Painted Canyon: That Time We Almost Called Search and Rescue

Somewhere in me thought it would a great idea to do a 3-4 ‘difficult’ hike a couple of days after Thanksgiving.

It isn’t often that I go hiking. Honestly, I didn’t think hiking would be such a fun activity. All you would do is walk.. where’s the fun in that? It wasn’t until I was up in Yosemite with a friend that I began hiking on a daily basis, as we had to walk half an hour to this particular stream near the cabin. The fresh air, the dirt and rocks under the soles of my shoes, the chance of meeting a wildlife – yes, I had been converted. I even thought I was ready for the ultimate hike in Yosemite – a seven hour hike up to the half-dome, and a seven hour hike down (what was I thinking?!) that was quickly rejected when we were informed that a permit was required to do such a strenuous hike. Phew!

But going back to this hike..

I had been wanting to revisit Indio again for quite some time now, and since the weather wouldn’t be in such a blazing heat now that it’s “wintertime” here in Southern California, now seemed to be the perfect opportunity. A quick search on Google told me that this particular canyon – Painted Canyon – was a great location to do some hiking, and not only that, the canyon comes with ladders! How friggin fun does that sound?! Since hiking isn’t as fun by yourself as it is with other people, I asked my couch-potato brother if he wanted to join me and he eagerly said yes. Boy, did he regret it!

We spent thanksgiving in San Diego and drove 2.5 hours past various landscapes and beautiful windmill farms to Indio’s Painted Canyon. I read that some hikers experienced car break-in’s so Ben and I took extra precautions and ended up lugging our laptops with us (thankfully I have an ultrabook).

As soon as I stepped into the confines of the canyon, I was engulfed by the massiveness of it all. Now, I’ve never been to any canyons so this was all new to me, and I instantly became in love with the rocks, its textures and just the sheer massiveness of it all.

With my Victoria’s Secrets PINK leggings on and my purple backpack that I’ve had since high school, I was ready to walk off all the food I had consumed from Thanksgiving.

While we were walking between the canyon walls, the trail was of course very easy to spot. As we trekked along the soft sand, people would even leave trail markers in the form of zen rocks! Ben and I would then play a game of ‘Spot the Zen Rocks’ and yell out “AHA! ZEN ROCKS!” whenever we found them. There were hardly anyone on the trail; I should emphasize this. When I say that the zen rocks helped us, I mean it. Seriously, as hiking noobs, we were forever grateful for all those that left these zen rocks out!

Further along, we spot our first ladder!

As we progressed through the hike, it seemed evident that the trail had an eventual incline. We kept going up, using ladders or just free-climbing rocks (the height wasn’t high or anything, don’t worry hah. I did feel very badass though!). I have never heard of ladders being provided in canyons so I think this is so cool! (seriously though, for all you hikers out there, is this a common thing?) Some ladders were easy and safe, others were, without a doubt, scary and rickety. Ben was even shaking when he went up some of these ladders! I, however, found it to be a thrill (can you tell?).

It also became evident as to how the canyon received its name. Every time we turned (it seemed like every fifteen minutes) the walls would transform to different textures and colors altogether. One minute, the walls were covered in smooth dark green rocks that resembled luxurious Kryptonite, the next minute, the walls would appear jagged and charcoal, as if we had stepped into Mordor. Then, the dark walls had freeforming lines of white running through, as if someone had painted them on.

I was mesmerized by all.

An hour and a half into the hike. We were halfway through. Like I said, the trail had an incline, and yet this was when things started to go downhill for us. The ground below us became full of harsh and jagged rocks – quite unstable to walk on. With bruised feet, we eventually made our way on a hill, looking over the canyon and out to as far as the eye can see. We were on a hill, with open fields to the left and right of us. It was a beautiful sight.

Yet, now that we weren’t’ surrounded by canyon walls, the trail became very difficult to spot. Remember when I mentioned there was hardly anyone on the trail? Yeah, there was still no one behind or in front of us, so we couldn’t ask for directions. Those lovely people that left zen rocks also seemed to have forgotten about this part of the trail, as we couldn’t spot any that would lead us forward.

A few times I thought I had spotted a trail. I got in my tracker mode, eyed the ground for any signs of footprints or a unique pattern, but they all led to dead ends (and very dangerously near the edge of a cliff! O_O)

Nearly an hour we tried to find our way forward but ended up just lost and confused. But like Frodo had said defeatedly to Sam during trip to Mordor, “…we’ve been here before! We’re going in circles.” Our feet were in even worse condition, our water supply was quickly depleting, and the sun was sure to set soon.

I could tell Ben was feeling very defeated, even though I tried to keep morale up. His breathing was short, his body shook, and his answers were quick and to the point. No conversation, no happiness. He was so worried that we were going to be stuck up on the hill with no water or food to keep us for the night, if we were to be stuck there.

“Let’s just call Search and Rescue,” he said, repeatedly.

At that point, I knew that trying to progress forward on the hike was just not possible. My partner in crime was completely out of it. Just like that, we found our way back to the highest point on the hill and descended back towards the canyon.

As soon as we hit soft sand, morale shot up. We began joking again and telling random storie while thinking about good ol’ Bear Grylls and his many moments of defeat in the wilderness.

What was supposed to be a three to four hour hike turned into a five hour hike for us. I should have prepped more for this hike – found a better drawn map (my source was not accurate at all) and brought more snacks and water.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, lost and all. The canyon walls is an absolute beauty and a dream to walk through! One day, I definitely want to revisit and actually finish the hike.

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