Hike Murray Hill: Feb 2020

Updated: Jan 19

Hike distance: 7.34 miles

Elevation gain: 2,207 feet

Prominence: 590 feet (click here for a discussion about prominence)

There are multiple paths to Murray Hill but we chose to approach the hill from the west by starting at the Frank Bogert Trailhead.

Frank Bogert Trailhead sign in Palm Springs

We weren't sure what to expect but the views of Palm Springs at the base of the Sant Jacinto Mountains were a good sign of things to come. These homes have incredible views but they were built so close the wash. I wonder if they get flooded during thunderstorms?

Palm Springs at the base of San Jacinto Mountains from Frank Bogert trailhead sign

The trail started off as a fire road, curving through the hills above the hillside neighborhood.

Hiking to Murray Hill in the foothills of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains

After a short climb, we reached a saddle that offered a brief respite before the next hill. The elevation gain chart I posted shows there's very little flat terrain on this hike; it's mostly uphill.

Hiking to Murray Hill in the foothills of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains

The hills surrounding the trail provided incredible examples of the power of erosion with deep washes, gullies, and ravines.

Foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains in Palm Springs

Picturesque views looking toward the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and lands of the Aqua Caliente Reservation.

Palm Springs at the base of San Jacinto Mountains from Murray Hill trail

Throughout many of the winter 2020 hikes, I want to highlight the incredible and beautiful plant life that survives in this hostile desert environment. It's best expressed in this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 'What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well'.


These Gander cholla cactus were plentiful along certain stretches of the trail. They prefer to grow on well drained sandy and gravel desert soils at elevations ranging from 500-4,000 feet. Yellow-green flowers emerge at the tip of the stems during May and June.

Gander cholla cactus along trail to Murray Hill
Gander cholla cactus along trail to Murray Hill
Gander cholla cactus along trail to Murray Hill

The teddy bear chollas were more scarce. They are more erect than other chollas and can grow 1-5 feet tall. The branches or lobes are at the top of the trunk and are nearly horizontal. Lower branches typically fall off, and the trunk darkens with age.

Teddy bear cholla along trail to Murray Hill

Stems from these cactus detach easily and the ground around a mature plant is often littered with scattered cholla balls and small plants starting where these balls have rooted. More often these balls attach to passing people and animals and when they finally fall off, the spines contact the ground and begin rooting.

We approached the start of our next hill climb.

Hiking to Murray Hill in the foothills of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains

Another 1/2 mile would bring us to the top of this bump with an elevation gain of over 400 ft.

Hiking to Murray Hill in the foothills of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains

The trail was lined with encelia, also known as brittlebush, a bushy, sprawling shrub reaching between 20-60" in height. Each plant has many thin branches covered in diamond-shaped green leaves. Later this winter and spring, we'll see these plants bloom with daisy-like bright yellow flowers.

Encelia bush along trail leading to Murray Hill

We also spotted random gold poppy flowers. These bright yellow annual desert flowers are native in several North American desert regions

Flowering gold poppy wildflower along trail leading to Murray Hill

Creosote bushes are a prominent species in the desert of western North America. This evergreen shrub can grow 3-10' tall in well-drained soils of alluvial fans and flats. The root systems of mature creosote plants are so efficient at absorbing water that fallen seeds from nearby plants cannot accumulate enough water to germinate, effectively creating dead zones around every bush. Native Americans in the Southwest held beliefs that it treated many maladies, including sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, chicken pox, dysmenorrhea, and snakebite.

Creosote bush along trail leading to Murray Hill

Dave on the last section of switchbacks getting closer to the top of the hill.

Hiking to Murray Hill in the foothills of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains

I stayed back for a nice photo op of Dave on the hill. Yes, he did wait for me.

Hiking ridgeline of trail in Santa Rosa Mountains to Murray Hill

From the top we had sweeping views of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains. I'm sure I'll never get over this scenery.

