Looking for a real remote desert wilderness experience? The Palen/McCoy Wilderness may be just the ticket. This is one of the largest roadless areas in California, with 259,009 acres of desert mountain ranges managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The wilderness area was designated in 1994, becoming part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The wilderness area is situated entirely within the southeast corner of California and contains the Palen, McCoy, Granite, Little Maria, and Arica mountain ranges. The ranges are separated by bajadas, broad sloping areas along mountain slopes, with alluvial fans, which are deposits of sediment left by streams flowing to the flat land at the base of the mountains.
The desert terrain features valleys, canyons, and colorful rock formations, with rocky peaks above the dry desert landscape. Washes lacing the area provide riparian areas that support ironwood and palo verde trees. The ironwood forests of the Palen/McCoy wilderness are the largest in the California desert. Ironwood is very dense and was used by Native Americans for tools and weapons. Ironwood woodlands provide shelter and habitat for a variety of wildlife including wild burro, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, rabbits, mice, and kangaroo rats as well as many bird species.
Recreational activity in the area includes hiking along old two-track trails that crisscross the valleys and lead up into the mountain areas, as well as horseback riding, hunting and backcountry camping.
Palen/McCoy Wilderness area is surrounded by several large national forests, parks, and preserves. The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is located to the south, Joshua Tree National Park to the southwest, Mojave National Preserve to the northwest, and Prescott National Forest to the east. Visit the region on your next RV trip and take in the many natural wilderness areas waiting for you to explore.
The Palen/McCoy Wilderness is a huge wilderness area at over 240 000 acres, and motorized vehicles are not permitted in BLM areas, which must be explored on foot. In fact, this region is one of the largest areas devoid of roads in California, so access can be challenging. Highway 62 runs along the north side of the wilderness and the Midland Road approaches from the south side, ending at the ghost town of Midland. You can access the Midland Road from Highway 10 in Blythe, take the north exit to Lovekin Boulevard, and continue north out to town into the desert wilderness.
Services and amenities are sparse in the area. However, the City of Blythe, California has plenty of facilities to supply and accommodate travelers in the region.
You can access the trailhead for the Granite Mountains if you have a four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicle. RVs and two-wheel-drive vehicles are not recommended on natural dirt access roads. To access the Granite Mountains from the I-10 at Desert Center, proceed north on SR 177 for 17 miles, then turn east on the off-highway dirt road. Leave your RV at the local campground in Blythe, and proceed with an appropriate vehicle to access points in the region. Always take extra water and a spare tire, use satellite aided GPS devices, and accurate wilderness maps when venturing out in the desert wilderness.
Group, equestrian, and individual camping is available in the City of Blythe, at the Mayflower County Park Campground. This excellent campground accommodates larger RV units and is situated right along the Colorado River, with a boat launch allowing campers with watercraft to access the river for fishing and recreational activities.
The blue water of the river, wide-open blue skies, and emerald green fields at the campground are in stark contrast to the desert landscape in the region and create a beautiful spot for overnight RV camping. There is also a day-use area with picnic sites and barbeque areas. The campground has 179 reservable campsites in total, with 152 large RV sites that have water and electric hookups, and 27 dry camping sites. The campground is situated along the sparkling river which is lined with willow trees. Campers will find flush toilets and hot shower houses to make their stay more enjoyable, as well as vault toilets. There is also an RV dump station on site.
A camp store at the campground provides on-site supplies to RV campers for their convenience. For fun, try out the horseshoe pits, lawn bowling, and shuffleboard setups! Be prepared with bug spray though, the presence of the river makes this a haven for mosquitos when conditions are ripe.
For the adventurous backpacker and hiker, overnight camping for up to 14 days at one site is permitted in the Palen/McCoy Wilderness. The peak season for visitors to the wilderness area is during the spring and fall, as hot summer, and cold winter temperatures are prohibitive for outdoor activities. Enjoy stargazing, hiking, and wildlife watching, or trek up the mountains to enjoy spectacular vistas in the wilderness region.
Visitors will need to be well prepared for desert camping with supplies and equipment. You will need to bring enough water and food, and be prepared to pack out all your trash. Collecting of deadfall is permitted for fires, but no live vegetation should be cut, and you should check for local fire bans and specific regulations prior to your trip. Choose previously occupied sites when at all possible, on hard ground, and 200 yards minimum from water sources and trails.
Hikers in the Palen/McCoy wilderness should be prepared for rough terrain and harsh desert conditions. Heat and thunderstorms in the summer, and very cold temperatures in the winter, can be a challenge for hikers. There are old two-track roads crisscrossing the wilderness which make excellent hiking paths. Two trailheads provide access to the Granite Mountains.
The wilderness area can be hiked year-round if you are prepared for the conditions, but is best visited in the fall and spring, as daytime temperatures in the summer and winter can be prohibitive for strenuous hikes. Take plenty of water and wear good footwear to negotiate the terrain.
Horseback riding is permitted on BLM public lands at Palen/McCoy Wilderness. Groups are limited to 15 people, and 25 head of stock. There is little water supply and vegetation here, so equestrians need to bring their own water and weed-free feed to preserve native vegetation.
The peak season for exploring the area on foot or on horseback is during the spring and fall, when temperatures are less severe. Your mount should be in good condition and acclimatized for desert temperatures and rough terrain. Equestrian Camping is available in Blythe.
The collection of rocks in the BLM lands for commercial purposes is prohibited, and for recreational purposes, it is discouraged. However, old mine sites and desert wilderness just outside the BLM land boundaries are a treasure trove of interesting minerals and rocks for collectors to discover.
Rockhounds have been finding agate, jasper, and quartz in the Palen Mountains for years, which is why so many mines are located in the area. If you are a rock collector, head on out in the region to find the interesting treasures scattered through the desert near Blythe, the Palen Mountains, and towards the Midlands ghost town.
A variety of wildlife species make their home in this harsh desert environment, supported in part by the vegetation and water supply along washes and in sheltered canyons. Wildlife you may spot in the area includes numerous bird species, wild burro, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, rabbits, mice, and kangaroo rats.
Hunting is also permitted in BLM public lands but must be done in accordance with state regulations and BLM policies, in season, which is usually during the winter months, and with appropriate licenses and permits.
When temperatures are too hot in summer, or chilly in winter, take a road trip up to the ghost town of Midland. You can reach this deserted settlement 22 miles north of Blythe, on Midland Road, which accommodates two-wheel-drive vehicles.
Midland was a town of 1000 people with 313 houses from 1925 to 1960 when the U.S. Gypsum Company operated the Gypsum Mine nearby. Today, all that remains are the foundations of these homes, creating an eerie deserted feeling.
During the summer, extreme heat is not conducive to exploring the Palen/McCoy Wilderness on foot. However, nearby Blythe is an oasis of green along the Colorado River. Fishing, rafting, and boating along the river are popular pastimes. You can access the river from the boat ramp at Mayflower Park Campground. Fish available for catch with a valid California State license include striped, smallmouth, and largemouth bass, redear sunfish, rainbow trout, channel catfish, and bluegill.