Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whitewater Canyon

Hills green from spring-like weather line Whitewater Canyon.

Rocks and sand indicate the force of the water from the mountains.

It's easy to spot wildlife tracks in the soft sand by the river.

One of the few good things left about living in Southern California is the frequent occurance of warm temperatures in winter.

On a picture-perfect Saturday with sunny, cloudless skies and a nice breeze, we hiked Whitewater Canyon northwest of Palm Springs. The canyon is part of the 2,826 acre Whitewater Preserve maintained by the Wildlands Conservancy. The preserve is surrounded by the San Gorgonio Wilderness maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.

The spring-like weather over the past couple of weeks has given the rocky hills a beautiful growth of green. But the highlight of the preserve is the Whitewater River that runs year-round. The Pacific Crest Trail parallels and crosses the river about 4 miles from the Whitewater Ranger Station.

The Conservancy purchased the land after it was donated to the BLM, which included the old Whitewater Trout Farm. The Conservancy kept and restored the ponds, and removed dilapidated structures in a larger effort to return the land to a more pristine and natural condition. The area around the ranger station and the ponds has a large, grassy picnic area with plenty of native shade trees and a stream running through it.

The canyon is an important wildlife corridor between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains, and is home to bighorn sheep, bears and mountain lions. We spotted the tracks of several animals, all drawn to the cold mountain water in the river.

Since the preserve's trail is a part of the Pacific Crest Trail, you're free to hike as far as you can go. The preserve portion of the trail is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and off-hours hiking is permitted with reservations.

The preserve also offers regular activities such as bird walks, programs for kids and volunteer conservation work.