Hiking in the Eastern Pine Valley Mountains

For our next hike Tom selected an uncharted section of the Pine Valley Mountains to explore. We had seen a road going out from the Browse exit off I-15 but none of us knew how far up the mountains it would continue; all we knew for sure was that it didn’t cross the peaks. Within a mile of leaving the interstate we entered the national forest, following the rocky dirt road as it ascended the foothills to the east of the mountains until we encountered a locked gate around mile 5. We parked off to the side and began our hike.

As we started walking the road along the ridge we had wonderful views into the slickrock valleys below and the tumultuous Ash Creek, swollen and running fast with snowmelt. We briefly attempted to find a route a few hundred feet down to the water but the angle of the slope, loose volcanic rock, and thorny vegetation made it much tougher than we bargained for so we opted to continue following the road – which was hardly a disappointing option since we were in full view of the snow-capped peaks.

We walked on, crisscrossing the ridge for views of the canyons below, for about a mile before we were surprised by a forest service truck crawling up the deteriorated road. The super nice forest ranger chatted with us for a bit and confirmed that this road led another 3 miles to the infamous sequoia tree which he assumed we were headed to (we weren’t but we decided that sounded like a goal). He then waved and drove off. This turned out to be a noteworthy exchange because a half mile later we found a map staked out with rocks in the middle of the road with a “You Are Here” notation, the marked location of the sequoia, and a message to “Have fun!” Plus a smiley face. It was really sweet.

And so we followed the road to the guard station as it rose towards the snowy mountains and began to rise above meadows and sage flats, roughly paralleling the creek. As larger ponderosas became more ubiquitous and new angles of the mountains revealed themselves our route became even more impressive. But as beautiful as the views were the dense gray cloud cover that had darkened the canyons at the beginning of the walk unfortunately also dulled the vibrance of the green meadows and snow-covered granite of the peaks as our hike went on. I gave up trying to take many photos until we reached the sequoia, which was planted behind the guard station by a ranger approximately a hundred years ago. Obviously we’ve seen sequoias before but it looked huge out of it’s natural environment; it puts our ponderosas to shame in terms of size.

A trailhead near the guard station enticingly promised us access into the mountains themselves but we all agreed to wait and do the trail once the road opened and we could avoid the 4-mile, thousand foot “warmup” hike along the road. So we decided to head back. As luck would have it the clouds began to break right as we turned around and we even got some breaks of blue sky. Though the cloud cover didn’t quite dissipate enough for great photos I definitely made up for my lack of picture-taking on the way out by taking a hundred or so photos.