Sometimes you pick up tips in the darnedest of places. A few weeks ago we were at our veterinarian’s office to get one of our dogs his routine vaccines, and began discussing interesting local places to explore with the vet, a long-time resident of the area.
The doc asked us if we’d heard of Coyote Holes in Joshua Tree. He emphasized the place was not in Joshua Tree National Park itself, but four miles north of it, easily seen from Highway 62.
“Well, no,” we admitted. We didn’t know the place. He added it was truly special and recommended we definitely check it out. He said that not far from a regular path leading to Joshua Tree National Park is a place park visitors will not find, but that many locals know well.
Our interest was piqued. After reading about Coyote Holes on the internet, we decided the secret was definitely already out but like many superficial internet articles, it lacked scholarly research. We knew we had to see this special place for ourselves and find out more. We also discovered a little controversy attached to the place.
Then in the 1960s, San Bernardino County acquired the Coyote Holes area in Joshua Tree, with the intention of using it for flood control. That was until ancient Native American petroglyphs were discovered, which are rightfully protected by law. Thus identified as a Native American scared site, the land was ultimately never put to use.
People in the area,including some living next to the site, became worried about the sensitive cultural site being destroyed because of litter, dumping, vandalism, illegal camping, and OHV abusers. Apparently it was quite the teen hangout back in the day, and as we all know, it only takes a few uncaring visitors to ruin it for the rest of us.
One neighbor bought a house adjacent to the site and actually had a one-mile long fence installed on the perimeter of the site in 2014, in an effort to protect it from further destruction. The fence stretched along the northeast side of Quail Springs Road in Joshua Tree from Onaga Trail to Alta Loma, and then around the corner on Alta Loma. Some locals objected because it blocked their access to pick up trash in the canyon and generally keep an eye on things.
Southern California Edison, which has an easement on the fence-owner’s property, put up a pipe gate as part of the fence. Eventually, people figured out alternate routes to access the site by using other roads then hiking on foot to the area. The county department of public works began looking for someone to take over the area to protect it.
Eventually, the Native American Land Conservancy, an inter-tribal group which, among other activities, acquires “threatened cultural landscapes,” came to the rescue. On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, the Board of Supervisors authorized the conveyance of thirty and one quarter acres of unincorporated area in Joshua Tree to the Native American Land Conservancy (NALC), which has since taken appropriate steps to ensure proper preservation of this sacred Native American land and culture.
Normally when we come upon random petroglyphs in the desert, we keep their locations to ourselves in an effort to preserve them from the public and we encourage others to do so, as well.
They’ve been there for many thousands of years, hidden in plain sight. Let others enjoy discovering them for themselves. There are plenty of popular petroglyph areas for the public to enjoy, such as Inscription Canyon, Rodman Mountain Wilderness and Joshua Tree National Park, to name but a few.
Whenever we come upon a petroglyph site with official signs, rock-lined dirt roads, and thousands of footprints in the sand, we know it’s no longer a secret. However, that doesn’t make it any less special. It is obvious that those who monitor Coyote Holes recognize its spirituality and important role in Native American culture and history.
Stirred to action by gross disregard of shameful visitors to Coyote Holes, activists and volunteers organized by a group called “Friends of Coyote Hole” have done an exemplary job in recent years of removing the pornographic images and writings that once desecrated this sacred area. Trash dumps have been hauled out, and only the remnants of a couple of illegal fires in the treasured place remains.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Coyote Holes. Towering canyon walls above its wide sandy paths, a polished granite spillway, unusual geological formations and the sense of peace that prevails here are some of the things that attract visitors. Discovering petroglyphs on boulders and trying to decipher their meanings is fun.
The Native American Land Conservancy (NALC) provides cultural awareness programs designed to promote intercultural understandings, strengthen tribal relations, and pass on traditional teachings to future generations.
One can find other remnants of the first nations people who once thrived here, such as metates, which are stone mortars used to mill seeds and nuts. How someone could litter in this magical place, or deface petroglyphs or other artifacts is beyond us. Loftier minds than ours still cannot explain the criminal mind even after years of study. The way we figure it is the more people who know about Coyote Holes, the more they will appreciate and protect it.
There are many petroglyphs in Coyote Holes and like snowflakes, none of them appear to be the same. In this modern age of oversharing, we’ll leave it to you to find their exact locations yourself.
Please refrain from geotagging this protected site. Bouldering and climbing at this site are also not allowed. We suggest you go to Joshua Tree National Park for those sports.
The Army Corps of Engineers dynamited part of Coyote Holes in the 1970s to create a flood control channel. Holes for placing dynamite charges in some boulders are still visible. That is why there seems to be more petroglyphs on one side than the other in some areas of Upper Coyote Holes. Sadly, petroglyphs were destroyed during construction.
Some local businesses advertise casual hikes and guided meditation in Coyote Holes, if that’s your desire. For us, we prefer to hike in and enjoy the solitude by ourselves. Although it may seem remote, remember you are just a mile or less from neighborhoods. We were even able to pick up Verizon cellphone service.
Make no mistake about it though, locals are very aware of the comings and goings in their beloved canyon. If you’re not doing anything inappropriate, then you needn’t be concerned.
There are different ways to get to Coyote Holes, or Coyote Hole, as it is often referred to. We’re lucky enough to live here, so you will have to figure out the best way for you.
Please be considerate. Do not block driveways or park on private property. You will need to park your vehicle legally, and proceed on foot to the canyon. Depending where you parked determines how long you will have to hike in the wash. You cannot drive to Coyote Holes, as thankfully access points are blocked.
Be aware of the weather. A wash is simply what it says it is. There’s always the potential for a flash flood during a rainstorm. By the looks of the wash on the way to Coyote Holes, it is obvious that recent storms sent a deluge of rushing water down its length, bringing rocks and large branches with it.
Remember, even if it is dry or merely drizzling where you are, a storm over the nearby mountains can cause a dry desert creek bed to become a raging river in a matter of minutes. If you suddenly find yourself caught in a flood, immediately seek higher ground and call the authorities for help if you’re in immediate danger. Flash floods tend to recede almost as fast as they appear.
As we walked, we noticed the polished granite, worn down through time by water and abrasive sand. In the rocks above, and looking down at visitors, are petroglyphs.
Things were fairly dry when we visited in early December, but this would definitely not be a place you would want to be at when it rains, as evidenced by the rust stain from previous flows. There is a spring that keeps the base of the boulders moist and signs of waterfalls.
We hope you enjoy visiting Coyote Holes as much as we do. Soak up its grandeur and spirituality that imbues this special place. Remember, leave only footprints and take only photos.
P.S. We’re glad to be considered locals. And thanks, Doc!
Stories and Legends of the Palm Springs Indians, by Chief Francisco Patencio, 1943.
A Peculiar Piece of Desert, the Story of California’s Morongo Basin by Lulu Rasmussen O’Neal, 1957. (Reprinted 1981.)