes were subsequently solidified and then distorted by tectonic plate movement along the faults. The angels seen below are minor compared to those visible in other areas of the Mecca Hills.

Folded sedimentary rock layers from movement along San Andreas fault network in Mecca Hills

For today's hike we tried to follow written directions to Hidden Canyon since we didn't have many details we decided to just 'wing it' and follow one of the washes in this canyon. Look how green the plants are in the wash - evidence of fall and winter rains.

Mecca Hills sandwiched and uplifted by the San Andreas fault system
Mecca Hills canyon

In Mecca there are no bad washes to hike.

Mecca Hills topped with red Mecca Conglomerate layers uplifted by San Andreas fault activity

Portions of the canyon bear evidence of rock erosion which experts believe trace back as far as 600 million years ago.

Mecca Hills sandwiched and uplifted by the San Andreas fault system

After walking for a while we arrived at a split in the wash, we headed to the left. The hills in this section were a deep red color with an interbedded layer of white sandwiched near their tops.

Mecca Hills topped with red Mecca Conglomerate layers uplifted by San Andreas fault activity

Although I love reading about the geology of this region, I am far from 'knowledgeable on this subject'. I've tried to find an explanation for this layering but haven't been successful. Here's my amateur take.


This entire region is sandwiched between the San Andreas fault system and has experienced uplift and subsidence over hundreds of millions of years. The base red layer in these hills is part of the Mecca Conglomerate, a maroon colored, poorly sorted cobble to small boulder conglomerate. This layer was deposited as a result of uplifting, erosion and subsequent denudation from the higher elevations (e.g. Orocopia, Chocolate, and Little San Bernadino mountains).


During these tectonic events, sea levels fluctuated and the San Andreas Fault system developed along with the opening of the Gulf of California. As the sea water intruded new layers of sediment were deposited. Gypsum layers formed where ocean water high in calcium and sulfate slowly evaporate and was replenished by intermittent flooding. This gypsum and sandstone mixture was compressed into the white conglomerate. New layers of rock, sand and silt from higher elevations fanned out over the area providing the top layer of Mecca Conglomerate. Weathering and continued tectonic activity carved the deep canyons and deformed layered landscape we see today. Feel free to criticize and comment on this 'amateur' theory.

Mecca Hills topped with red Mecca Conglomerate layers uplifted by San Andreas fault activity

On closer examination some of these 'white' layers existed at much lower elevations

Mecca Conglomerate along trail in Mecca Hills

There was an abundance of plant life in the wash including these large blooming encelia, also known as brittlebush. This bushy, sprawling shrub has many thin branches covered in diamond-shaped green leaves. It can grow between 20-60 inches in height in dry gravel slopes or open sandy washes. During winter and spring brittlebush bloom with yellow daisy-like flowers.

Flowering brittlebush in Mecca Hills

During periods of drought, the brittlebush will loose all its leaves but retain water in its stems to survive until the winter rainy season.

Flowering brittlebush in Mecca Hills

Several clumps of these daisy-like wildflowers usually having blue to purple or white ray flowers with yellow centers of disc florets.

Flowering  daisy-like wildflowers in Mecca Hills

We continued following the left branch of the main wash.

Hiking through wash in the Mecca Hills

As we climbed higher the path became more rock and boulder laden.

Mecca Hills sandwiched and uplifted by the San Andreas fault system

These rocky slopes provide a perfect habitat for ocotillo plants. These desert plants are more closely related to tea and blueberries bushes than to cactuses. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks, although closer examination reveals that the stems are partly green. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small 1 inch egg-shaped leaves which may remain for weeks or even months.

Flowering ocotillo in Mecca Hills

The bright crimson flowers on this Ocotillo typically appear after rainfall in spring, summer, and occasionally fall. Studies suggest these plant which can grow over 20 feet tall can live up to 100 years.

Flowering ocotillo in Mecca Hills

The wash began to narrow.

Hiking through wash in the Mecca Hills

We reached the point where the rock and covered slopes no longer provided solid footing and decided to turn around and hike one of the other branches of the wash. We ended with a nice view of the Salton Sea.

Salton Sea from Mecca Hills trail

We back tracked a short distance to connect to the right branch off the main wash.

Mecca Hills sandwiched and uplifted by the San Andreas fault system
Mecca Hills sandwiched and uplifted by the San Andreas fault system

In the right branch off the main wash there were a number of flowering beavertail cactus. This low spreading cactus has flat gray-blue flat and fleshy pads that resemble beaver tails. A single plant may have hundreds of pads. They lack the long spines of other prickly pear cactus and are covered in tiny bristles with barbed tips.

Flowering beavertail cactus in the Mecca Hills

These cactus are not very impressive except when they bring to bloom. Sitting on the edges of the pads are brilliant rose-purple colored flowers typically 2-3 inches in diameter. They are an obvious target for hummingbirds and bees.

 Brilliant rose-purple colored flowers on beavertail cactus in Mecca Hills

Although the trail had much the same feel of the previous wash, it continued to provide amazing scenery.

Hiking through wash in the Mecca Hills

We stopped for a late lunch after hiking in the wash for quite a while.

Mecca Hills topped with red Mecca Conglomerate layers uplifted by San Andreas fault activity

The sunlight on the hills was perfect for picture taking as we walked back to the car.

Mecca Hills topped with red Mecca Conglomerate layers uplifted by San Andreas fault activity

Hiking in Mecca is so different from Whitewater Preserve. The lack of any significant vegetation other than plants in the Mecca Hills is such a contrast to the Preserve.

Hiking through wash in the Mecca Hills

On a side note, Box Canyon Rd the main access into the section of the Meccas Hills was closed a few weeks after this hike. created flashflood conditions and the road was washed out and covered in clay deposits.


Here's a satellite view of the hike from the MapMyRun app.


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