Amidst the Eagle Mountain Range at the SouthWest corner of Joshua Tree National Park, lies Carey’s Castle, a small cave-like dwelling constructed in the 1920′s for use as a place to live while mining the adjacent vertical shaft. Very little is known about the “Carey” character, however without the inquisitiveness of the destination; this is still a magnificent hike full of incredible flora and terrain to behold. An early spring hike such as ours is probably best as the wildflowers in bloom are fantastic. The trip to the castle and back is 8.2 miles round-trip with an elevation gain northerly of 1,343 ft.
This is not an official trail. It is not maintained, consists mostly of dry wash transversal, and features a half dozen rock scrambles, all under 12 feet. You can access the “trailhead” via by driving interstate 10 to either the Chiriaco Summit exit to the west or the Hayfield Rd. exit to the east. The latter is preferred as the driving distance from the Hayfield exit is shorter. After exiting the freeway at the Hayfield exit, you will see, quite prominently, to the N.E., the Hayfield Pumping Plant. This plant is the westernmost pump in the Colorado River Aqueduct system. Westward from this point, gravity carries the water to it’s final destination across the desert, under the San Jacinto Range and arriving at Lake Mathews outside Hemet, CA.
The aqueduct begins near Parker Dam on the Colorado southeast of Lake Havasu City, Arizona. It crosses the southern Mojave Desert, skirting around several small mountain ranges and the southern edge of Joshua Tree National Park. It enters the Coachella Valley north of the Salton Sea and flows northwest along the Little San Bernardino Mountains. It crosses the San Jacinto Mountains west of Palm Springs and terminates at Lake Mathews in western Riverside County, from whence it is distributed to multiple communities in the MWD region.
The system is comprised of two reservoirs, five pumping stations, 63 mi (101 km) of canals, 92 mi (148 km) of tunnels, and 84 mi (135 km) of buried conduit and siphons. Average annual throughput is 1,200,000 acre·ft (1.48×109 m3).
The aqueduct was constructed between 1933-1941 by the MWD to ensure a steady supply of drinking water to Los Angeles and now serves southern California communities from Ventura county to San Diego county. Water first flowed in the aqueduct on January 7, 1939 when the intake pumps at Lake Havasu began operation to fill the first of the reservoirs in the system in Gene Basin.
Originally conceived by William Mulholland and designed by Chief Engineer Frank E. Weymouth of the MWD, it was the largest public works project in southern California during the Great Depression. The project employed 30,000 people over an eight-year period and as many as 10,000 at one time.
The construction of the aqueduct is widely credited as being a principal reason for the industrial growth of the region during World War II and the following decades. In 1992, the aqueduct was recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as one of the “Seven Engineering Wonders of American Engineering”.
You will park along the southern border of the Joshua Tree National Forest and work your way N.N.W. into the dry wash canyon system. Once in the canyons, a good map and G.P.S. track are important tools to have as your will be confronted with three major forks along your route. During our hike, I inadvertently cleared the track file, leaving our party to trust Florian’s printed map and following the many footprints along the wash floor. While carin’s assist you in making fork choices, Ron’s Log points out that they cannot always be trusted:
Some people want to obscure the location of and access route to Carey’s Castle. Patty Furbush in her book won’t tell you where it is. Philip Ferranti tells you where it is, but his description of the route is (as usual) sadly inadequate. I’ve read comments on websites from hikers who want to knock down cairns along the route, which I find especially offensive. Apparently the cairn-knockers have had their way, as no cairns were visible at most of the significant forks in the canyons, although we did see many useless ones along stretches where the only choice was to follow the canyon or ascend an impossibly steep, rocky canyon wall. On our hike out we restored some cairns at some of the forks. Unless it has rained recently (ha!), the human footprints are your best guide. There’s been heavy traffic in those canyons, and they’re all heading to the same place you want to go. Even in the rock-scrambling bits you can see where some rocks have been rubbed by thousands of hikers.
As mentioned earlier, early spring is an incredible time to take this route as there is a heavy abundance of local flora to both view and smell. My photo album shows off a few varieties seen, but the experience of being there is difficult to describe. In addition to flora, the local terrain features are breathtaking; particularly the ridge-line to the east of the trail, featuring oddly shaped domes and towers of rock that, at times, look unreal to the eye. The ever-present elevation gain takes you from the already high desert of the Chuckwalla Valley (I-10 corridor east of the Coachella Valley to the west) to the familiar sights and “feel” of the Joshua Tree ecosystem and geology. The castle and mine are situated along the southern edge of Big Wash which exits the park to the east at a gaging station and old mining railroad at Victory Pass. No doubt, the “Carey” character would access his site via this route.
The site itself consists of the mine, now sealed via metal grating and driven spikes; and the “castle” dwelling about 250 yards east of the mine. Both are fascinating to see and are in relatively good shape. A few idiot hikers have taken items over the years, but for the most part people respect the site. The castle has an ammo box that contains various trinkets and a guest book. We were all shocked by the amount of footprints along the trail and the guest book confirmed that this place averages a group roughly every two weeks. Given that the route is not mapped anywhere, this was a surprise. Worth noting is that on the old U.S.G.S. maps, the location of “Carey’s Castle” is actually labeling the mine and not the cave dwelling. The weather was phenomenal in the low 80′s, the light breeze was cooling and the views were spectacular. Hikes like this get me excited to explore more off-trail areas, particularly within Joshua Tree.
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