Valley of the Moon - Imperial County

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Valley of the Moon trailhead

48549 Old Hwy 80 · Jacumba Hot Springs, CA

How to find us

Meet at the Valley of the Moon Trailhead off Interstate 8 heading toward El Centro. Exit In-Ko-Pah Park Rd and head to the Trailhead on the East side of the freeway (look for the high tension power lines). Park near the kiosk in the large turnout.

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DIFFICULTY: Easy to Moderate (Rocky Terrain) <2 miles
PLANT KNOWLEDGE: Beginner to Expert. Professionals always welcome!
ACCESS: Free to All, No charge. 4x4 required unless carpooling.

Just over the border into SW Imperial County, a small pocket of the California Floristic Province jumps over into the Jacumba Wilderness Area. This heavily rocky area is strewn with granitic boulders and sheer cliffs of stacked rocks, making it a great and relatively discrete location for rock climbing, bouldering, camping, and hiking. Valley of the Moon is also known for its sometimes sordid past (and present) with caves in the rocks called Smugglers Den. We'll be headed out to look for a variety of rare and common native plant species. With the great rains this winter, I expect we'll be in for quite a treat. If you're not excited by that, at least there's the Desert Tower nearby!

This is a primary location to find the somewhat rare [4.3], but always striking, Wolf cholla (Cylindropuntia wolfii) and rarer [2B.3] Slenderleaf Isomopsis (Isomopsis tenuifolia), both just starting to bloom in March. There will hundreds of native plant species within this desert transition zone, some of which only are found around here unless you want to head down into Baja California. The main veg communities are desert scrub, grasslands, and juniper - pinyon woodland. Expect to see blooming Fremont's pincushion (Chaenactis fremontii), Whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora), Desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata), Wild canterbury bells (Phacelia minor), chia sage (Salvia columbariae), and a host of tiny little blooming plants like Cryptanthas, goldfields (Lasthenia sps), lupines, gilias, comb burs (Pectocarya sps), and pholistomas. That's just a few of the annuals. The perennials and shrubs in bloom include dozens of more species in this area.

Valley of the Moon can be difficult to access, so many people park at the trailhead and hike in. If we can get enough 4x4 vehicles (such as my truck), we'll be able to get all the way back into the valley. Expect some danger such as rattlesnakes and biting insects, but the main things to avoid are falling off rocks, messing with any of the stashed caches (see below), and dehydration. Come prepared for sun and maybe even a little heat. This meandering hike will last until the early afternoon at least so bring a lunch as well. There are no services away from the highway. We will run across Border Patrol agents doing their thing. We may come across migrants (though unlikely) and (more likely) stashes of water, food and provisions for their journey northwards. We also may come across military patrols doing... whatever they do, I guess. Please do not engage with any of the above except for a polite hello or short conversation.

I recommend reading a bit about the area before going and that includes this very recent blog post by Fred Roberts, our CNPS-San Diego / Imperial County Rare Plant Guy:

There will be at least one vehicle (Black Toyota Tundra 4x4) that can fit an additional two or three people (seating preference always given to mass transit riders) available from 7:30 to 7:45 AM at the Fashion Valley Transit Station parking lot (near Fashion Valley Rd). Parking in the transit area lot is free for 24 hrs and has an occasional security guard on circuit, but keep in mind there are the same risks to parking there as any public street. If the seats fill up, be prepared to drive. Roundtrip from Mission Valley is about 150 miles. Donations for gas are not necessary but are appreciated ($10 suggested).

If anyone going has access to 4x4 vehicle, please let me know and we'll figure out an amenable course of action to improve the carpool situation. Thank you!