Santa Rosa Mountains from trail leading to Murray Hill

The trail briefly drops from the bump and follows the ridge southeast. Murray Hill is easily identified now. It rises like a pyramid above the surrounding hills. The trail followed the ridge line starting at the base of the hill to the far right.

Hiking ridgeline of trail in Santa Rosa Mountains to Murray Hill

The trail rising on the ridge became more evident as we approached the hill.

Climbing foothills in Santa Rosa Mountains to Murray Hill

After hiking 2.8 miles to the base of this hill, we reached a junction with the Clara Burgess Trail that we would follow to the peak of Murray Hill. Warnings about the prohibition of dogs on the trail were clearly visible. Let's hope everyone cooperates with this important effort to protect the bighorn sheep.


The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Conservation Area is 'essential' habitat for the continued survival of Peninsula bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep evolved in the presence of canine predators (coyotes). Therefore, bighorn sheep have a natural fear of canines. The presence of dogs, which are also canines, may result in one of the following:

  • bighorn sheep may abandon essential habitat frequented by dogs, or

  • bighorn sheep, upon “learning” that dogs on trails do not attack them, may habituate to (or tolerate) the presence of dogs, thereby increasing their vulnerability to predation by coyotes.

California barrel cactus were abundant on the ridge.

Barrel cactus line trail leading to Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

These are by far the most widespread of the giant barrel cacti in the western desert regions. They can grow up to 8 feet tall and their spines/needles can be up to 5" in length. In late spring the barrel cactus produce a yellow, sometimes greenish flower near the apex of the plant.

Barrel cactus line trail leading to Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

Young plants are spherical and tend to have deep red spines. They favor rocky locations, especially the sides of canyons and can be found in elevations up to 4,500'.

Barrel cactus line trail leading to Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

But plant life was not restricted to cactus. We also saw yellow fiddlenecks. The name is derived from the flower stems which bear many small flowers that curl over at the top in a manner reminiscent of the head of a fiddle. The seeds and foliage of fiddlenecks are poisonous to livestock, particularly cattle, because they contain alkaloids and high concentrations of nitrates. The sharp hairs of the plants also cause skin irritation in humans.

Flowering yellow fiddlenecks line trail leading to Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

Here's the view that explains why it's named 'yellow fiddleneck'.

Flowering yellow fiddlenecks line trail leading to Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

We spotted a small clump of blue phacelia, a type of scorpion weed. I'll talk more about these later in the winter and spring when they are in full bloom and more plentiful.

Flowering clump of blue phacelia line trail leading to Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

Even though it was early in the season for flowering plants, large green plants along the trailside provided evidence of fall and winter rains. Schott's pygmy cedar is not a cedar, fir, or pine tree, but a member of the aster family. The leaves of this evergreen shrub really do resemble fir tree needles.

Schott's pygmy cedar on trail leading to Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

Ephedra plants are branching shrubs found in desert or arid regions throughout the world. The 1-4' shrubs typically grow on dry, rocky sandy slopes. Their many slender, blue-gray to green branches have two very small leaf scales at each node. However, the leaves are so tiny that they are incapable of supporting the plants through photosynthesis which, therefore, takes place in the green stem itself. Ephedra has traditionally been used by indigenous people for a variety of medicinal purposes, including treatment of asthma, hay fever and the common cold. Stem fragments of species in the southwestern United States and Mexico are used in a tea like preparation known as Mormon tea, Mexican tea, squaw tea, and desert tea.

Ephedra plants on trail leading to Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

After slightly more than 3.5 miles, we began the final push to the top.

At the base of Murray Hill in Santa Rosa Mountains

This is like a 'Where's Waldo/Dave' puzzle. Fortunately, Dave wore a white jersey today so he'd stand out on the brown background.

Climbing Murray Hill

I wasn't slow on this last climb, I just wanted to get a picture of Dave standing on the summit.

