DAY THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN
Cactus Spring is an important source of water in the Santa Rosa Mountains. It was used by the Cahuilla Indians as an essential watering hole and is today used by hikers traveling in the Santa Rosa Mountains. It is such a major source that the only maintained trail in the Santa Rosa Wilderness is known as the Cactus Spring Trail.
Given how important of a water source the spring is, it is often a surprise to some visiting for the first time that it is little more than a shallow mud hole. Without proper filtration you wouldn't consider drinking from it even if your life depended on it. OK, you might if you were dying of thirst but only then.
The Cactus Spring Trail is a popular destination for desert hikers. It offers challenging mountains to climb, cultural resources, solitude and water. That last thing is what makes this trail unique among most desert hikes. I'd have liked to hike to Aqua Alta but time was limited by a parent conference. I'd have less than three hours to get there and back.
Despite the perfect weather today there are some hazards that I'm acutely aware of. I've slipped on this trail before and gashed my knee and this is perfect rattler weather.
A little over a mile from the start I come upon flowing water. This is a good sign. This little drainage is usually dry this time of year.
As I get to Horse Thief Creek the beautiful fall colors of the Cottonwoods greet me.
There is also plenty of water in Horse Thief. It is not only in stagnant pools either but is gently flowing.
Along the trail, you travel through Little Pinyon Flat, an area that was important to the Cahuilla Indians and that was often used as a gathering place for family gathering. In the past, I have found pottery sherds and other Indian remnants in the area.
If I were able to continue on trail I'd be able to climb Martinez Mountain. This is an excellent climb that I've done several times. Also in the area is Sheep Mountain, another excellent climb.
This is where you'll find Cactus Spring. There is no sign although there are abundant footprints, both human and animal, going into the spring.
This is it. When I said it was a mud hole I meant it.
I didn't have time to look around for an Indian artifacts although I found this Valentine.
The Cactus Spring Trail is like the route our parents used to have to walk to school: uphill both ways. This trail is like a roller coaster going up and down over its entire length. It can get very tiresome especially since I'm on a very tight schedule and have to run some sections in order to make it back in time.
Just beyond Horse Thief Creek I see this fresh blood on a rock. While it may be from an animal--my thought is a bird of prey had its lunch in a tree above this spot--it serves as a potent warning. Never sacrifice safety for speed.
The next time I come up this trail I hope I have a whole day or more to explore. There's so much to see in the area to discover it seems a shame to only come for a few hours. Although since I only had a few hours to spend somewhere I'm glad I spent it here.