SADDLEBACK BUTTE STATE PARK
Photography: Denise and Robert Griego
The desert comes alive as the sun dips below the horizon. The silhouette of the Joshua Trees paints surreal images. I’ve always loved the high desert – this is our first visit to Saddleback Butte State Park.
The new campground host warmly welcomes us: “I just arrived last week and I’m settling into my job but if you need anything, please let me know. I’ll be going into Lake Los Angeles for groceries — about four miles away.” Her name was Lori, and she smiled when we said that our daughter is also named Lori. Kind words from a stranger set the stage for a memorable visit to this unique State Park in the Antelope Valley.
There are two routes to Saddleback Butte – from either the campground or the picnic area. The picnic area route called the Little Butte Trail is a bit longer, but spectacular and a 2/12 mile round-trip. It’s best to hike in the evening or early morning.
We select the picnic route in the cooler evening. We stop frequently for pictures of the sweeping desert vistas. Along the sandy trail, we see hundreds of tiny animal tracks that likely came by last night. The far-reaching vistas are rewarding as we allow our imagination to wander. The giant Joshua Trees, with sweeping arms, encourage us further.
I love the desert full of wonder as we take deliberate steps towards Saddleback Butte. Scientists say that this area was once a massive lake with creatures from a period long ago. Now, that has my imagination running wild as we move forward in the warm sand.
I’m a country-western music fan at heart. With each step along the sandy trail, I hear and begin to hum the lyrics to the song, “Cool Water” by Marty Robbins: “…Keep a-movin, Dan, dontcha listen to him, Dan. He’s a devil, not a man. He spreads the burning sand with water. Dan, can ya see that big, green tree? Where water’s runnin’ free. And it’s waitin’ there for me and you…?
A Roadrunner breaks my concentration as it darts in a flash after a lizard or mouse. As the temperatures drop, the desert comes alive. Nature takes center stage.
The summit is within reach and the sweeping views push us further. It’s not a hard trail but it is work as the sandy trail slows us down. Think about walking on a sandy ocean beach and you’ll get the idea – great exercise. We’ve never been here before and the 360-degree panoramic vistas are breathtaking.
The view of the valley below, framed by the towering San Gabriel Mountains and San Bernardino Mountains, is priceless. The cool breeze is comforting. In an odd way, I’m not eager to descend. Being able to see for 50 miles or more is rewarding. I hold my breath, breathing in the view as long as possible, before exhaling. Magical. Timeless. Thankful.
ON TO THE “DIC”DOWN NATURE TRAIL
This handicap-accessible ½ mile trail is a must.
It’s 2,668 feet above sea level in the high desert. My wife, Denise grabs a brochure and immediately takes charge of the tour. She is a naturalist at heart, an avid hiker, and a nature lover. “Did you know that we are walking among one of the oldest living plants on earth, the creosote bush?” was her first observation. That caught me by surprise, as I thought the giant Sequoia Trees were older. “No.” She continues reading from the park brochure: “…some creosote clone rings have been dated at almost 12,000 years, making them among the oldest living things on earth…”
I thoroughly enjoyed this nature trail, learning more about a prehistoric lake that covered the valley 10,000 years ago. We were encouraged to imagine animals such as mammoth-like Gomphotheres, saber-tooth tigers, and dire wolves who roamed the area.
Having worked 35 ½ years for the National Park Service, I consider this one of the best nature trails in California.
MOAH – MUSEUM OF ART & HISTORY
I’m not an artist but I was blown away by the featured artist, Cudra Clover: Historia. This was our first visit to the Museum of Art & History, a prime attraction along Lancaster’s BLVD.
The friendly MOAH staff explains the art.
Cudra Clover is a mind-blowing amazing artist.
Love her free-spirited art.
PRIME DESERT WOODLAND PRESERVE
The Prime Desert Woodland Preserve, within minutes of downtown Lancaster, is ideal for families wanting to learn about the animals, plants, or simply to enjoy nature. This nature trail flows along nearly three miles of trails among Joshua Trees. The preserve encompasses an area of more than 120 acres of a desert landscape. I loved the nature quotes along the trail, by the likes of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, and other conservationists.
It is a great place to introduce kids to the wonder of nature and capture amazing Joshua Tree photographs along the trail.
|Welcome to the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve.|
|It’s a great family trail.|
|We love all the conservation quotes.
There are ample places to spend the night in Lancaster. Tonight, after a long day of hiking and sightseeing, we select the Marriott TownePlace Suites.
It’s attractive, spacious, centrally located, and staffed with people who speak friendly. We select their dinner recommendation – Complexity Restaurant. It is within walking distance. It’s nice to not have to drive to an exceptional, dining experience. I loved the fish dinner as we sampled their fine wines.
Lancaster, CA surrounded by some awesome State Parks is more than a place on a map – it’s a destination.
|TownPlace Suites are beautiful accommodation.
|OK, I’m envious as this H-D biker arrives from Arizona.|
OVERVIEW: PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Saddleback Butte State Park, established in 1960 to protect the butte and examples of native Joshua Trees and other plants and animals is located in beautiful Southern California, 70 miles north of Los Angeles, and a hop-skip-and-jump from Lancaster, CA – 17 miles east on 170th Street East, between East Avenue J and East Avenue K.
Saddleback Butte (3,651 feet) in the western Mojave Desert overlooks an alluvial plain that has been used by indigenous people for at least 10,000 years. Imagine huge lakes that covered large portions of the AntelopeValley.
THINGS TO DO
The best time to visit is in the spring or fall. The sun can be intense in the desert so always carry water, bring a hat, snacks, and the park brochure that contains a map.
Activities: Visitor Center, picnicking, hiking, camping, equestrian use, bird watching, star gazing, and wildflower viewing in the wetter spring months. The “Dic” Dowen Nature Trail is great for everyone, especially the elderly and children.
Saddleback Butte Campground is first-come, first-served with 37 sites containing a table, BBQ grill, and fire ring. There is potable water and restrooms. About a mile from the campground are 27 picnic sites with great shaded ramadas, tables, barbecue grills, potable water, and restrooms. Our cell phone reception was good throughout the area.
Saddleback Butte State Park is open from sunrise to sunset for day use. The campground is open 24 hours.
Day-use picnic parking is $6, camping is $20 ($2 senior citizen discount).
For more information, see www.parks.ca.gov