Celebrating at top of Murray Hill in the Santa Rosa Mountains

He patiently waited for a 'close-up'.

Celebrating at top of Murray Hill in the Santa Rosa Mountains

Overlooking Palm Springs. It may be surprising that one of the best views of a city that sits beneath a mountain range that towers nearly 11,000 feet, can be found from a summit with a seemingly unimpressive height of 2,207 feet.

Palm Springs from the summit of Murray Hill in the Santa Rosa Mountains
San Jacinto Mountains from the summit of Murray Hill in the Santa Rosa Mountains

There were 2 picnic tables available at the landing right below the rocky summit. In this picture there appears to be a road running through the middle of the desert and Santa Rosa Mountains. In fact it's Dunn Road. In the early 1970s, desert entrepreneur Michael Dunn of Rancho Mirage bulldozed a dirt road with the hope that it would lead to a mountainside hotel. The hotel never materialized and the dirt road remained Dunn Road, which he often had to restore after canyon floods. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management did not agree that Dunn had the right to build this road. The Bureau locked off that part of the road which touches public land, thereby rendering the road unusable and with it Dunn's dreams.

Picnic tables at the top of Murray Hill in the Santa Rosa Mountains

A common side-blotched lizard joined us for lunch. This lizard is a species of small iguanid lizard native to dry regions of the western United States and northern Mexico. Males can grow up to 2.4" from snout to vent, while females are typically a little smaller. The degree of pigmentation varies with sex and population. Some males, like this one, have blue flecks spread over their backs and tails, and their sides may be yellow or orange, while others may not be patterned at all.


In the case of the common side-blotched lizard, males have adopted three different mating strategies that correlate with the color of their throat. Blue, yellow, and orange male side-blotched lizards compete with one another in a rock-paper-scissors dynamic. The orange-throated males are the largest and produce the most testosterone. This makes them aggressive fighters that bully blue-throated lizards away from females. Yellow-throated males, however, produce little testosterone and are smaller. They mimic females, allowing them to sneak in and whisk females away from orange males. The medium-sized blue-throated males are neither aggressive nor sneaky. Blue males work together and form strong pair-bonds with a female, making it hard for yellow-throated males to sneak in and break them apart.


In summary, orange beats blue, blue beats yellow, and yellow beats orange. Each strategy has its own strengths and weaknesses, allowing all three color morphs to exist together in nature. If one morphology somehow loses its advantage over another, evolution will remove that morph from the population. Will the aggressive orange-throated males one day win out over the sneaky yellow-throats? Will the sneaky yellows succeed in breaking apart the cooperative blue-throats? Will the three mating strategies exist in harmony forever? Only time may tell.


It's hard to be 100% sure but zooming in on the lizard, I think this is an orange throated male. It looks like it had an incident that involved losing a portion of his tail.

Side-blotched lizard on rock at the top of Murray Hill in the Santa Rosa Mountains

The views looking across Cathedral City with Palm Desert in the background.

Cathedral City from the summit of Murray Hill in the Santa Rosa Mountains

There is something special about the formation and folds of the hills at the edge of Cathedral City and at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Folds in the hills at the edge of Cathedral City and at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains

It was a great afternoon getting to the top but it was time to head home.

Hiking ridgeline of trail in Santa Rosa Mountains to Murray Hill
Hiking ridgeline of trail in Santa Rosa Mountains to Murray Hill

From this distance it seems the name 'Murray Hill' doesn't adequately reflect the name of this prominent peak. Maybe we should rename it 'Murray Mountain', it's more fitting than Murray Hill.

Peak of Murray Hill from the trail back to Palm Springs

One last look at the San Jacinto Mountains with the snow covered peak of San Gorgonio in the background. Once we reached the last bump to our right it was all down hill to the car. A perfect afternoon for a great hike.

San Jacinto Mountains with the snow covered peak of San Gorgonio from Murray Hill trail

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